Sunday, May 28, 2023

Why I Absolutely HATE Working From Home: ‘Covid Has Killed Co-Working’

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Many people like working from home, but Sarah Lang definitely isn’t one of them. She explains why she’s working from her son’s bedroom or a café.

I’ll be blunt: while I like working, I dislike working from home. I’m self-employed, so I could work from home if I wanted to, but I usually rent a permanent desk in a co-working space because I simply have to leave the house to stay sane. As in, I actually pay money to leave the house.

Do I have cabin fever? Well, yes

For me, home is where you cook, eat, sleep, do laundry, do life admin, put your child to bed three times in one evening after they emerge with various complaints, occasionally relax, and watch Better Call Saul (which isn’t relaxing but is very good). For me, home isn’t somewhere where you work.

But I don’t have much choice right now, because, as I tell people, ‘Covid killed co-working’. Lockdowns, restrictions, then widespread societal fear of catching Covid has forced several co-working spaces to close down, including the one where I had a permanent desk. That’s why I’m writing this story from a desk squeezed into my son’s bedroom. I have to play ‘the floor is lava’ because there’s Lego everywhere and I refuse to do housework during work hours.

Do I have cabin fever? Well, yes. I live in a small house with no outdoor area as it backs onto a cliff and ‘fronts’ onto a footpath (ah, Wellington). My window view is a brick wall. I feel excluded from the wider world. I often have no physical contact with, or even a glimpse of, another human being throughout my working day. Could this even be termed ‘loneliness’?

Though I like to work without too much noise interfering, I wish I had someone to at least say hi to, or chat with, at lunchtime. That’s what co-working spaces enable us ‘loners’ to do, whether we’re self-employed, or small-business owners with or without small teams.

Also, I don’t like any blurring between work time and at-home time; I prefer what I call a “separation of powers”. I used to leave my laptop at my co-working space for this reason. Another con: my files, stationery, magazines etc are in piles around my son’s bedroom and the basement, and I don’t like disorder. Also, when I find my husband’s stashes of junk food, I have no willpower in what, let’s face it, is a hostage situation. And I’m pretty sure I don’t fit my ‘work clothes’ anymore.

Actually, I’m not sure I’m even socially acceptable in my current state. The other day a courier delivery man gave me a strange look. I thought it was because I seemed disproportionately happy to see another human. Then I realised I had plaited some hair so that it jutted out like a horn above my forehead. I also may have had some jam on my upper lip. And I don’t even want to think about any lack-of-deodorant factor.

So, now that I’ve had Covid and can’t catch it again for a while, some days I’m doing the age-old café-hop manoeuvre. Order one flat white and you’ll be left alone for an hour, maybe. Then you order a muffin. You might get another half hour before a staff member starts looking at you in a suspicious fashion.

Then you move to the next café, trying to pick one that’s not too busy. And you go home with work done but with a non-ergonomic crick in your neck, with a tummy protesting your multiple muffins, and having overheard too much about the Brazilian wax of a woman at the neighbouring table. Nope, not an ideal working environment.

Needs Must

When lockdowns hit, we were brusquely shoved into working from home. There was no choice. That was dang difficult for some people, especially if you had to attend a Zoom meeting while a child was wiping his snot on your pyjama pants, but you pretended to be oblivious because you looked respectable from the waist up. Kitchen tables got reconfigured as work stations, in some cases leaving no actual operational kitchen table.

Many people adjusted – quickly, or eventually – to working from home. Some didn’t miss the commute (very understandable in Auckland). Some didn’t miss braving the wind (very understandable in Wellington). Some didn’t miss wearing makeup, dresses and heels. Some didn’t miss being interrupted by colleagues while they’re trying to make any sense of a spreadsheet, or are on the verge of a break-through thought or idea.

Now, many people who had to work from home during Covid restrictions want this to be the new normal. As in, working from the office some days, and from home other days. The term “hybrid worker” has become a thing. Is the future of work here? Must employers adapt and adjust?

Anecdotally, many employers very much want people to work from the office on all or most weekdays for various reasons: because that’s always been the norm, because that’s what worked before the pandemic, because it’s easier for colleagues to bounce ideas off each other, because they think staying home might lead to slacking off, or all of the above.

Some employers are insisting that you have to be at the office on certain days of the week, partly so no one treats the hybrid arrangement as a long weekend. But there must be a way of measuring meeting targets and productivity to make it clear you’re not slacking off? Perhaps that’s another story.

Meanwhile, if anyone has a free desk in the vicinity of central Wellington, let me know. In the meantime, I’m off to the closest quiet café.

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