Covid is blurring the line between work and home in the worst way possible
Working remotely is a euphamism for the near-torture of being cooped up all day at home.
By Amy Klein
The other night my husband and I were on a “Zoom date” with another couple we hadn’t seen since the beginning of Covid-19 in March. “How’s it been going for you guys?”
“Actually,” the husband said, looking fondly at his wife. “It’s been really good for us. We’ve both been fortunate enough to keep our jobs and it’s been really nice to be able to work from home and see each other.”
Really nice? NICE?
You keep saying that word but I do not think it means what you think it means, I thought, paraphrasing “The Princess Bride.” I guess one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
After we logged off my husband said to me, “That was a bit much, wasn’t it?”
I knew what he meant. I’m glad our friends aren’t suffering, but I am a little tired of the “silver-lining” people who’ve woken up to discover they love working from home (and spending more time with their family, baking sourdough bread and reorganizing their closets). They don’t miss going to daily meetings or making water cooler chit-chat or attending after-work events.
In other words, the introverts. These days it feels like they’ve inherited the earth. And extroverts like me are suffering. Turning our homes into our workplaces might be temporarily necessary to combat a pandemic, but it would only prolong the distress if this becomes our new work normal.
Even though I’m a writer, I love to work among other people. As a journalist, I constantly meet with people, hear their ideas and come up with stories about them. In safer times, I was the first to volunteer to attend events like rallies and parades to write what they used to call “man on the street” articles.
When I started writing a book two years ago, I joined a co-working space so that I wasn’t confined to my bedroom desk or random coffee shops. I loved getting out of the house, having a place to go to and even seeing the same “co-workers”: my friend who meticulously packed an instagrammable lunch I watched her lovingly put together each day; a woman with a nonprofit who would brainstorm PR events with me; even her friend, a guy who had a booming voice that overshadowed any call I was on.
Although Hemingway (or someone) said, “Never confuse movement with action,” seeing others moving about, working, eavesdropping on their (loud) conversations always inspired me to work harder. Strategy meetings with my editors? Wonderful. After-work drinks? Sure!
All the hustle and bustle — the weirdos I saw on the crowded subways on my commute, the jostling in line for the hottest Ramen joint — it all made me feel alive.
And then there’s the exhilaration I experienced from business travel for the occasional story: packing, heading to the airport, whooshing away with unending snacks toward a new, foreign adventure.
Now? Nada. For me, working from home isn’t “really nice.” It’s almost torture.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my family as much as the next mom. But while my 5-year-old was thrilled to have both her parents at home full time in the spring (she’s since returned to in-person school), I can’t say I felt the same.
Two parents trying to work from home with a preschooler is like trying to juggle watermelons while someone is throwing knives at you. (Her “zoom-bombs” — climbing on me while I was hosting a book talk lecture — were just part of a regular “day at the office” for me.)
Although marriage vows might include, “In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer,” but they never meant EVERY. SECOND. OF. THE. DAY. Or as my aunt, a therapist, said when her husband kept trying to retire, “In sickness and in health but NOT FOR LUNCH.”
It’s not that I’m unloving or ungrateful. It’s that as an extrovert, “I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people,” as described by the Myers-Briggs personality types. “I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.”
No one is just one thing, of course. As a writer, I need alone time to think, to create, to put my ideas to paper. But alone time is not the same as family time. And family time is not the same as out-in-the-world time.
A recent study found that extroverts were less likely to shelter in place in March and April, but I did follow the rules. I wore a mask, I socially distanced, I did not have people over to my house or go to others’ homes outside my pod. It wasn’t easy, though.
While I’m grateful we have our health, a home that we can work from and enough to get by, I want to get back out there in the world. Because that’s where my energy — and my true home and office — is.
Amy Klein is the author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind.