Are you working from home, or living at work? Does it even matter?
We’ve all experienced massive changes in our lives this year. With travel plans being cancelled, schools going online, and so many other aspects of our lives in limbo, we’re feeling the impacts of juggling our new normal. And with that, we are finding ways to navigate our new social structures.
A social structure, in sociology terms, is “the distinctive, stable arrangement of institutions whereby human beings in a society interact and live together”.
In the pre-Covid days, much of our social structure came from environments and relationships outside our home — work, community, extended family — and our kids got theirs from school, sports, and planned activities. But now that many of us are working from home and our kids are going to school from home, we’ve created a whole new social structure where we’ve integrated all of that into our actual, physical homes. With that comes the pressure to maintain our “normal,” pre-Covid structure — one that demands the same 9 to 5 work day and the same time-blocked school format for kids and the same routine household chores and the same scheduled down time.
We are each living in a tiny microcosm — a personal ecosystem that includes each member of our households’ daily activities and needs. Each of us is feeling the stressful effects of that and of trying to negotiate how these new roles and arrangements will work. And while developing a structure is the best way to manage the multitudes of our at-home lives, we have to be realistic about what types of structures will work.
In April, when the pandemic appeared only transitory, productivity experts preached the importance of maintaining our “normal” routines. Chartering ergonomic home offices, dressing as if going to work or school, and meticulously scheduling exercise, were among some of the recommendations, all suggested with the hopes of avoiding “living at work.” As the pandemic drags on, however, it’s time to try something different — we need to be creative and innovative in how we plan our days and weeks in order to balance our new, personal social structures.
The reality is, many of us will not be able to avoid “living at work” or “living at school.” And while we were told to avoid these phenomena at all costs, there are only so many hours in the day to accommodate all of the institutions in our social structures at home. We need to reframe the way we approach structuring our quarantine lives for the long haul, and here are some first steps to take:
- Remember: good for you, not for me. We each need to recognize that what our neighbors, friends, or other family members do — what works for them right now — may not (or, more likely, will not) work for us. Just as we lived very different lives before Covid, we will continue to live different lives with different needs as our at-home lives persist.
- Grant ourselves grace. We need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we may not be capable of achieving all we would like to. Perhaps you’re used to running five miles every morning, but now, with both work and virtual classes, you don’t have time to reach that goal. It’s okay to not be able to keep up with our former “normal” — to try to do so will only increase the mounting pressure we already feel.
- Get innovative: Make a plan, but make it creative. With the school year approaching, the summer wrapping up, and virus rates on the rise in some places, we should take the opportunity to reconvene with our households and make plans for a stay-at-home Fall. In doing so, we should aim not to live and work separately from our families, but craft a home, workspace, and playspace that allows our social structures to not just coexist but also to thrive.
It’s becoming more apparent to people around the country that the Fall will likely resemble this past Spring. While this may seem daunting, maybe even threatening to what we perceive as our “normal” and productive schedules, we need to be kind to ourselves. The world is different now, and so are we. We have to stop pressuring ourselves to keep up with our past selves; instead we need to develop strategies and structures that take our unique, new normal into account.