Living At Work: Mapping The Highs & Lows Of Working From Home

Living At Work: Mapping The Highs & Lows Of Working From Home
Illustration by Shreya Takodara for Homegrown

If we were asked over a year ago to transfer our office desks to our makeshift work station in a cosy corner (or even on our beds) of our homes, we would have excitedly jumped at the opportunity. After all, what’s not to love? No hassle of frustrating commutes, the comfort of your pyjamas, and the sheer possibility of eating breakfast at a reasonable hour or snacking any time!

Clearly, we had gotten it all wrong. Driven by excitement and novelty, we took to our unprecedented work-from-home routines quickly and settled into our seemingly comfortable routines – which it was until it wasn’t.

After over six months of confining ourselves to the safety of our homes, the scheme for working from home has lost its glamour for most of us. However, the realities differ for each one of us. Our various professional fields, the facilities some of us are privileged enough to avail at home and the overall (un)suitable environment to constantly deliver work targets from home played a significant role in deciding the degree of compatibility or the lack thereof with the new working standard.

In 2016, Phyllis Moen (University of Minnesota) and Erin L. Kelly (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) studied employees of Fortune 500 Companies to see just how effective working from home can be. Unsurprisingly, the test group reported feeling and working better. We wonder, though, would it be the same after the addition of a pandemic and a perceptible elimination of choice?

To quench our curiosity, we asked the readers of Homegrown for their views, experiences, and opinions on work-from-home being the probable work-mode in the future. Their responses provided us with a peep into how they are dealing with change and making their own space in the space that is available.

A word about our responses:

  • The age group of our respondents ranged from 18-27 years old.
  • 80% of our respondents identify as female, and the rest 20% identify as male.
  • Most of our respondents were from Bengaluru and Mumbai. Others were from Indian cities like Ahmedabad, Pune, and Delhi NCR.
  • While half of our respondents belonged to the creative field, 20% of them were media professionals, and the rest 30% were divided among content creation, entrepreneurship and program management, equally.
  • 10% of our respondents chose to remain anonymous.
  • For qualitative purposes, the respondents were not forced to choose from just a selection of options and were allowed to give us insight in their own words.

Like Dipping Feet In Cold Water

70% of the respondents have experienced a positive change regarding work-from-home over time. They have found ways to accept the initially jarring situation and are not bogged down by it as much any more.

30% believe things have taken a turn for the worse. They are unable to cope with the new standard.

No change, big or small, is ever easy. Our opening question, of course, had to do with the initial shock of converting their established routines to one where they work from home. For some, the embryonic excitement of lying in bed under the covers with chai on the bedside table gave way to panic-filled mornings packed with calls and emails, while others came to pace themselves according to what their work demands.

Sakshi Bhoolabhai from Mumbai explains her frustration, “Working from home was never easy for me because if my bed is close by, I will gravitate towards it, and living at home with my family, too, comes with its own challenges and distractions. Work at the office used to be a space of escape, a space for productivity idea flow.” However, she was able to come to terms with the new routine and says, “In six months, things have changed as I appreciate the comfort of the extra time and really the idea that I can do anything from anywhere.”

Vedant Vaishampayan, a media professional from Pune, experienced a similar shift. He says, “I would get flustered with the constant notifications of Whatsapp and emails initially. Now, there’s a 5 minute period of panic and then I ease into the onslaught.”

On the contrary, some find it laborious to overcome the weight of working from home. All the pros of the phenomenon, whatever they may be, seem to be overshadowed by various other emotions. Sashi, a content creator from Bengaluru tries to put it into words, “Even now, I don’t feel like I’m able to give work my all since I’m a lot more distracted, but I’m burnt out at the end of the day and don’t have much time to talk to my friends or family.

Facing The Unknown

History has led us to believe that human beings, Homo Sapiens, are a species that are forerunners in coping with change. If we were to believe anyone’s word for it, it would be Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History. Potts believes that in the modern era, humans experience interactions that allow us to have plasticity, to be able to mould and adapt. He, however, clarifies that this capacity to adjust is itself a characteristic that we have evolved into.

Having experienced various challenges posed by the mandatory work-from-home routines, our respondents provided us with the details of what exactly bogs them down. A common theme seemed to be a lack of communication. The sharp advancements in technology would make one think that essentially, communication would remain unaffected. We are social animals, after all — we need our dose of physical presence to understand another party wholly. Tanya Chowhan from Bengaluru emphasises, “The whole feeling of having a face-to-face conversation is missing. The communication gap is real.”

Particular to the creative field, the issues take on a different tangent. Creativity for most requires time and space to think, devoid of distractions. Work-from-home is an example of everything one doesn’t need to work creatively. Nanvi Singh Jhala from Ahmedabad explains, “Living in a joint family with no personal space does create the biggest issue. As I, being in a creative field require space as well as silence to work and focus.”

