In the past 6 months, since the pandemic hit and I began working remotely, I've been working towards coming to terms with two things:
- The old boxes I organized my life into are gone, and that's okay.
- I need a few new boxes, and that's also okay.
I didn't realize how much I depended on splitting things out, of having transitions from one state to another, physical separation leading to mental separation. On the drive to work, I mentally prepared for the day's tasks; on the drive home, for the tumult of kids and evening activities.
Lunch with the team meant staying near the office, usually at the same Mexican place where 30 people could arrive unannounced and still get their meal in 10 minutes. I'd never go there with friends or family because it was a half-hour from my house. Work things happened at work; home things happened at home.
The office could be a cluttered mess at times, and the ice dispenser and coffee machine took turns breaking, but there were people for that. Nothing there was my responsibility, beyond the dev work I was being paid to do. When the kitchen sink was out of order, I didn't add it to the mental list of things I needed to fix. The office was the office; home was home.
Out with the old boxes
Nowadays the transition is a 30 second walk down the hallway, and team lunches are virtual, with kids wandering by in the background. When I get more coffee or grab a snack, there's a good chance of being stopped by someone who needs something unrelated to work, or sidelined by something that's broken. I'm often reminded that there are no other people to "handle" the office... aside from my awesome wife, who puts fresh coffee on and fixes my lunch alongside the kids. 😍
In the beginning, on those days when the absence of separation started to add up and there was nowhere else to go (they're still aren't many), when the "psychic weight" built up, I told myself it was only temporary. This wasn't remote work, it was just temporarily working remotely. Eventually I'd be returning to the office, and I'd unpack all my neat little boxes again.
Then came the announcement that since things were going so well, the company was moving to 100% remote. A couple months later, I still have moments of "oh yeah... I won't be going back to an office anytime soon". So yeah, looks like the old boxes are gone, the boundaries of home and work life blending together. I can lock my office door (and I do!), but I can't prevent the 3 yo from banging on it, or the 6 yo from slipping notes under it. LOL
In with the new boxes, such as they are
Some of my new boxes only have 2 or 3 sides, while others are completely gone, but that can actually be a good thing. My wife and I take walks almost daily at lunch, which gives us a half-hour to talk and vent, share ideas and sync schedules. It beats trying to do it when the kids are in bed at 9pm, when all we want to do is crash for the evening.
I get to do more with the kids too. When some birds made a nest in the house hanging off our porch, we could check in on them every day, and even got to see them fly the nest. And when everyone goes to the park at lunch for a little nature hike, I can join in and get some fresh air too. I get to see and be a part of things that weren't so easy before. When it comes to balancing home and work life, I get to be more flexible, leaving a little early or putting in a few extra hours as needed.
The office and house are one and the same now, but making this new reality work means being aware of what's going well and what isn't, what I can change and what I have to accept. Several months in, I was still thinking "this too shall pass", but now if something isn't working and I don't make moves to improve it, well.. it won't. Ever.
With that in mind, one thing anyone could benefit from in a situation like this is regular reflection. Every week or so, sitting down and celebrating what's going well and acknowledging what isn't, what should change and what shouldn't, and then coming up with concrete steps for making the good things better, and the bad things at least manageable.