2 February 2022

As work bleeds into life with pandemic 'flexibility', is it too late to redraw the boundaries?

| Zoya Patel
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Work from home

Working from home can quickly tip the work-life balance. Photo: Kelly Sikkema.

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).

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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.

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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?

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Finagen_Freeman2:40 pm 03 Feb 22

I’m pro choice.
Your comments resonated with me around symbolism of clocking off / switching off.

Part of me doesn’t like having my work invade sanctuary.
Part of me enjoys the flexibility of managing my entire day.

Miss the face to face though.
Saving on fuel.

Miss compulsorily movement to various office locations.
Only now have I started to build in stretch exercises to each day.

For some public servants that I know of WFA has equated to full pay for little or part time work. In one instance I know of they have delayed their official retirement due to this windfall.
WFH has its pros and cons.

I too think you are “doing it wrong”. How you organise the time in which you do your own work (assuming it has that flexibility) is up to you, so long as it is effective and timely. However, you must set boundaries around communications so you have control of your own life yet you are not impeding the ordinary work of your colleagues. They need to be agreed and known, then adhere to them in all normal circumstances. If you are happy to respond to communications over the weekend, that is fine but not necessarily the choice of your colleagues so it tends to be reply-only.
Self-organisation is essential, including recognition of part of your home as office-zone at least for periods.. Set it up accordingly.

Yeah, I would say you’re just doing it wrong or not setting your boundaries correctly.

Flexibility is a good thing. If you still want to work normal business hours, go ahead and do that, making it clear to others that you won’t be answering emails/phone calls out of those hours.

For others, the benefit of working out of hours whilst using normal work hours for more leisure, excercise, family time etc. is a boon.

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