We’re year three into a pandemic and it’s caused a lot of changes in not only the way that we live, but also in the way that we work because, the call to “return to office” notwithstanding, most people in tech have been working remotely.
There are some great benefits to this – a commute measured in the time it takes to get your coffee instead of in hours, less expensive (and healthier) lunch options, more time to spend with family, etc. This is the sort of thing that I am totally for because you should work in order to live. You shouldn’t live in order to work.
One of the dark sides to the situation, however, is the expectation that a lot of managers and businesses currently have that working from home should be just like working from The Office.
I’ve heard countless people in various positions talk about how the background in your video calls should look (mostly sterile), complain when people have video off, or try to say things like “you can’t do work in sweatpants” (when they have no idea what kind of pants you’re wearing).
Let’s get this out of the way right not – working from home and working at The Office owned by a company are two completely different things and that’s a good thing.
Working from home lets you get things done in a space you control. If you’re fortunate, you have a room more or less dedicated to working (it really helps to get out of the “I have to work” mindset when you can just leave the room at the end of the day). For a lot of people, though, their desk is part of a living room, bedroom, or dining room – and that’s fine!
Working from home lets you set things up so that they’re comfortable for you – whether that means that you work in a space that’s totally neat, tidy and free of anything on the desk, or you work surrounded by surreal sculptures and have three cats sitting next to you. It’s your space.
And that’s something that managers and businesses need to come to terms with – they employ and work with people.
Part of what comes with that is that many of us are members of minority groups that face discrimination for basically just existing. Our homes, and therefore our home workspaces, are probably going to contain things that might open us up to discrimination or microaggressions.
Take that into account when you demand they always be on video meetings (trust me, we keep track of the people who aren’t safe to be ourselves around and some of us are in a lot of different kinds of closets for the sake of surviving at work), or that they not be allowed to use virtual backgrounds, etc.
We’re not going to get into how asinine it is to tell people how their home spaces should look.
The Office is a space owned by someone else. They set the rules – and those rules are often made in some bizarre view of what “professionalism” is (which, to them is usually translated as “show no personality because you’re a cog in a machine and I’m the one ‘in charge’”). It’s a place where people come to work sick (which makes other people sick), you often have to wait to go to the bathroom, you can’t have “too much” on your desk (if you even have a set desk), and where most people really don’t feel comfortable.
That’s not professionalism. That’s ridiculous. Why would you want to replicate that in your home?
My home office is a place where I can get work done and be comfortable doing it. It looks, generally speaking, the way that I want it to (there’s always room for improvement). It doesn’t look sterile and 90% of it will never be on a video call because it would raise questions about things I really don’t want to go over with coworkers.
The video calls only get to see the shelving behind me filled with fabric bins from Ikea, a mask on the wall, and a few odds and ends on the top shelf. They don’t get to see the other shelving full of camera equipment and tools, the racks of swords (I grew up training in martial arts), the wall hangings, or any of the myriad of other things in the room that represent some part of the path I’ve walked.
I’m fortunate to have an actual home office, but it’s not sterile in the least. It’s a place where I do more than just work on code and have video meetings with clients and coworkers. It’s seen more than a little soldering, leather work, video and audio editing, and a variety of other things.
Everything in here is either for some type of work, is there to make me more comfortable, or tells a small part of the story of the person who I am.
There’s nothing unprofessional about that at all. In fact, being able to do the work and having a personality while you do it is something that more “professionals” should strive for and what more bosses and companies should not only accept but also embrace.