By The Hon. David Pratt
Principal – David Pratt and Associates
When you have to negotiate getting yourself up and out of the house, over to your place of work and then navigate the complexities of office personalities, share the kitchen, wrestle colleagues to the meeting room for discussion, then work even harder to get consensus, and finally face the commute home once again after a hard day, it seems such a dream to be able to work from home. Similarly, working from home can make one look longingly at a physical shift into a workspace removed from the siren calls of procrastination—cooking, dishes, laundry, vacuuming, music, friends, going out for a walk, even returning to bed for a quick power nap, — and the proximity of family with all their charms.
For many of us, under the new COVID-19 protocols we now call normal, working remotely is the only option. It is always a delight when an online tuba lesson coincides with an all-office conference call, or the smoke alarm goes off sharply in the middle of a webinar on multitasking. Children are not shy about appearing on camera in this age of Facetime, nor do their needs operate readily around a coffee break schedule. Working from home in a situation without schools or childcare or even friends, can write whole new chapters for parental guilt. Am I neglecting my child by spending too much time on my computer? How is it that I am encouraging my child to spend more time with their devices only a few short weeks after strictly enforcing Device Deadlines? Should I be homeschooling as well as working from home? Is there enough structure in our house? Is there too much structure in our house? How are gender roles playing out? Am I modelling effective use of time? Can I waste more time pondering how I am not using my time wisely?
As with so many other areas of life under COVID-19, we are discovering how to manage enforced working from home as we go along because we have to, whether we want to or not. On the whole, it seems to be working. It is working because there were no clear expectations and no established rules. However counterintuitive it seems when under mandatory movement restrictions, we are all discovering what it means to be our own bosses to greater or lesser degrees. In a time of great uncertainty, we have entered a new era of trust. Citizens are trusting their governments to a degree unimaginable a few months ago. Even more remarkable, the reverse is also true, and governments are having to trust their populations. Employers must trust their employees to work. Employees must trust their employers to value their work in absentia. We must trust ourselves to make the best efforts we can to balance all the new protocols and practices that are taking over our lives.
Working from home, with our backdrops of children, misbehaving puppies, spouses also working, and the constant stream of Amazon deliveries arriving, has given us new and more personal insights into the lives of our colleagues, clients and partners. These glimpses have allowed us to form different social and emotional connections to our community. Perhaps we would prefer to Zoom call into meetings with perfectly styled bookcases and Old Master paintings behind us, but the realities of who we are and where we live have added new dimensions to our professional relationships.
Somehow, that becomes the comforting irony of having to work from home under COVID-19: the less autonomy of movement we have, the less individual sovereignty over daily life, the greater control we have over our decisions, our actions, our environments, and over ourselves. This is a phenomenon regularly recounted by former prisoners who have successfully come through solitary confinement. The Washington Post has been running pieces by Jason Rezaian, their reporter taken prisoner in Iran and held in solitary, with tips on surviving long periods of isolation. On March 24th, Mother Jones published an interview with Keith LaMar who survived solitary confinement in an Ohio prison under the headline “I Spent 27 Years in Solitary Confinement: Here are Some Tips on Making the Best Use of Time Alone”. For most of us, enforced working from home, however difficult or unpleasant in spots, and however contumacious we may feel about it, is not quite the same as solitary confinement. Rather, being forced to work from home is life in uncharted waters and we are being offered an unimaginable, unforeseeable, priceless opportunity to draw our own maps.