During 2020, at a time when white-collar workers were supposed to have been enjoying flexible working hours and remote working arrangements like never before, an ugly trend reared its head: a blurring of the line between ‘work’ and ‘home.’
The honeymoon phase was great. For the first time in decades, companies that had long been adamant against the notion of working away from the office, arguing against its feasibility and logistics, soon had to take the plunge whether they liked it or not: a pandemic was at the door, and government-mandated lockdowns meant that companies had to comply regardless.
Long commuting hours and traffic jams seemed like a distant nightmare from the past. 9-5 was now PJ central. Zoom calls in shorts and flip flops were now a thing (for better or worse). Working mothers of young children could finally provide for the family while being close to their kids. Whichever way you looked at it, employees had won the proverbial lottery, and finally reclaimed some much-needed freedom and me-time.
Soon, though, reality had to set in, and new habits had declared their presence. Isolation from coworkers, especially for employees that were living alone, began to jeopardise their mental health. Working mothers struggling to juggle endless Zoom calls, remote learning and needy children, began to experience burnout.
Perhaps the most problematic of all, however, was that given the grey legal area around remote working hours, the line between “work” and “home” was becoming blurred. 9-5 soon become 8-6, then 7-7, and eventually, schedules were completely thrown out of the window. Bosses realized they could get away with asking for a few more hours and tasks from staff here and there. An ‘urgent’ client assignment on a Saturday; a late evening call with the team for a quick project fix; things started to pile up, and the fully connected nature of our lives today meant that staff were always a message or call away from work, and ‘everywhere’ was now the office.
On paper, what old-fashioned bosses and companies initially perceived as a curse soon turned out to be a boon, as remote working allowed them to squeeze every drop of ‘productivity’ from their employees around the clock. Except, to their surprise, productivity dropped. In fact, a study conducted 3 years before the pandemic had already discovered similar findings, by exploring the ramifications of a disrupted work-life balance as a result of remote working.
Even today in 2021, as pandemic restrictions have been mostly lifted, and with remote working having successfully cemented itself as a viable working arrangement, the habits of 2020 are still with us. With travel somewhat still impeded in certain regions of the world, and with the capacity for vacations at a limited threshold, employees are looking for alternative ways to take some time off while not entirely cutting ties with their employers. This has led to the growing trend of ‘workations’, where the digital nature of many office jobs today allows staff to be away on vacation but still connected to the office and their managers, essentially locking them in a sort of workplace purgatory.
‘Workations’ are fine. They, for lack of a better word, work for many people. However, following a year of on-off lockdowns and quarantines, the mental stress of potentially contracting a deadly virus, the separation anxiety many face being unable to travel to see their loved ones, and the new threat of a newly-mutated COVID variant, we all owe ourselves some decent time off.
So, this Eid al Adha, opt for that digital detox. Sign out of your email. Politely refuse work-related WhatsApp messages. Delete Zoom if you have to. Your mental wellbeing will thank you for it, and you’ll return refreshed, recharged and more productive than before.