The Balancing Act: Making ‘Working from Home’ Work

Working in your jammies from your couch – an ideal scenario for many people. For me, it’s been a compromise.

A year after we got married, my husband moved back to his hometown Lahore, a place where there just doesn’t seem to be any relevant work in my field. At the same time, a great opportunity for me came up with my old employer, one that seemed perfect at that point in my career. The trouble was that it required me to spend most days in another city, putting a two-hour flight distance between my husband and me. And so after a lot of deliberation and despite many misgivings, I made the difficult decision of relocating to a separate city with a minimum commitment of six months.

Those six months are another story. But by the end of that period, I had negotiated the flexibility to live back in my husband’s town for a significant part of the month and work from home. This is pretty much unheard of in my country, and especially within my industry. But hey, it’s good to be a trailblazer.

And so I started living the ideal solution to balance my personal life and career.

At the very outset, I did make it a point to steer clear of the jammies and couch route. One of the first things I did when I moved back was to get my “home office” (read work desk) in order. I am at my desk by my regular time when back in the office in an attempt to stick to normal working hours. I communicate regularly with my team at work.

Normal isn’t so easy though.

There is a definite blurring of boundaries between work and personal space. For me, being at home became the same as being “at work”, whatever time the clock might show. For as soon as I step inside the house, I instinctively start worrying about unfinished work and looming deadlines. I find myself unable to tune out of work like I used to when I left the office, because in a way I am perpetually “at the office” now. And that can really interfere with my personal space. Because even when I am not technically working, work-related concerns constantly niggle at me.

The constant worrying about unfinished official work at times leads to ignoring my household chores, even out-of-hours. I find myself working in the wee hours of the morning, except no one knows that I pull all-nighters. This in turn induces a sense of guilt about ignoring my home for work.

Simultaneously, there are times when there’s this nagging feeling of neglecting my career too. By not being in the office, I am not physically present to deal with any emergency issues which my team may be grappling with. I may miss out on client meetings. I may be missing out on small but significant developments which may directly affect my projects, and which my team may forget to tell me about. All this adds up to one worry: am I losing relevance?

While I get a quieter place to focus on work at home enabling me to get more work done, the workday can become lonely. I miss the office banter, random discussions making work more interesting, bonding over projects and gossip alike. Working isn’t just about the work itself, it’s about socializing as well. Working from home can become alienating in this sense.

That said, I haven’t fared that bad in my first couple of months of doing this. I’ve met project deadlines. I have coordinated with team members in three different locations at a time. I have remained on top of my email and replied to every single email which needed a response (albeit at 3 o’ clock in the morning).

I do need to set clear boundaries between work hours and my personal life, of course. But it’s a learning process and it should only get easier. Or so I hope.

Also needed are more frequent visits back to the office. For although working from home may be a great privilege, work is nowhere as fun as it is when in the company of other people.

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