One of the changes that Covid-19 homeworking has brought is new colleagues. Those new colleagues are called partners. Unlike pets, they don’t just lie on the table and occasionally miaow for some food. For the traditional remote worker who is used to dictating their own day, having to share it with another person can provide a unique insight into how others work and what your partner actually does all day.
My partner works in social care. He’s mainly been home-based up to now, but he occasionally has to don PPE and head out to do reviews. He has a very different work style to my somewhat manic 24/7 approach, although he is a key worker and I am not exactly sure if I am [I think only some journalists count]. He works upstairs in the bedroom and I’m in the living room. His desk is paper-free and he has a massive gadget thing that amplifies the voices of people he is speaking to over Zoom. The table I work on is covered in everything from books, papers, photos and Dobble to the cat, who acts as my PA [purring assistant].
We run our working days very differently too. Firstly, I work in more or less silence apart from the mad hammering of the keyboard and the occasional hurling of abuse at the computer. I’m often on a Zoom call or Teams or Skype, sometimes with the kids coming in and out, asking for toast or nicking my phone.
My partner has the radio going most of the day and is more up to date on the news than I am. He’s mainly answering emails and writing up reports, but he has the odd Zoom call and locks himself in and everyone tiptoes around it. He sometimes stops mid morning to go for a jog and comes back near collapse, huffing and puffing. It makes me feel ever so slightly guilty about my levels of fitness, but only for about 15 seconds tops. I only stop to do home admin stuff. Perhaps I could combine that with jogging?
My partner is Spanish [Catalan]. Lunch is sacred for him and he won’t settle for any common or garden sandwich. What he has for lunch has probably been the main subject of his thoughts since around 7am when he woke up [I once got an urgent text from him in the middle of a big meeting. What could be so important? I wondered. ‘Pasta or rice?’, it stated…It was 10am and he was already planning dinner]. He cooks up a gourmet dish and then settles down for a mini siesta. I, on the other hand, and I know I am not setting any kind of example at all, work straight through until 2.55 school pick-up time and have a late lunch of porridge [reduces bad cholesterol and only takes 1.5 mins in the microwave to boot] on my return. No siesta is involved on the grounds that, if I close my eyes for five minutes, I may not wake up until tomorrow.
My partner goes and gets daughter two and I get daughter three and only son. This makes the new school pick-up slightly less frantic. True to form, the local council has waited all summer to do some emergency work on the route to daughter three’s school, which means long tailbacks. My partner closes his laptop at 5.30pm on the dot and switches on Rick Stein or a Latin American telenovela. I keep on going until the work stops coming in. I don’t like to start the day with lots of emails from the day before. I realise this is a very bad habit and self-defeating.
There are probably many things I could learn from my partner’s approach to self care. My sackcloth and gruel method of working is all based on the idea that there could be an emergency at any given time so I need to be ready. This is the model I have worked on for the last 10 years or so – through potty training, half-day childcare, school holidays and countless other things, and it’s been flexible enough to get me this far. Everything will, inevitably, change in the next months and years. Who knows? I may be able to incorporate a siesta at some point in the future.