One year ago, I packed my bag and left the office anticipating a short, two-week break to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic before life returned to normal.
One of my coworkers left with a box of things from her office (“We don’t know how long this will last”), while another put food in the office freezer for lunch when we returned.
A friend excitedly called to tell me that her office was shutting down for two weeks, cutting down on her hour-long commute. “It’ll get old eventually,” I told her, not knowing how fiercely my words would come back to haunt me.
I’ve worked remotely part-time for the majority of my adult life. I’ve often dreamed of working 9 to 5 in an office, the same ways people used to tell me how “lucky” I was to work from home so often. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Now, after a year of only working remotely, I understand why the hybrid work model wasn’t working for me — and how, with some improvements, it can be the perfect work-life balance.
I always dreaded my morning commutes to work: getting jostled on the train, then waiting in a long line for my morning coffee. By the time I got to my desk, I was already exhausted.
On remote days, I made the quick “commute” from my bedroom to the living room, fired up my Nespresso and felt ready to tackle the day. It’s a perk I enjoyed long before the pandemic turned office life upside down.
Remote work does give us more time and fewer distractions. According to a study by Prodoscore, employees have reported a 47% increase in productivity since March 2020. Collaboration shifted from boardrooms to Zoom calls, but employers discovered work can still get done virtually.
But remote work all the time is another kind of burden. People are forced to juggle childcare, significant others, loneliness, anxiety and depression, not to mention a global pandemic, while managing a full time job. Flexibility aside, living where you work has added stress.
For me, the biggest change has been over-accessibility. Before, late night and weekend emails were slightly taboo. My inbox always quieted down around 6 p.m. But being at home has blurred the lines, driving some people to work 24/7, firing off emails and Slack messages after hours.
Sixty-nine percent of employees have felt burnt out while working from home, according to Monster. Not to mention, 59% of employees took less time off than they normally would and 42% have no plans to take time off from work because of travel restrictions. It’s easy to think: “What would I do on my day off? I’m already home.”
Working in an office, one of the few places we interact with people outside of our friends and family, also satisfies a basic need for human interaction. Work is about more than simply the work we do. It’s also the culture we immerse ourselves in.
So clearly, a hybrid work-life balance is the answer, right? Maybe, but as someone who has worked on a hybrid schedule before, employers have to be careful when instituting flexible working policies.
Employees that return to work will finally be able to drop by their manager’s office for a quick chat, or grab coffee with a coworker. But remote employees will miss out on these vital moments, and face communication barriers.
Those who regularly work from home could be viewed as “second tier” by management because of their lower visibility. In the past, I found coworkers were often given preference on an assignment over me simply because they were in the office one day while I was working from home.
Employers need to level the playing field for remote workers if they want to commit to a hybrid workplace. That means continuing to support remote work as the world slowly emerges from the pandemic.
Although there isn’t a “one size fits all” plan for every company, there should be an acceptance for every employee’s work style.
We made it work before, and we should continue to in the future.