Missing working at work?


Eighteen months of working from home. Or WFH, WTF!! as you will now hear me say. Often.

I want to WAW (work at work). I’m not desperate about it yet, but I really do miss WAW.

Pre pandemic, a whole lifetime ago it seems but really only eighteen months, it was different. Working at work was ho-hum. Same old same old. WAW was always about the meetings, teaching, and sundry administration and some professional-social time with colleagues.

To be fair, responding to emails happened both at work and at home, as did some administrative work. But the work I did at home was mainly reading and writing, and quite often messing about with the stuff of research.

Now I have to own up here. I have the privilege of a separate office at work and at home. Two offices that are all mine! I know many other people would happily sell the naming rights to their most recent publication for such luxury. I am acutely that many of the PhDers I work with have no such space and have been trying to keep up with their research in their bedrooms, on their kitchen tables, in shared spaces. And of course I no longer have onerous caring responsibilities. Only Ruby (she hates to be called “the dog”) demands occasional attention and is allowed to interrupt office-working-time. I’m not tutoring children at home, nor worrying about older family members. So this is indeed a story of an academic’s advantage.

Bear with me however as there may still be something in this narrative. My point really is about separations. Borders. Corralling. Sequestering. Severing. And it’s about the consequences of prolonged blurring.

My home office is in the loft, so I leave the rest of the house behind me as I climb the stairs. The stairs are a tangible demarcation separating the work I do at home from other home-based activities. Just as the drive to work separates the WFH from the work at the office, the WAW. Two border to cross each day.

My pre-pandemic life was a taken-for-granted set of working arrangements that I really didn’t appreciate. I used to really enjoy being able to work at home. It always felt vaguely naughty to go up to the office when I could be at work, even though I was actually working from home. And WFH was very much part of my writing routine. When I was writing I was in the loft. When I wasn’t writing, I was mostly elsewhere. The WAW was my carefully carved out writing-reading-thinking-just-messing-about-with-ideas-and-stuff place.

Why am I blathering on about this you might wonder? Aren’t we all in the same boat? Well yes. We are. And that’s really the point. I think I may not be the only one feeling a little less enthusiastic about some of the things I used to do at home and finding it more difficult to get the energy to do them.

In my case, this means I have noticed that I am just not writing as much as I used to. And when I write, it takes quite a bit of will to get going. And quite a bit to keep on going. Writing is just less enjoyable. It’s more like work!! It’s no longer a vaguely guilty pleasure to skive off upstairs first thing in the morning and write. I can no longer look at my morning’s words and then leave the house to go do something else. Everything happens in the same space, the same chair, the same screen, the same, the same.

Working from home and working from work together are completely blurred together, morphed into one.

I don’t like it. I think I need both a special time and space to write. I need to be able to mark off more “contemplative” and creative” academic work from other activities. Many of the PhDers stuck in the bedroom, kitchen, and shared spaces need their offices even more.

So it was an absolute treat to go into work last week. A real pleasure to have a face-to-face meeting. Admittedly, the meeting was about research so it was already off to a good start. But nobody apologised for a flaky connection. Nobody’s mike was on mute. Nobody got interrupted by the postal service. And – joy – we could work as a team in a room with huge whiteboards. And use markers. And project our docs in the Teams folder onto the whiteboard and not all end up peering at our own separate screens. And use chart paper spread out on tables if we wanted to. Rush off to the copier. Grab a book from our shelves.

Of course we had windows open and the building was deserted. But still, we had an actual team meeting. And then – we got to go off to have a coffee and sit outside – and the autumnal wind didn’t matter a bit.

I’m now all in for some real old fashioned WAW. I want it to be safe of course. And I’m prepared to keep doing WFH if it’s necessary. But I do think that my writing won’t really recover until I’m doing less in my home office, and more at work.

Having more geographical balance in my life now seems important.

Did I ever think I’d say I really wanted go into work? Hear me now. Work office, I miss you, as do my ever receding deadlines. Anyone else feel the same?