Homeworking may lead to greater work life conflict, but, without proper infrastructure, there are no perfect solutions to the work life balance issue, just better options depending on individual circumstances.
I’ve been reading research on work family conflict when working from home. Ironically, it is in half term week when work life conflict when working from home has the most potential for being, well, conflictive. Of course, working from home is not nirvana or even close. Of course there is a conflict and that conflict is greater than working in an office where family is far away and, of course, women feel it more because women still do more of the family stuff.
My work station is basically the table in the living room, right in the middle of everything family. My papers lie on one side of the table. On the other is computer game CDs, socks and felt-tip pens. The whole thing is one big work life muddle. But it works. Yes, it is stressful having to leave off work and do the school run or break off from something to have a chat with a sick or heartbroken or revision-stressed child, but none of this work life stuff is easy and there are no perfect sunsets to ride off into. You weigh your options, depending on your circumstances, and you make your choices if you are lucky enough to have them.
I’ve done the whole commute bit and I ended up ringing my partner at one point in tears after a particularly bad experience – three different drop-off points, roadworks everywhere and nowhere to park before a last-minute sprint to the station and missing the train by 20 seconds. “I am literally going to die if I keep doing this,” I said to him. The problem was compounded at the time by a useless manager with very little empathy and colleagues who, in the main, had absolutely no idea about the logistical reality of getting to work – the ridiculous perception that somehow I was ‘less committed’ when I was having to jump over a whole line of hurdles just to get to my desk.
I lost count of the number of times I got taxis from the station just to get to after school club on time or faced a bank of ‘delayed’ trains on the way home with the prospect that the nursery would charge extra for every minute overtime. Then there was the misery of leaving children at holiday clubs they hated – not to mention the cost of said clubs and the fact that none of them took kids of different ages and none of them did office hours. The lack of any infrastructure to help working parents, particularly out of the big cities and particularly those with more than one child. The total reliance on family and the associated guilt. The panic as holidays loomed. The lack of relevant local jobs. The constant planning ahead and emergency rethinking.
I am absolutely certain that having a great employer can make a real difference and I’ve had much better employers since, but there are still logistics to consider and our society is not geared up to them – instead it seems to regard having children as worthy of some sort of punishment.
I sometimes fantasise about working in an office full time. When I do go into offices it is lovely [mainly because I have no idea about the underlying office politics]. I can talk to people and there is a sense of camaraderie that is missing at home, despite what people say about IM and the like. I can think about things like what I might like to do next rather than just getting by. But then I think about the logistics and the sheer not being there to hear about the things teenagers only admit in odd, unscheduled moments, and I think that maybe this homeworking work life conflict thing is the best that I can do at the moment.
I do, however, feel that employers have tended to grant working from home as a kind of a favour instead of properly considering what needs to be in place to support homeworkers and what might work best to alleviate some of the known stresses such as isolation, lack of tech support, etc in order to integrate homeworkers with the rest of the workforce and normalise them.
In an ideal world and dependent on the job you do, I think a mix of homeworking and non-homeworking is best, marrying the best of both ways of working, but there needs to be the right infrastructure in place to support working lives as they are lived now rather than relying on workers to figure it out for themselves. Maybe employers could begin with actually talking to the people who do homeworking – the experts, as it were – to find out what they think. I’m sure they would have a fair few ideas.