OPINION – Working from home: Is it time to say goodbye to work-life balance?
By Dinnah Ondari
The COVID-19 pandemic has made working from home the new normal, that is, for institutions and professionals whose operations allow such flexibility.
Indeed, for those who dread traffic jams and cannot stand the 8am-5pm official schedule, the adjustment necessitated by the pandemic came as a blessing in disguise; a silver lining in the dark cloud brought about by the devastating impact of the pandemic. Many professionals I know; including journalists, teachers, IT people, consultants, to mention but a few, have been able to meet their targets, with minimal adjustments.
After all, working from home frees us from rigid work schedules; I know people who, by their own admission, go to the office because the labour laws demand that they do so and end up working for very few hours.
These days you find yourself drawn into conversations along these lines: “I am not a morning person so working from home helps me wake up at whatever time I feel, I can still work late into the night because that is when my intellectual energy peaks.” For others it is the vice versa (like yours truly): My mind is clearest between 3am and 1pm. This is where I schedule my most critical tasks; the afternoons are left for lighter duties!
If you are lucky to be among those who kept their jobs during the pandemic and your work does not require your physical presence in the office, you are probably better off working from home, or, you have tried the flexi-hours thing; But there is an elephant in the room; does working from home also mean that you say good-bye to the work-life balance? What does working from home mean for families, and their family space? What is the role of the employer in facilitating their employees in reducing the inconveniences brought by working from home?
Schools are currently closed, and for families who had children in school, and are working from home, the line between life and family has just grown thinner. Unless for instance, you have a room (like a study) designated as an office in your domestic premises, one has to find a way to navigate the work-life balance within the family setting.
The physical distance from the workplace and the home environment enables one to channel their energies fully into the workplace tasks without distractions from the domestic chores. This is because pre-pandemic where there was not much flexibility on the official working hours, most workers’ minds were wired to segment their time between the office and family.
Even with the most disciplined, locking yourself in a room to concentrate on a task while trying to zone out distractions from noisy toddlers demanding attention (which is within their right by the way), requires supernatural powers.
An understanding house help might come in handy for mothers with young children. However, even this has its own share of challenges, if my experience is anything to go by, though I had explained that she would be expected to do her duties as if I were away in the office, the request for days off became more frequent and sometimes my presence would attract unexplained absenteeism because she assumed I would take care of the domestic chores in her absence.
More so, transforming one’s house into an office is an invasion of the rest of the family’s private space; If your spouse or children thought you did not spend enough time with them due to an official schedule that made it impossible to be with them, ignoring them while working from home may have its own share of psychological effects on all of you, especially if it is sudden.
To overcome this challenge, one would consider working during odd hours when the rest of the family is asleep (if you are a night owl) which would mean that you will work longer hours because you will be awake more than the rest of the family.
Employers can make this change less disruptive by providing the necessary facilitation and support: Staff will need support to set up home offices (ergonomic seats, desks, reliable internet), acquiring extra space for office work, periodically setting practical targets for employees while taking into account the factors that may interfere with a balanced work-life situation.
This will ensure that employees know that the employee recognizes the importance of allowing them to spend time with their families, exercise, and pay attention to the other aspects of their personal lives.
A study conducted on the psychological effects of working from home by Ungemah (2020) on employee productivity found that due to the fact that employees do not interact physically at the workplace, they become very lonely (this may mostly affect those who live alone).
This is a manifestation of psychological trauma that affects an employee’s personal health which underlines the need for employers to regularly monitor the well-being of their staff while working at home.