Sinead Ryan has looked at life from both sides now – and it might be that working through a pandemic has brought it all home for many of us
For possibly the first time in my life, I found myself ahead of the curve of a social experiment when Covid-19 hit.
The pandemic caused a seismic shift in the way we all work. BC (before Covid), the home worker was viewed as a bit of a sad case.
No ‘real’ work to do, a billy-no-mates, little more than a hobbyist. Left out of leaving-dos, birthday cakes al desko and spur-of-the-moment after-work drinks.
Proper workers go to an office. They have a pod, desk or, if they slog hard enough for long enough, an office, possibly even with a window.
They have sanctioned lunch breaks, subsidised canteens, break-out rooms, meetings with other, real grown-ups without toddlers hanging onto their legs. They have laminated tags on important looking lanyards granting them access to lifts and doors and car parks.
They attend presentations in boardrooms and spend a penny in a professionally cleaned loo and they’re all dressed nicely, in good clothes.
Workers who can do the job propped up in bed with a laptop on pillows, couldn’t possibly be expected to scale the career ladder of success.
Well, bah to all that!
I’ve been working from home for donkey’s years. Before, I worked diligently, 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, in offices, also for donkey’s years.
Home is better. No question. I would recoil in horror if I had to go back to a partitioned row of desks. If I had go job-hunting, the first phrase into the search engine would be ‘work from home’.
There are, as many formerly office-based employees are now finding, myriad reasons why.
No commute. No cost of commuting. Fewer toll charges and petrol bills. No getting on the bus on a wet Monday morning, rain lashing at your legs. No strapping on your cycle helmet and navigating terrifying traffic. No missing the last train home, facing a miserable walk or expensive taxi.
The clothes bill drops. A couple of serviceable jackets for ‘important’ zoom meetings; underneath the table, slippers and ath-leisure wear is perfectly acceptable. Indeed, it’s empowering.
‘If only they could see me!’, you think, hoping they won’t ever have to.
I work better if I’m not worrying whether my tights are laddering or if I’ll get a blister from the heels.
The office politics are still there, but somehow, not as pervasive.
Nobody drops by my desk in a passively-aggressive way to peer over my shoulder and comment on how I’m writing a report, or snidely offering ‘help’.
I don’t have to put up with the boss’s moods, or the irritating colleague constantly banging on about her fascinating kids and fabulous holidays, or the manager who wants to decant his personal problems into the workplace.
No, because when you work from home, people get a grip of themselves for online meetings. They manage to comport themselves just long enough to get through the agenda.
While they might moan and whine at the water-cooler, they’re less inclined to do it with everyone tuned in on zoom.
But on the other hand …
Gosh, I miss people.
I know we’re all missing people at the moment; loved ones, family, friends and we will cherish the minute we’re allowed to meet up, laugh, eat, drink and have fun together again.
But in truth, I’ve been missing other people all these years too: work colleagues.
Like family, we don’t get to choose them, but the ones we like can end up as lifetime friendships, flat-mates, drinking companions, shoulders to cry on, or even spouses.
When I left my last office employment there was a signed card, a whip around and some people said nice things. They went back to work; I went home to start my great adventure.
‘Anyone remember where the report on that thing about the whatsit is?” you can ask nobody.
‘Hey, fancy lunch and a gossip?’ the cat wants to know.
‘Clocking off early? Time for a quick pint?’ … nope, you’re shouting into the void.
The social contact in an office can be over-bearing, bitchy, annoying and tedious. I’ve worked beside people I never want to see again.
But there are moments of laughter, celebration, meaningful conversations, collegiality and collaboration.
I had a glorious, short lived office fling once. Some of my best friends today are ex-colleagues who I still love as we age disgracefully; I’d never have known them if we hadn’t shared office space.
I’ve mentored and been mentored. There were always people to talk to if you needed to talk. Watch, if you needed to do better and ask how, if you didn’t know.
It’s easy to do when they’re right there beside you. Much harder when you have to schedule it in google calendar; the spontaneity is gone.
I’ve had fabulous boozy office lunches where everyone got trollied.
I’ve endured meetings where everyone fought and stormed out, only to have to re-group at the next one.
Offices are mini-neighbourhoods; a microcosm of society itself. Although you all do the same job, it’s only in an office you’ll discover the girl in the next partition is a poet in her spare time, or that lad in accounts is an amazing singer.
You’ll find out who has kids or what they regretted at the weekend, than you do at home, where just the laptop and 10 other workface-plastered-on colleagues reside.
But, in my office days, I‘d have been fired for simply walking out of the office of a morning when my head’s done in.
I can today.
I’ve dashed into the supermarket after leaving work, ragged, tired beyond belief, guiltily grabbing a frozen pizza for the kids dinner.
Today I can prep a casserole during lunch, and have it simmering in the oven all afternoon.
I’ve drunk gallons of wicked, watery freeze-dried coffee.
Today a friendly barista on my walk-and-talk hands me a flat white.
I’ve missed parent teacher meetings, school concerts and handed over sick children to someone else because of office demands.
At home, I re-scheduled and watched, clapped, or cuddled.
I’ve had parcel deliveries missed, re-booked, missed again.
Today, my postman drops it on the door mat, knowing I’m inside.
If I have a choice, this is mine.