When I first heard the phrase ‘you are not working from home, you are home working through a pandemic,’ I felt a weight lift from my chest. My breathing deepened, slowed, and calmed. My tense body succumbed and uncoiled. I believe I heard this phrase about 100 days into working from home. Now, about 200 plus days into social distancing, quarantine, and the new normal, I can attest to the true power of the sentiment.
I believe that this simple reminder is crucial for so many reasons, but I will use this blog post to deep dive into two of the reasons it can be so useful as a mantra.
The first reason this reminder is crucial is because it reduces stress and anxiety around productivity and performance. It reminds us that productivity and performance can and perhaps will look different than usual while we work from home through this global crisis. When we remember that it is not only acceptable but completely understandable that productivity and performance see a dip given the current crisis, we create space for being more kind to ourselves.
Throughout the pandemic, I have helped clients grapple with feelings of disappointment they feel as a result of not being able to be as productive from home as they were in the office. When my clients lean into being kind to themselves, and gently remind themselves that they are working through a global pandemic and not just from home, they are capable of reducing some anxiety around productivity expectations.
Back in May, The New York Times reported on the mantra and made an important distinction I feel important to re-share and then discuss: “To be very clear: work from home troubles are mostly gilded problems – not in the same universe as the exploitation of workers happening in meat-processing plants or the stresses faced by front line and other essential workers.”
To The New York Times’ point, I am brought into the second reason why I find this mantra to be so effective. The second reason is a bit more complicated than the first, but equally important to understand, and it concerns something of a ‘survivor’s guilt,’ phenomena occurring with those who can work from home.
Yes, it is a luxury to be able to work from home during the pandemic. Yes, the problems faced by at-home workers are not in the same realm as the exploitation of workers in food processing plants. That being said: the anxiety, stress, pain, loneliness, and lethargy felt by employees working from home is valid and can be intensely felt. There is no hierarchy to pain and suffering, and the suffering felt by workers struggling with output while working from home is valid. One of the ways to reduce the ‘work from home,’ guilt which plagues some employees is to remember the mantra this blog post is about.
Finally, if you are a remote worker invalidating your stress/anxiety/disappointment about working from home by saying ‘others have it worse,’ please be kind to yourself and hold space for both: yes, working from home can be a privilege, especially when compared to the unique stressors of say an essential front-line employee, but (and this is a very key but,) that does not mean that working from home is smooth sailing. Be kind to yourself and don’t invalidate the unique stresses you are facing, and remember, you are indeed home, working through a pandemic.