Some of us love it, some of us hate it. In this article, asked several women to reflect on their work-from-home experiences.
Many of us are probably feeling positive about the good news that Phase Two will soon commence. We begin to prepare to return to work while we relish the good mood. Some of our favourite facilities are also gearing up to reopen, while others are not as fortunate. Most of all, many will look forward to reconnecting with friends and family again. As we start to make plans for the future, it’s also an ideal time to step back and reflect. Spending the last two months adapting to a new norm was certainly not easy for many. Work-from-home arrangements were, and still are, especially tricky.
You probably would have read many articles preaching the best ways to work from home effectively. You might have also discovered that following these hacks to a T is not as easy as it sounds. These nifty tips and tricks are hardly one-size-fits-all, and may not pan out as intended even with our best efforts.
Everyone’s work-from-home experience is different, and it goes beyond just having flexible hours or a more rigid and straightforward schedule. Maybe you’ve had your family accidentally walk in on your conference call. Perhaps you have difficulty tearing yourself away from work instead of clocking out promptly.
Working from home is often a double-edged sword, especially for women. For some mothers, few other things hold a candle to their young child’s affectionate demands for attention. For others, the sheer nature of their job means having to adapt to vastly different styles of working. I asked several women to share their work-from-home experiences in the last two months. These are the lessons I’ve learnt from their reflections. With these first-hand accounts, we can work towards better coping with long-term work-from-home stints.
Note: Due to the sensitive nature of these women’s jobs, their identities have been kept anonymous.
Reflection #1: Bend but don’t break; be flexible
Especially if you’re married with children, flexibility is key to achieving a good work-from-home routine. Ironically, that might mean not being able to stick to the 9-to-5 kind of day you are used to.
They want our attention constantly and interrupt our work for everything… It certainly affected my ability to work my ‘normal’ hours of 8:30AM to 5:30PM. I found myself working early mornings and later in the evenings so that I could make up for the interruptions throughout the day.
P, mum of two (4 and 6)
P, who works in the publishing industry, managed a workable compromise thanks to her employers. Flexible hours and time saved from commuting gives her more time with her energetic toddlers, whom she keeps entertained with homemade forts, obstacle courses and puppet theatres.
T, who works as a teacher, prepares and records her lessons late at night while her young son is asleep. Her flexible schedule allows her to monitor her son while her husband also works from home in the day. The couple take turns watching their son when either of them have virtual meetings or calls.
Reflection #2: Human interaction is more important than we realise
“While we could still progress with various projects, other aspects of our work that relied on human interaction such as counselling and intervention were replaced with alternatives that honestly do not compare.”
Q, social worker
You might have felt lonely working from home in the last two months. Maybe you’ve sensed that some of your relationships have evolved (for better or worse) with the physical distance. For many of these women, not interacting with their colleagues like before has affected their cohesion as a team. Aside from colleagues, clients too, in some industries, are severely impacted.
For Q especially, face-to-face interaction is key in her line of work in the social service industry. The two-month-long Circuit Breaker has greatly affected how she works with her clients. Unfortunately, the technology-driven alternatives still pale in comparison to live counselling sessions.
A, who works in a similar capacity, echoed the same concerns for her clients. “It’s extremely difficult to gauge a vulnerable persons’ safety when I can’t physically see them. And having everyone indoors means a higher chance of conflict and abuse,” she notes.
Reflection #3: Accountability doesn’t need to be inefficient
“I’m so tired of filling out daily reports.”
S, preschool teacher
For S, a teacher who works with young children, her day begins at 8:00 AM. She chimes in to her work WhatsApp group and ‘clocks in’ for the day. Before the school holidays, she conducted her lessons with preschoolers over Zoom, and did her lesson preparation between classes.
While the schedule bears resemblance to a normal work day, additional paperwork is one responsibility she would rather do without. “Together with teaching classes over Zoom, additional screen time means I can barely keep my eyes open by the end of the day,” S sighs.
Remote working is a different kind of hell for many supervisors when it comes to keeping staff accountable. For S, her manager relied on daily reports. Perhaps you’ve had daily video calls, or surprise phone calls from your boss, who is ‘just checking in and touching base’ with you. While ensuring that staff continue to fulfil their obligations is important, monitoring them like a hawk may inadvertently affect productivity.
Reflection #4: The best of both worlds?
“Having the chance to take the kids to school and back, being there to have lunch and dinner with them, is too precious. I’d hate to go back to the office!”
P, mum of two (4 and 6)
We recognise that working from home has its fair share of downsides. Blurring work and personal boundaries, and the more sedentary lifestyle are just a couple of them. And as many of these women have reflected, working from home is also not always ideal for their jobs.
However, if there is one thing they could all agree on, it is finding a balance between office and home working. With the flexibility of their new work routines, they’ve also found some freedom. Spending time with their children and cooking for their family are some of the ways. Others appreciate the additional hours of sleep, or being able to spend more time with their cat.
K, who works in human resources, believes four days in the office is enough. “Work-from-home has somewhat shown that it is still possible for work to be done remotely. With proper scheduling, keeping one day for remote working would not upset the work dynamics that much,” she suggests. And certainly, a day of not having to wake up earlier to commute saves more time to accomplish other things.
P, on the other hand, prefers more time at home so that she can be with the children. “I just don’t see the need to be in the office every day,” she says. “I’d like to get into the office to see colleagues for meetings and to socialise, maybe once or twice a week at the most.”
Food for thought
The experiences of these women are probably not unfamiliar to many of us. This gives us an opportunity to re-evaluate many things. Employers can consider ways to make work arrangements for flexible. Couples can work together to provide care for their children, without compromising on work quality or family time. For jobs where direct interaction is essential, perhaps new arrangements can be made to facilitate a safe environment for both worker and client.
As we look to the future, shed old habits and embrace new ones, let us continue to reflect on the way we work and constantly seek improvements that benefit not only ourselves, but the people around us.