My Mixed Feelings about WFH

*Not a photo of me.

Almost six years ago, I quit the 9-5 and went out on my own. For a long time, I worked from home. And I loved it. Working from home gave me the freedom to fit my career around my personal life, not the other way around. I loved that I could go to the beach during the day if I wanted to. I loved that I didn’t have to get out of bed if I didn’t want to.

While WFH, my productivity was through the roof because I worked on my terms. But when I became a mum, WFH suddenly sucked – big time. At the back of my mind during every single working moment was that enormous pile of washing that needed to be folded or what on earth I was going to cook for dinner. My productivity plummeted because I was physically, emotionally and mentally pulled from every direction, and my business suffered severely as a result of it.

At the beginning of 2018 I moved into the B:HIVE on Auckland’s North Shore. The B:HIVE is a purpose-built shared office space for small and medium-sized businesses. It was a big risk for a small business that struggled to pay my weekly wages let alone monthly rent in an office space, but it was a risk that paid off.

Within a few months, my business had picked up significantly. It was a combination of mentally being back in the ‘going to work’ game, having more room in my head to focus on growing my business, and rubbing shoulders with other people and businesses who could do with some wordsmithing. I got up every morning and went to work, instead of commuting all the way to the dining table. I squeezed my packed lunch into the overflowing communal fridges, sometimes succumbing to peer pressure to go to Shake Out instead. But I also knew that, because I was self-employed, even working at an office gave me the freedom to work from home or head home early if I felt like it.

At the beginning of 2020, I started working for The Man again. After more than five years doing my own thing, I was ready for a new challenge and more career opportunities. There’s only so much you can do or earn when you work for yourself, after all.

While going back to fulltime work was 100% what I wanted, I was daunted about how I’d juggle fulltime work with now two preschoolers. Like, what does that even look like? I’d never done it before. Thankfully, Starshipit offers very flexible working, including the ability to work from home if you want to. I start early, finish early and WFH on Thursdays.

And I must admit that working from home when you work for a business is glorious. Not only am I more productive at home one day a week, I also smash out a lot of boring life admin like washing the copious amount of washing that comes with two big humans and two small humans cohabitating. I usually put a slow-cooker dinner on too so when Husband and the kids come home after 5, I’m done for the day and dinner has magically looked after itself.

COVID-19 has made WFH incredibly tricky though. Because Husband and I both work fulltime, we escaped Auckland the day before lockdown and migrated north to my inlaws’ place in Kerikeri so we could take advantage of free, live-in childminders. They wrangle the kids while we work during the day and pay for all the groceries and alcohol. If we didn’t have this option, I was facing the very real prospect of having to drop down to half-time hours.

But while Granny and Granda look after the kids during the day, I still put a lot of maternal (and daughter-in-law) pressure on myself to help out as much as I can. I sort out lunch and naptime for the one-year-old so G&G can put their feet up, diffuse tantrums between the four-year-old and everyone else, and sometimes, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, set him up with a movie and bowl of popcorn in bed while I Zoom on my laptop beside him. I don’t doubt the grandparents’ abilities to look after the kids, but my inbuilt maternal-ness means that I innately know when snack time and lunchtime are due without looking at the clock and what each whimper and cry means, so even when I’m getting shit done, my head prevents me from fully being in the game. Husband, on the other hand, shuts himself away in a room and mentally shuts off from everything else that’s going on around him until dinner time. I wish I knew how this was possible.

If there’s one thing that lockdown has taught me, it’s this: I never want to permanently work from home ever again. I miss my colleagues. I miss the banter. I miss the opportunity to pop downstairs to grab a hot chocolate (not that I do that much, but the point is that I could if I wanted to). I miss meetings, even the boring ones. I miss lunchtime strolls alongside but entirely separated from the rest of Auckland CBD’s workforce. I miss 3 o’clockitus and the trip to the dairy around the corner. I even miss the commute; I get a lot more alone time on the bus than I do at the moment.

Lockdown has proved that working from home is possible in far more industries or workplaces than old-school bosses might have thought possible, and I would be surprised if businesses that have been forced to adapt go back to the days of old when this is all over. But for me, I simply cannot wait to get back on the bus, back to my desk, and back in the mental game of working.

Although, don’t get me wrong. I’ll continue to WFH on Thursdays. Someone’s got to get the washing done, after all.

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