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Finding The Way – Discovering the Office/Home Balance

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It is cliched, absolutely, but we are in uncertain times. It is going to take time and effort to carve a path back to something we could consider “normal”.

Alarm, roll out of bed, shower, clothes, coffee, trudge, train, trudge, coffee, elevator, office, log on.

It is a cycle that many would have got used to over the course of their working lives. An ever-present, almost automatic, list of items that gets rolled through every morning without too much thought at all.

Then just about everything we thought we knew was turned on its head earlier this year when the COVID-19 pandemic rearranged, within a matter of weeks and without warning, how our society was going to function.

Gone was the trudge to the train station in the early morning light. Gone were the ever-tedious but compulsory “how was your weekend?” “Not long enough” conversation as you walked into the office. Gone was the office. The meetings that should have been emails. The disgustingly cheap and uncomfortable office chair. The desk.

My commute when from over 30 minutes to less than 30 seconds as I rolled out of bed, found a shirt and flopped, gracelessly, into a chair while booting up the myriad computers I was using to work from home.

It was, for a time, glorious. Which was weird because for the vast majority of my working life, I had always aimed to keep a strict separation between work and home.

Work was for work, and home was absolutely not for working unless completely and unavoidably necessary. The latter, for example, would be things like needing to get something filed and instead of staying back late to finish it, getting up early and doing it from home before heading into the office. I am much more a morning than evening person.

But when the call came that I was being asked to return to the office, my initial response was not one of immediate joy at being able to return the desk space to a place where video games were played. I had, in the matter of just a few weeks, grown accustomed to working from home, and did not envy the prospect of having to return to the office.

I am sure I am not alone, and as the weeks and months go one, there will be stronger and stronger calls from managers and company owners for their staff – in particular white collar office-based staff like myself – to return to offices, if not on a full-time basis then the majority of the time.

For me, the transition was somewhat sudden. Once the call was made, there was a two-week lenience to allow for not having to cancel some appointments made under the assumption I was going to be at home, before returning full time to the office.

I have been back three weeks already.

However I find myself wondering whether that is the best? There were certainly advantages to working from home, just as there are working from the office.

It is not just things like not having to buy petrol for the car (or pay for public transport, if that’s your thing). There’s the lost time commenting, at least an hour or more a day. I miss being able to set my Microsoft Teams status as “do not disturb” and have it hold off on the interruptions of the department chat room so I could focus on what I was doing.

At the back of my mind, of course, is the ongoing risk of exposure to COVID-19, although at present, in this part of the country at least, the risk is very low.

On the other hand, going back to the office means having face-to-face conversations with people who are not my immediate family. Home is, once again, a place for home-type activities. I can leave work at the door.

We all have to find our way and we are all likely to find different things that work for us. And that’s the important lesson, really.

Matthew's Thought Crimes

Matthew Hatton is a writer, photographer, website wrangler and systems designer.

In his spare time he has bad thoughts. Thought Crimes is their home.