Before COVID-19 showed up to shake the world, I would have been the last person to support the idea of working from home. As a matter of fact, I had serious misgivings about its effectiveness and had only proceeded on the lockdown because it was mandated by the government in public interest.
To my mind, working from home meant loads of distraction, lazying about, low motivation to get work down—or for lack of supervision— and more importantly limited access to team members and business leaders to jointly review things, among others.
Fast-forward to today, more than five months of fully working from home: I have mixed feelings. First, the good. The new normal has gifted me A NEW LIFE! I am now by far a better wife, mother, daughter, friend and neighbour, maybe even a better manager. For sure, a better person.
Before the lockdown, to say my schedule was demanding might be an understatement. Actually, a chunk of the stress I took on was not from actual work but due to some other things required to get work done.
For instance, I spent long commuting hours, more time at work and barely spent 7 hours at home daily – plus sleeping time. Weekends were for continuous self-development, and even that was tasking too.
At work, between poring over reports, attending one or two meetings, making back and forth trips to check things with other colleagues, having lunch and just interacting with colleagues, 10-11 hours would pass – sometimes more, yet the time always seemed to race by too fast.
Month-ends were particularly nerve-racking as there was always a race to deliver to deadline. Interestingly, I didn’t really see anything wrong with that schedule and that life; in fact, I may have enjoyed the quick pace a little. I think slow is boring.
Without knowing it, I had become a self-made Indaboski running things almost always by dishing instructions on everything, from housekeeping to school matters. There was hardly time for the not-serious things. On really tough days, I got home long after midnight and still cooked, cleared prayer backlogs and sat through school debate rehearsals with a sleepy child. I believe I had mastered multitasking as I alternated between chores, racing against time and counting the minutes in my head.
On those days, it was tough catching the cheerful side of me or being patient while multitasking. The tension was palpable and my kids had admitted, once or twice, to checking with each other to fix anything that could irk me upon arrival.
Still, I almost always found something wrong. So much for preparing for mummy’s return!
Everything changed with the lockdown. Well… almost everything. The fact that I no longer need to wake up early, get school things ready and dress up to travel to work is perhaps the biggest plus.
The impact that this has had on my work-life balance is immeasurable. I’m not even sure if I’m not scared of going back to my old schedule.
I am now able to sleep a little longer, exercise daily, worship better and eat right. Amazing that I actually now get to pick the specific ingredients and quantity I want in my food without depending on someone else – unbelievable luxury!
Now I spend time with the kids, sometimes even beyond my welcome! The things that only a lockdown could cause! I still need to know more about making the homework just the way I’ve always dreamt, but who is hurrying? To where? I have even watched a few movies at family time.
Now I know more of my neighbours and have started interacting with some of them. I’m no longer “one woman who drives a black car and comes back so late.” Some people now know my name and some give a friendly wave when I go by.
Nowadays, I wear whatever clothes I find first. Colours and fit mean nothing. Gone are the days of arranging my wardrobe for every week ahead – Monday topmost, all the way to Sunday.
On the job, my team has now settled considerably into the remote working mode. Earlier struggles and bottlenecks have mostly been overcome. Our technical support team at SystemSpecs has been nothing short of amazing in helping with the requisite infrastructure and tools to ease the process.
We have also consciously incorporated reports into virtually all KPIs to improve effectiveness and track work progress in the absence of the face-to-face interactions we used to have. We even conducted our full annual audit despite the lockdown!
There is still a lot of catching up for me, but I can’t even complain. I still have not mastered how to operate any appliance beyond the blender, and that is fine. Not sure I should get too comfortable, anyway.
I used to dread long calls with family and friends during which I would ask: “Any gist?” – a question I didn’t really mean. Nowadays, I am not so afraid to ask. I can live with short gist.
Now, the not-so-bad. I love to work hard. I like the feeling at the end of each day when I am confident I have given my best, sure that I either accomplished something or at least learnt something. With working from home, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the work because there really isn’t an “end of the day.”
The absence of a structured closing time makes the work—and the new type of stress—endless. Every day, I decide when I’ll stop and shut down but every day I fail to do so.
Somehow the number of meetings appeared to have doubled at the onset of the lockdown. So much so that I sometimes secretly wondered if we are just really missing one another. After all, we are used to being together for the most part of every working day. (The meetings have now however reduced drastically).
Those days, after the online meetings, my to-do list remained long and daunting. I think a part of it is also was the pressure from being mostly accountable to myself. The need to justify that I am working and not faffing at home. I can’t explain why I feel that way. I just do.
I still really miss, my office. I miss my comfortable chair the most. All my attempts to replicate or simulate the comfort of that chair have failed so far. So I resort to moving around. Sometimes, it’s a sofa; sometimes, a dinning chair; most times, it’s the bed.
Working from home is a real nightmare when the internet is erratic or when I just must endure public power failure and shuttling between alternative power sources.
Any thoroughbred SystemSpecs person will miss the things I miss. The office banters. Birthdays and other special events that we celebrate as one big family. I miss physical meetings where I don’t have to present any report.
I miss the expansive office cafeteria, the nice meals and the guaranteed daily recess that it offered. I miss our magnificent new office; I miss the feeling of subtle pride that came with working and walking through the lavish spaces.
And then there is the home-running part. To put it lightly, certain members (no names or titles called) of my household like to equate my being physically at home with being available to make nice meals and play full-time applicable roles. I think they deserve some spoiling but I am still working towards achieving a healthy balance.
…and then the ugly. It is very disturbing to go to bed every night, hoping and praying not to wake up to a sadder new day, with more grief and gloom and almost no cheering news.
It is distressing to realise that some livelihoods may be permanently diminished with the changes that have come with these times. I worry for people in the tourism, entertainment, fashion and other affected industries.
In all, working from home has brought me the hope that there can be a balance. The balance between the sheer craziness of the former ‘normal’ and the welcome facileness of the new one. This is indeed a much-needed shift for me and I believe for many others. I just wonder for how long?
Bukola Adeboye is a chartered accountant with experience of over a decade. She leads the finance and accounting functions at SystemSpecs, a leading financial and human capital technology services provider. Bukola loves to inspire a culture of hard work and continuous learning.
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