An aspect most of us would miss, but that deserves more importance, as expressed by Tanya, is of the role the patriarchal society plays. She says, “Being a woman who is working from home, living at her parents’ house, did come with a lot of baggage of doing duties at home. What if I was their son? Would I be expected to do home duties?” Being away from home provided women with a way to almost escape a part of their ‘dutiful role’ at home. Now, since the nature of work demands to remain in the environment women once escaped, the expectations simply pile on — to be available for office work, as well as for house chores with no sign of respite.

All Work & No Play

80% of the respondents admit they end up working more at home than they did in office.

Only 20% believe that they end up working lesser at home compared to how much they worked in the office.

Many choose to define work-from-home as ‘living at work’, where you essentially never escape the office. The lines of work hours have blurred, and the freedom to reach out to a colleague for some more work exists now more than ever. The physicality of bidding colleagues goodbye as one walks out of the office has never felt as important as it does now. How productive these extended hours are, begs a whole new question.

Contributing to the minority that disagrees, Tarang, a program manager from Bengaluru says, “It seems that way because the distinction between work and home is no longer present.

Zooming In On Virtual Fatigue

Collaborative work calls for effective communication. According to research conducted by Recruiter, 33% of employees said that a lack of open, honest communication has the most negative impact on employee morale.

It is possible that in order to make up for the lack of physical presence, some workplaces overdo their virtual meetings which in turn may cause more harm than good. ‘Zoom fatigue’ as it has come to be known, refers to the exhaustion one may feel by having to spend long durations in virtual meetings over platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams and the like. Why, however, would one be more tired if all they have to do is sit at home and attend a video call?

Much of each others’ understanding takes place through non-verbal communication — trying to decipher this through a screen is near impossible. Not just that, we are also subconsciously diverting our attention to little things like ‘Does my hair look okay?’, ‘What if the pets run past me?’ or ‘Am I on mute?

All these aspects add up and contribute majorly to miscommunication and subsequential fatigue. Vedant explains, “Misunderstandings are rife, especially since I work in creatives for advertising. What they mean is interpreted in a million minutely different ways.” His input introduces the concept of misunderstanding and resorting to one’s own interpretation — who would want to extend the call just to get a crystal clear picture? Nanvi from Ahmedabad agrees, “Working on group projects is smooth when everyone is equally putting the effort because otherwise, it is very difficult, as people give excuses to get away from the work denoted and you cannot even catch hold of them. As times are so uncertain, the decisions keep changing accordingly, so sometimes the emails do become frustrating to cope with.”

It can now be understood that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is not caused just by the act of sitting opposite your screen for hours on end — it is inculcated throughout the day in the form of the plethora of follow-up emails, looming deadlines, increased screen-time, apprehension in double-checking someone else’s work, holding each team member accountable and much more.

Return To Base

With the support of 40% of our respondents, the most popular opinion is that they would like to go back to working from their respective offices the first chance they get. 

30% of them would prefer to have a mix of work-from-home and in-office in a flexible schedule that allows them the best of both worlds.

20% of the respondents are still unsure of which working method is better.

A mere 10% of the respondents would definitely like to continue working from home.

When asked if they would like to return to in-office work when things settle, Reema Singh from Bengaluru got straight to the point, “No. Never. Humans are social beings for a reason.” The fact that we were made to withstand change is true, whether we cope with it well is a different story. The absence of face-to-face conversations, the water-cooler catch-ups and post-work outings was bound to take a toll, sooner or later. Give us too much of one thing, and we begin to struggle with it. Space and time to oneself in a quick-paced lifestyle sounds like a blessing, but six months henceforth, it is nothing less than a bane.

Surely under the same distress, Sakshi somewhat agrees but realises the importance of maintaining distance. She says, “Safety and health are the #1 priority. I know my work can be done remotely and while I prefer the office, I can not compromise on the safety and health of my family and loved ones. I think I would be open to giving up an office space in the future and meeting for perhaps meetings at coffee shops and even encouraging working and living in different locations because why not? It’s my own company and I think I’d want people to be excited about life beyond work because I feel that’s when they bring more to the table too. Let’s see how we grow and how these dreams are realised.”

Most humans thrive or choose to thrive in communities. Our talents are recognised, support is provided and there is a sense of familiarity. Workplaces replicate this environment. Even the petty gossip and bitter-cold temperature of the office is missed.

Nothing has taught us the meaning of moulding ourselves to the situation better than the Coronavirus pandemic. Whether that be creating best-out-of-waste platforms for our WiFi routers to receive the best signal or our pandemic-couture line of half formal/half pyjama outfits, we’ve given it all we can.

Working from home remains a debated upon topic — some wish to find a balance between the office and work-from-home in the future, while some would rush to their post-its clad work desk. We never thought we would say “Take some time off work” when all the time is spent at home, so here’s what we would like to say instead — We hope you are able to treat work as work, and life as life, since any more blurred lines and complex relationships should only belong in the ‘out of sight, out mind’ pile.

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