Wednesday, February 02, 2022

A downside of 'working from home' that we never thought of

As you can see above, it's snowing in Chicago today. It's worse in the south suburbs and (not surprisingly) in Northwest Indiana (they call it the NWI) but many of the Catholic schools around my home on the northwest side of Chicago are closed today, too. Long Suffering Spouse has the day off (which isn't as good a thing as it might be on another day -- but that is outside the scope of this essay). Middle Son's oldest daughter (Granddaughter No. 5), who attends a nearby parish school, also has the day off.

And therein lies the problem.

Like a great many people since the start of our two-week shutdown to flatten the COVID-19 curve (a shutdown now almost two years old), Middle Son and his wife Magaret, both CPAs, are now working from home. Every time one or both of their employers starts talking about reopening their long-shuttered offices, the public health authorities find that Covid has spun off a new Greek-letter variant and reopening plans are shelved as we brace for a new surge.

We're on omicron now. Will it be over when we get to omega?

Granddaughter No. 5 is a sweet, well-mannered child. She's also four. And for all her sweetness and good manners, she can and will get underfoot while Mommy and Daddy are trying to get their work done.

Unexpected closures, such as we're experiencing today in the Chicago area, put a wrench in child-care arrangements for a great many young parents. If there were a foot of snow on the ground, or more, Middle Son and his wife would be more understanding. But, while it's still snowing, at least off and on, and there may be some lake-effect to deal with later today, there's only about six inches on the ground so far. So they're not happy.

Why? Because they know that there is every expectation -- in this brave new day and age of working from home -- that business can go on as usual no matter how much snow comes down. And why not?

When people had to toil in offices, we'd put on boots and extra layers and slog and stumble our way to the train. If we were among the first to make it in on a crumby day like today, we could imagine ourselves as heroes, the most dedicated of the dedicated, valiant workers in the vineyard. We could put on the coffee and look down our noses at the people straggling in who didn't have such efficient train service or who had to endure travel at glacial speeds on our supposed 'expressways.'

Of course, they thought themselves heroes too, having had the tenacity to traverse what the salt trucks and plows had yet to clear. And, of course, we could all look down on the poor shlubs whose cars would not start or who wound up in a ditch. There was plenty of feel-good-smugness for everyone who made it in -- and if any work did get done on such a day it was more by coincidence or accident. But so what? We had a little triumphal moment.

There's no analogous moment of triumph for the at-home workers, like Middle Son or Margaret, who have only to roll out of bed and come downstairs to their respective "offices." Getting to work would not sap, could not sap, and had better not sap, one's energy quota for the day. Whatever they are expected to do today had better get done, whether the snow stops or piles up to the roof. And they must accomplish their day's work despite the added complication of having to keep Granddaughter No. 5 entertained.

When I was in their shoes, I had the office to slog to and, if the schools were closed, Long Suffering Spouse was home anyway. Even after she began teaching, she would have been home on such a day because she taught (and continues to teach) at the school my children attended.

Working from home has been great for a lot of people, my kids included. But it's been even better for their employers, hasn't it? And that's without even talking about the money the bosses will eventually save on rent as they can contract their offices to fit the new realities.

A day like today shows the unexpected downside of working from home. But that's life: There is always bitter with the sweet.

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