I remember March 2020 quite well. I was still dealing with daily, 90-minute, bumper-to-bumper, rubbernecking, and annoying – but needful – construction closing off two lanes, commutes into D.C. I would arrive at work only to have to spend 15 minutes painstakingly trying to parallel park.
If all the spots were taken, I would have to squeeze my car into a first-come, first-served garage into which I had to carefully maneuver to keep from scraping the paint off my car or taking off a co-worker’s bumper. With very little space to open my car door, I’d suck in my stomach and hold my breath because I only had about two inches of space before my door scratched the car of the co-worker who was undoubtedly eyeing the parking lot from her upstairs office.
Rushing into the building, my short legs would climb two stairs at a time all in hopes to get the chance to use the restroom, grab a cup of coffee, and get my computer up and running just in time for my morning meeting. I’d sink into my office chair exhausted, and the day had just begun. Eight hours later, I would be back at the madness of the commute.
My mother heart, which hoped to make it home to say, “Goodnight” to my children before they fell asleep, would be crushed if I arrived only to find them sound asleep. After doing this every day, I would be praying for a blizzard in spring perchance I could stay home.
Can you relate to any of this? That was the life many of us experienced prior to the COVID pandemic: crazy commutes, little family time, and a lack of work-life balance.
But then the pandemic happened and many of our lives came to a screeching halt. We replaced chaotic commutes with a different kind of chaos – trying to work while caregiving, spending most of our time on endless meetings with no time for bathroom breaks and working to rekindle relationships with children or spouses with whom we previously had little connection.
And the questions, oh the questions that plagued us: when would we go back to the office? What do we do with the commuter cards with a full month of funds pre-loaded from our paychecks? Would we still have our jobs, or would our organizations shut down? And after two weeks in pajamas all day, what do we do with all those suits, ties, and high heels lining our closets (for some, our garages, and basements as well).
Fast forward to three years later. That season has slowly faded into the distance. For many the dust has settled, and they have found and adjusted to their own new normal. Let’s take a look at how people are doing since this drastic life change.
According to the February 2023 Pew Research Center survey, most employees seem to favor working from home due to work-life balance and the ability to get work done and meet deadlines. Parents, such as I, could finally put their children to bed and maybe even cheer them on in their after-school activities. And those with adult parents whom they care for had the opportunity to spend more time with them.
Further, the survey shows promotion opportunities didn’t seem affected by remote work. However, the area in which working from home “hurts a lot/a little” is in connection with co-workers. I remember the term “zoomed out” during the pandemic. Workers had spent more time staring at computers than ever before, sometimes with barely any time to catch up with a co-worker. While office chat and in office travel from cubicle to cubicle sometimes led to a lack of productivity, it seems it was needed to build relationships.
Positive Change for Various Groups of People
Not only did caregivers benefit from the opportunity to work from home, but individuals with disabilities benefited also. In an interview with Axios Executive Director of the National Disability Institute (NDI) Thomas Foley said, “Workers with disabilities had been asking to work remotely for decades before the pandemic and had consistently heard companies say ‘no.’” He further stated, “During the pandemic, when we all realized that … many of us could work remotely … that was disproportionately positive for people with disabilities.”
There are also many individuals who are still able to work from home when dealing with a minor illness or a child who comes down with a bug. Had they been in the office they may have had to call off work.
How People are Making it Work: Tips for Working from Home
Some individuals have found working from home to be quite challenging. An article from Capital One Careers advises remote workers to incorporate simple routines to help set the mood for the day, such as getting up and getting dressed in the morning instead of rolling out of bed in time to join your first meeting and hoping your boss doesn’t require you to turn your video on. Also, setting boundaries within the home, such as moving your office from your bedroom can help create separation in your mind of where to focus on work and where to unwind and enjoy home life.
Most jobs require that employees secure some form of child care if children are at home. Still, caregivers find themselves having to prepare dinner while finishing that last meeting. The Capital One Careers’ article recommends that caregivers stick to a schedule. Have times that are dedicated to work and times that are dedicated to your home needs. If you have the flexibility, begin your workday an hour earlier so you can log off in time to prepare dinner.
For those seeking connection and needing to get up more, building relationships and participating in hobbies outside the home will be very beneficial. Personally, going to the gym has been valuable for me, as it gives me the opportunity to step away from work and home responsibilities and have some “me” time while staying active. AMSG offers an array of exciting events during the year to connect and have fun with co-workers, it also has a generous hobby program that allows employees to maintain work-life balance.
What has been your experience working from home? Do you enjoy it, or would you rather return to the office? In what ways can you build meaningful relationships with your co-workers? Is there something new you can incorporate into your routine to ensure better work-life balance?
Written by Gloria Shunda, Program Analyst