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When Work From Home Doesn't Work

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

For 20+ years, I’ve been working from home as a freelancer, long before WFH became a hashtag. One would think I would be the most prepared for this pandemic (assuming one still has work and gratefully I do). It turns out I was about as equipped for this time as a newly-minted remote worker. The good news? I finally have the answer why.

Let’s start with the fact that those of us who work out of our homes love the lifestyle. No corporate cubicles, water cooler, or fluorescent lights for us. I consider WFH part luck, part planning, and a privilege—and I never take it for granted.

Sure, there are WFH challenges like IT snafus, unenviable lunch choices, and noisy street work. But I do covet my 8-foot commute, instant access to java, and most importantly, scheduling my day the way I want.

But on March 15 when shelter-in-place kicked in for San Francisco, suddenly living and working in the same space became a surreal episode of The Twilight Zone.

My outside world turned to the inside walls stat. Buh-bye tiny daytime joys like going to the grocery store (now a high-stakes gamble), sneaking in a workout at the gym (ewwww germs and closed), or enjoying a lingering lunch with another consultant (social distancing picnic, anyone?).

The many evenings out on the town plain vaporized. My usual desire to charge my battery at home a few times a week turned into a mandatory seven.

Given the state of the world, this is small potatoes, I get that. But for those of us who spend the majority time inside and solo already, staying home is like pulling an emergency brake, with bonus whiplash.

Of course it's not the first time I've stayed home for infinite hours over the years (a combination of 99% deadlines and 1% sheer laziness). I call those “Chief Cloudy Head” days, marked by excessive screen time, lack of oxygen, and just the right amount of angst about it. Now, every day was Chief Cloudy Head day.

In this new world, my work and “regular life” quickly blurred. Yes, I was doing some pandemic-y things like ordering from my favorite restaurants, neighborhood walks, fun but fatiguing virtual happy hours, and cooking more than I had in my life.

Despite these activities, I spent the majority of my time working—not just during the weekdays, but most evenings and weekends. Of course this makes perfect sense when there is a deadline, but not when a task or two or three can be pushed off to the next day. Work became my go-to. My comfort chicken soup. My attempt to cling to some sort of normalcy and structure.

But of course there is nothing status quo about a virus making the rounds on our globe, thousands dying, and most folks staying home all the time.

After several months of this zombie-like state, slowly but surely, I arose from my pandemic working coma. I knew I had to find my own “new normal” in this abnormal state of the being. I began to summon energy and excitement about what was next...

Finishing my memoir. Doing home projects that I’ve put off. Volunteering. Reading a book without being antsy. Basically anything else that makes my world bigger, not smaller (sorry, but escape TV is still on the menu no matter what).

And don't get me wrong. I will still worry about the macro and micro things that are scary and depressing right now. Doctors and nurses on the front lines. Essential workers that put their lives in danger for others every day. The death toll that continues to rise. When the hell this crappy virus is going away. 40 million+ people out of work.

And personal worries like my “senior toddler” Dad who leaves his house way too much. My sister's frantic life trying to work and homeschool her daughter. Concern about friends that are out of work and are depressed. And of course…did I just touch my face after handling those groceries.

These days, I still count on my reliable routine cranking out deliverables for clients. But I am mindful at the end of the day to turn off the computer and turn on to the world around mewell sorta, as soon as I can get out there.


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