Why working from home is past its use-by date
Updated: May 6
This morning I got up, went for my beach run – not trying to be smug there, it’s the truth - jumped in the shower, and got ready for work. The excitement I got putting on make-up, blow-drying my hair and putting on an outfit was literally indescribable.
To understand my confusion about this emotion, you need to understand that, currently, I live in the middle of nowhere and everything is basically shut for Ramadan this year–unfortunately, yet another result of the continuing fallout of Covid. The closing up of shop, not Ramadan I hasten to add.
Why was I doing all of this, or more specifically, why was I so excited to be doing this? Like most everyone fortunate enough to still have work, I have had countless Zoom calls, online meetings etc. over the past year, with the need to present front and center. I have had to put make-up on and do my hair for screen time–many, many times. Actually, recently I read a light-hearted query as to whether people put perfume/aftershave on for Zoom calls, I have to admit I do, which made me smile, and brought to my attention just how ingrained the concept of getting ready is. But why was I, all of a sudden, this excited to be getting ready?
It’s the little things as they say.
My screen on my laptop had blown out the week before, and in lieu of getting it fixed–which poses a slight problem when you live in the middle of nowhere–my husband had set up my office in the upstairs apartment connecting my laptop to a TV screen. The apartment upstairs is usually reserved for our boutique surf/yoga stay, but with Covid it had been sitting empty for the better part of a year and I decided I had no desire to put up a huge TV screen on my dining table–which is where I generally set my laptop up–or in lieu of that, upstairs on the terrace balancing it on my lap. With the new set of circumstances, we had opted to turn the apartment into my new working space, and with this new set-up I had to physically go outside my front door and upstairs to my “office”.
The excitement that thought brought was palpable.
This, this small act, this setting up of a dedicated space that I had to leave the house for–albeit 15 steps outside my front door – engendered a small thrill, a little buzz of excitement that coursed through me. The prospect of “going to” work.
Isn’t that amazing?
I think it is. So much so, it still leaves me a little incredulous.
How things change!
When the pandemic first hit – I vividly recall all the noise being made about WFH – how we would never want to go back to the office again. And I remember even then, intrinsically debunking this. I have always maintained that connection is paramount to the human condition–and that all this pandemic would do is make us desire more connection–not less.
One of the things re forecasting is the insights it affords you – naturally this in itself is a main part of the role, gathering insights, but it also allows you to see patterns and detect mindsets before others, in order to forecast where to next. And one of the patterns easily detected in the pandemic was the rise of extreme isolation – and the severe impact on mental health. You didn’t need to forecast too far in the future to see that people would be desperate to reconnect, although surprisingly, to me at least, there were many, many reports mentioning the exact opposite–how we would desire space in the future, how we would never go back to an office, how large gatherings would be a thing of the past….
So, this small act of getting ready to walk out the door and go to work filled me with nostalgia, and wonderfully vivid memories. I would have laid money on the fact that I would never ever have been excited to go through the morning routine–for 10 years I had risen at 5.30am to get ready to go to work and I can tell you in the middle of an Austrian winter it is not something you look forward to, getting out of a warm bed in the pitch black.
But there’s the rub.
The morning routine had all but dissipated when I had become freelance to run my own agency, and then with the onset of Covid it had crumbled into dust.
As humans we generally crave routine. It comforts us–there is a reason many advocate the necessity of routine for babies and animals. The same set of circumstances played over–it offers a surety–a cocooning bubble-wrap sensation, a sense of the familiar and the comforting – we know what we are doing with routine.
We know where we are
And it was very apparent, at least for me, the death of routine was intensely mourned.
As I stood there surrounded by the smell of make-up, applying the slightly fruity flavour of lip gloss, felt the heat of the hair dryer on freshly washed hair, listened to the familiar soothing sound of make-up pencils and eye-shadows tapping together in the make-up bag as I rustled around searching for eyeliner – my mascara face looking back at me in the mirror (come on, everybody has one!)– it occurred to me how very comforted I was by the familiar smells, sights and sounds, and how very, very much I had missed this small ritual.
It wasn’t simply the make-up, the spray of Chanel No. 5–yes, that classic it just seemed so apt–the choosing of an outfit; comfortable yet classy, it was the sense of getting back to the familiar. A somewhat reimagined ordinary, a normalcy that had been missing for so long.
And I welcomed it back with open arms.
I know I am not alone in this.
There was recently a poll on whether we would want to go back to the office–again if you ask me the poll really didn’t need to be taken, it was a no-brainer–but what I did find interesting was the percentages people were giving on the time it would take to revert back to where we were before.
The time before the world upended itself and sci-fi became science fact.
There seemed to be a tipping in the favour of a three-to-four year timeline to complete recovery.
To me this seems a little on the cautious side.
Let’s put it like this – if the world opened up tomorrow, and we were assured of safety – it would take less than five minutes for most people to be getting back to their “old” ways of life. It is not so much about our intrinsic human nature or our desire, it is about our need to feel secure–and that perhaps would be a better subject for a poll.
How long will it take before we feel secure again?
Until we do, we will continue to comfort ourselves in the re-igniting of small routines.
Strange much, that something that was once considered boring and mundane has now become a literal life-saver?
And, as for me – the end result of my first day back at the “office"? Well, that was a bit of a disappointment really, given that no-one else was there.
The morning ritual however, has stayed with me as a security blanket of sorts, simply from the familiarity and comfort that getting ready afforded me.
So, with hand on heart I say - long live routine.
And to WFH – I am about ready for you to just do one.