By: Caroline Spencer
The other day a friend and I planned to have lunch together. We were to meet outside my office.
I had to google cafes in the area because – as I explained to my friend – it’s been eight months since I’ve been to my office. Maybe you can relate?
‘WFH’ – Working From Home – is the new post-COVID reality for many of us.
There are some glorious upsides. I’ve never been so on top of my washing. I can go for walks while the winter sun is still shining at 3pm in the afternoon. I can have lunch mid-week with my dad. As a friend so eloquently put it: “Life used to fit around my work. But now, to some degree, work fits around life”.
While I can go back to the office, I choose to work from home most days because of the flexibility.
But WFH is not all a bed of roses. A recent survey of workers found that the negatives of working from home included: exhaustion, the blurring of boundaries and weight gain.
The blurring of boundaries has always been there. We think about work when we are at home (and vice versa). But in former pre-WFH days, there was a much clearer sense of when we working and when we were not. Now, work and life bleed into each other. Sometimes profusely.
Is this a problem? Should we be worried about this marvellous newfound flexibility? Jayne Hardy in her TED essay How to Set Clear Work Boundaries writes:
“There should be a palpable mind shift, the lifting of the weight of workplace responsibility, and a sense that we’re done for the day.”
I can be done for the day because I don’t believe in pulling unreasonable hours. Here’s the problem: I don’t feel done for the day. It’s hard to put work down when I don’t leave my place at work. Not in the sense of actually doing it. I find myself thinking about work when I’m at home a lot more than I used to.
How can I make WFH actually work (from home), and so make the most of the experience? Here’s a few quick thoughts:
1) Be clear on who I am
I’ll feel done for the day if I’m clear on who I am. As Jayne Hardy helpfully writes:
“If we never feel as though we’re enough, we can throw ourselves into our work to try and ascertain enough-ness from our output, usefulness and indispensability.”
That’s so me: trying to ascertain enough-ness from my output. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle: I don’t feel done for the day, so I question my output, which undermines my value and self-worth, so I just keep thinking about work.
Our “you do you” culture might look positive in the sense we can choose our own identities. But the freedom comes with a price tag. It’s exhausting to carve out your own identity. It’s overwhelming to know that if it goes pear-shaped, it’s all on you. Plus defining our identity is not something we do in complete isolation: we care about what other people think of us.
As a follower of Jesus, I have someone who tells me: “You are enough”. He accepts me now, and will accept me in the future, whether I am a devout follower or a miserable failure. It’s because his acceptance of me is based on the fact that he died for me (and if I’m thankful for that acceptance, it will change me). That’s the thinking behind these words to a bunch of followers:
“ For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit ” [1 Peter 3:18, CSB]
This kind of acceptance is liberating. I don’t need to strive so hard for enough-ness, to impress myself or others with my output. I am already enough.
2) Live by what’s important to me
I’ll feel done for the day if I live by what’s important to me.
Sometimes when I haven’t felt done for the day, I’ve kept working until I do. The hours fly by and I finally produce that quality piece of work. But I’ve almost always regretted that decision. While it may have satisfied my “non-negotiable” of wanting to do a good job, another “non-negotiable” (having a life outside of work) is being left to bleed out on the floor. If I’m going to live by what’s important to me, I need to live by all that’s important to me.
3) Believe that boundaries are a good thing
I’ll feel done for the day if I believe boundaries are a good thing.
I used to think that the “un-boundaried” life was more noble, because I was freer to care for others (caring for others is another of my “non-negotiables”). “Need that piece of work by tomorrow? – Sure, I can do that”. But there was nothing noble about burning myself out. Emotional exhaustion, withdrawal and feelings of incompetency meant I was no good to anybody, including myself.
It’s good and right to recognise my humanity needs boundaries, and to communicate those clearly. And then allow others to do the same to me.
4) Embrace the transition
I’ll feel done for the day when I’ve been able to embrace a transition.
In the former days, the office commute was the transition. Generally by the time my bus reached my stop, I’d been able to mentally put work down. Now that I no longer commute, I need replacement transitions. Activities that give me the space to feel done for the day.
Speaking of transitions, I should finish up now and get ready to go to Pilates. I’m very tempted to keep writing, because I don’t feel done for the day. But I also know by the end of the class, I will.
So off I go, because I want to make WFH work (from home) for me.
About the author: Caroline Spencer is an experienced speaker, writer, mentor and trainer with City Bible Forum.