That's how many days it has been since my (then) employer ordered a work-from home order. I received the below text from my manager back in March last year:
"Hi Elliott, just to let you know Head Office have made the call for all employees to work from home until at least the end of March. The office will be open until 12pm for you to collect your things."
They were slightly ahead of the curve as a result of having the head office based in London, and looking back at that text message now, my manager was absolutely right... He just didn't specify which March we would be working from home until.
I'd like to preface this post with a disclaimer: I am aware that in many ways I am privileged to be able to work from home. Working in a sedentary office environment in a job which is entirely reliant on my computer means that, aside from hardware-related tasks, I am not required to be physically present in the office. I'm well and truly out of harm's way, save the occasional poorly placed shoe on my 10-metre commute from my bed to my desk, and I am thankful for this. I appreciate that many jobs, particularly in the retail, service, medical and construction sectors, are unable to implement work-from-home practises and, as a result, those working in the aforementioned sectors have sadly been involuntarily put into high-risk Coronavirus environments. I just wanted to acknowledge these elements before going on a rant about the struggles of working from home from my ivory tower.
We've been in various states of lockdown, restrictions, tiers etc. for a year now, but the one constant for me that has impacted my life most significantly has been that I have been required to work from home. I've been into the office at my current job a handful of times for hardware-related tasks, but the headline here is that over 95% of my time spent "at work" has very much been spent at home.
I'm nothing if not a creature of habit. And one of my habits was the daily routine that going to work brought with it. When the pandemic hit I worked in a relatively small and close-knit office, with a fairly relaxed environment, and some absolutely wonderful colleagues. Whilst I can't say that every moment spent in the office was a joy - it certainly wasn't - the vast majority of my time spent there was well-spent and fulfilling. We had fun but we knew when it was time to get our heads down and work, and we got the job done. But we did so in an environment where many of our fellow colleagues were also friends. We had a break-out lunch room where we'd play pool and unwind for an hour to break the day up. People would regularly bake and bring in cakes or pastries for staff. We organised 6-aside football games outside of work, and went for meals out or trips to the pub. So much of the routine of "work" wasn't actually to do with the "work" itself, but rather the people you interacted with. And it really could just be something as insignificant as asking about someone's weekend plans while you're waiting for the kettle to boil. I didn't quite realise how impactful those tiny moments were - until they were all forcibly removed. And not just those moments; the nights out, the fun office banter, the meetings, the pastries; all of it.
And so, "work" has gone from being a broad, all-encompassing term that covers everything I just mentioned to being just the day-to-day tasks themselves. It's been stripped down to its core essence and laid bare; and this has been a difficult adjustment to make. Cloud-based environments and video calls have become more relied upon than ever in the wake of this home-working surge, and they certainly have their perks. Apps like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been invaluable tools in retaining the colleague communication channel, for both work and non-work related conversation. It's a functional substitute for the most part - I'm just not used to all of my social interaction being solely at the mercy of my colleagues' calendar availability. The vast majority of my conversations happen through internet calls now, and the rhythm of a virtual call is just fundamentally at odds with what we're used to in face-to-face conversations. There's the inevitable delay in the dialogue itself, which often results in two or more parties scrambling to talk over each other. Then you have the dreaded "you're on mute", the technical difficulties and connection issues, and the lack of more subtle things like reading people's body language. Conversing through video appears to be a viable medium on the surface, but after a year of daily stand-ups, catch-ups, scrums or whatever other creative names people can come up with for meetings - I can safely say that I much prefer the real thing.
Often the highlight of a call for me can be the awkward quiet while you're waiting for other colleagues to join. It's got to the point where even the small talk of all small talk - the weather - has become a novelty. That, and end of the day conversations after a long afternoon call where someone asks what you're cooking tonight. Just because they're conversations with someone about something other than work. That's one thing that I think that the pandemic has given people - perspective. In such a minimalist, stripped-down environment, devoid of the unpredictable nuances of the everyday, you come to appreciate the value of things that you ordinarily might not give a single moment's thought to.
Some people have fallen in love with working from home. There's a lot to like about it - for starters, there's no commute. No expenses spent on petrol or transport. No having to get up early in order to get in on time. No having to dress to impress, and in most instances, you could probably get away without wearing trousers to work if you were so inclined these days. The pandemic has forced organisations to acknowledge just how much can be done from home these days, and I think that the workplace will be forever changed by this realisation. Many businesses plan on adopting flexible models of working, allowing people to work partially from home on a permanent basis. I like this flexibility, and I think that it will allow for people to spend more time with their family rather than being stuck in another rush hour traffic jam. So there are definitely pros to this move.
By and large, I can complete almost every single task required of me from the comfort of my flat. But as I said, I am a creature of habit. I just enjoy the office environment. I need the separation of work and leisure. I relish the chance encounters that can only happen when you go outside and spend real face-to-face time with other people every day. I like having a routine essentially carved out for me by the very necessity of having to get to work on time, and the feeling of getting home after a long, productive day, and enjoying the novelty of being there. I'd take that any day over the slow, gradual resentment of being home, not because I don't like my home, but because I'm not here by choice. Work days often finish with a fizz rather than a bang these days. I reluctantly shut my laptop down, knowing I've still got things to finish up, and shuffle over to the sofa or start making some food. Or, I'll remain at my desk. I really try not to do this, but more evenings than I'd like to admit have been spent in the exact same physical space, down to the very same chair, as my work days have. The lack of a change of scenery drastically reduces the "thrill" of being done for the day, and with no tangible way to bookend the day - you can certainly see why people say the days have been blurring into one. It doesn't help that there's still a very limited number of things I can do outside right now - I'm sure working from home wouldn't be quite so frustrating to me if it wasn't also coupled with a nationwide lockdown.
I'm very much ready to once again have that separation between my own space and my job, and keeping work at work, as it were. I can absolutely see why working from home suits some people, but I just don't think I could hack it working from home all the time permanently. I thrive on the comradery, the routine, the small talk and everything else that we attribute to "work" that isn't really work. Like everyone else, I'm excited to go on holiday again or to get down to the pub - but I'm equally as excited to be back in the office.