Lockdown: Is Work-Life Balance Impossible While Working From Home?

There are no favourites for this predator called COVID, and all of us find ourselves on a level playing field.

Published21 May 2020, 02:32 AM IST
Opinion
6 min read

In the wake of the coronavirus global pandemic, work from home (WFH), which has been touted as the future of work, has, until recently, been confined primarily to the IT sector. Now, so that business as usual can continue, many sectors have started to embrace WFH.

Challenges of implementation remain both from the employers and employees’ perspectives. This article attempts to focus on WFH challenges from the eyes of the employees.

New Kind Of Work Pressure & Round-the-Clock Monitoring

In the digital era, remote working or virtual offices were envisioned as the future, and had been long viewed as a promising prospect that could free all of us from the confines of physical offices. However, for most of us, work from home remained a motivational tool, as going to a physical office for work was mandated for productive, efficient, and collaborative working. Now, thanks to the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 has thrown at us, an alternate universe has abruptly emerged. Suddenly our offices are dark and desolate edifices, standing lonely and deserted, wondering where the army of occupants that swarmed them have disappeared.

Yes, millions of us are now no longer caged in our offices but are locked up in our very homes.

While in the past, when we had pleaded for flexible working hours and work from home options, our bosses had chained us to the tentacles of the HR rule book, office timings and attendance, and had compelled us to attend office each day, we are once again being pressurised by our bosses, but this time, it is to migrate to a work from home regime and to stay away from our physical office.

Throwback to the Good Old Days Of Office Chai Breaks & Gossip

We hated the agony of the morning alarm, the dash to get ready, the grab and go breakfast, the coffee on the move, the phone ringing as we waved goodbye and dragged ourselves to office each day. We survived the peak hour traffic snarls and the anxious moments in the parking lot and the lift as we reached our offices in the nick of time. Now, in this seclusion, we sorely miss the same offices, our very own work spaces and the humdrum that kept us going – the never-ending banter, the politics, the gossip and even the bad jokes in the office corridors.

Safe though we now are in our homes and our new ‘workplace’, we reminisce fondly about the chai breaks, the takeaway lunches and the hangouts with buddies, and we despair at the feelings of loneliness and desolation that overwhelm us.

We miss even the irritating HR policing and the constant brickbats and complaints from our team and colleagues as we fight this new battle alone in our homes, that which we call our new workplaces.

We dreaded Mondays and Tuesdays and grumbled all week about working late, unreasonable timelines, the eternal meetings and sermons that were so annoying. We looked forward to TGIF – “Thank God it’s Friday”! Suddenly we are no longer slaves of time. No longer do we hanker for ‘me time’ as every day is a holiday – be it a Sunday, or a Wednesday. However, there is also no lazy weekend or well-earned sabbatical, or the French leave sneaked in, just to relax and chill. There is no lunch break or coffee break or leisure time in the new workplace we call our homes.

Mad Rush of Office Commute Replaced With Struggles of ‘Work From Home’

No matter how much we pretend it is business-as-usual and tomorrow is yet another day, each day ushers in the same monotony of life and the same drudgery of work. We dress in our casuals, but is there really any relaxation and respite? In our new workplace there is literally no escape. Each day our living room coffee table, our dining table, our kitchen counter or even our bed have to be hurriedly reconfigured and double up as our new workplace.

The mad rush of the tedious commute has been replaced by the daily struggle of getting our makeshift office ready. Every dreary morning we wearily check on our gadgets and internet connections for our morning briefs. We supposedly lock ourselves into the sanctum of our new workplace, but our families and children demand our attention and intrude into our ‘meetings’ all day long.

We are forced to remain distant, yet connected. 

Not just our prowess and ability, but also our endurance is being tested under fire. Our bosses rap and prod us all day and at odd hours, feigning oblivion to our other preoccupations and the whirlpool of insecurity and uncertainty that we have all been sucked into overnight. Perpetually on edge and on our toes, we work like machines and move from one meeting to another, and from one Zoom call to sweeping and mopping, and from emails to frying pans and diapers with no breather at all.

Amid COVID-19, Work-Life Balance Tougher Than Ever Before

Time has always been a precious commodity, but now each day seems endless. The confusion and dichotomy of our roles hits us hard. We procrastinate and wrestle all day as we multi-task between housework and office work. The disruptions and distractions of cleaning and mopping, cooking and replenishing household supplies, even while we tend to our children and the elderly takes its toll, but yet affords us no excuse for being late for meetings, or conversely, not being available to prepare and share a mid-day meal with the family.

Yes, we have cribbed about work-life balance all our lives, and now seemingly, we have all the time in the world to spend with our families and children. But do we really? 

And is that what we want or had envisaged for our lives to be? It has indeed become a Herculean task to manage the precarious balance between work and the daily challenges of life without domestic helpers and teachers, and the heaviness of this endless confinement at home.

We are confronted with the many demons and daunting realities of this new life even as we strive unfailingly to chart out our future path. Indeed, life has presented us with a difficult and uphill course. When do you push, when do you pause, what do you choose and what do you ignore when you need to do everything to simply survive?

Crisis Presents Us With An Opportunity Where Panic & Fury Have No Place

Alas, if only we could go back in time and relive the carefree days we had once enjoyed at our workplaces and with our families and loved ones. Pleasure and leisure now seem a distant dream. Oh, the irony of it! What we no longer have today we crave for, and what we had yearned for we have today, but no longer cherish.

Our predator has undoubtedly cramped us, and the compulsions of confinement have woven a dramatic and unexpected twist in our story. However, our plight teaches us many life lessons and a new resolve to fight and overcome, armed as we are with so many learnings.

A crisis presents us with an opportunity where panic and fury have no place, nor does a ‘wait and watch’ mode help. 

We need to remain calm and be courageous enough to reset and adjust our sails. Although the game may seem tiresome and long, self-control, patience and resilience will give us strength and enable us to survive and thrive.

The virtual world has been our saviour and allows us to remain connected in this isolation. Indeed, distance and seclusion have lost meaning when we are connected and driven by a common purpose and context. In the value chain, each one of us has a responsibility to discharge which is integral for the survival of all. If we understand and appreciate the role we play as individuals and as a team, and fulfil our individual responsibilities, we can move all the spokes of the wheel in seamless coordination.

The Future Isn’t Ours to See

In every sphere our lives are indivisibly dependent, connected and intertwined. Never again will we underestimate the importance of a delivery boy or a domestic help. We must, therefore, move the wheels of life together and collectively to fight and overcome this enemy and finally prevail.

There are no favourites for this predator called COVID, and all of us find ourselves on a level playing field. All our connectedness, connections, status, power, wealth or otherwise have lost relevance. We are all sailing this voyage together and hopefully we will find our anchor soon. Yes, we need to remain positive and count our blessings as there is a tomorrow waiting for all us to return to a new normal, and for the hullabaloo to resume.

But what will the future be like? Well as they say, the future is not for us to see. Time will unfold and narrate the remaining tale which hopefully will be one of opportunities amid all the challenges and tedium of recovery and rejuvenation. Que sera sera. Until then stay safe, stay calm, and keep working.

(Madhu is a seasoned HR Leader with over 3 decades of diversely rich experience in different sectors including Hospitality, Real Estate, Retail and Entertainment. Until recently, as Sr Executive Director (HR), Madhu has spearheaded the HR function for DLF Group. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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