There was a brief moment in 2020, in the early days of the pandemic, when the opportunity to work from home felt like a novel and exciting shift in my working life.
Suddenly I could sleep a little longer, manage my time more flexibly, and walk the dog at lunchtime.
Gone was the time spent in the car commuting, and my partner and I were able to have lunch together every day (not that we did, but the option was there).
Then, about a month in, I got my first work call at 8:30 pm on a Sunday.
At the time, I was working for a private company, and I remember looking at my phone with confusion. As far as I knew, there was nothing urgent on the cards. It turned out my boss was having trouble PDFing a document and clearly didn’t see an issue with calling me on the weekend at an objectively unusual time.
I’ve since changed occupations, but while my workplace is fantastic at managing balance, I still struggle with working from home. I find it harder to concentrate. I feel a low level of anxiety about coordinating all the different threads of my work, and I feel like the sensation of being both at work and home day in-day out is affecting my sense of boundaries.
For people in much more demanding roles than I’m in, where overtime and additional hours are a fundamental part of their work, this bleed is much more challenging. I have friends who worked an extra month’s worth of hours in overtime in the last financial year. Others are on their laptops well into the night and don’t think twice about leaving the dinner table to answer a work call anymore.
Now, as we face at least another month of working from home – or working less in the office – I’m wondering whether the separation of work and life will ever be possible to achieve again. I now dread the idea of working from home, my mind filling with mental chaos when I try to think about coordinating the various projects and major tasks I have on the boil from my desk at home, without the organisation and systems I have in place at the office.
I also miss the clear distinction between my workday and clocking off which, luckily for me, usually occurs as I leave the office.
In contrast, friends in different sectors and with different work styles prefer to be at home, even if it means taking after-hours calls and doing weekend work when needed. Life and work are already so integrated that the change of location doesn’t make much difference.
And, of course, for the thousands of Canberrans who don’t work in office-based roles, the concept of working from home is an entirely different proposition.
Have we fundamentally changed the way that work and life coexist? Is the idea of WFH ‘flexibility’ a myth, or am I just doing it wrong?