Illustration by Fanny Luor

Work Culture

WFH confessionals: What three workers are actually doing all day

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Published on September 11, 2020

Illustration by Fanny Luor

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For knowledge workers who went to an office, your behavior was on display everyday. Sure, you may have cut out a little early some days or slipped away for the occasional “appointment,” but what happens when nobody is watching—when accountability can’t be tracked by simple badge swipes or cubicle glances. Are other people succumbing to the lure of beautiful summer days, the snooze button, and the TV that your couch-turned-desk faces? Are they getting everything done?

According to these three professionals, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. While they disagree on whether they’d like to work from home forever, they’ve all discovered silver linings. Under the condition of anonymity, we spoke candidly about the work things that have lost meaning, how many hours a day they’re truly productive, and the little stuff they get away with while getting work done.

The anxious engineer taking impromptu beach days

Honest to God, I actually miss my commute. I’ve been doing this funny thing lately where I try to replicate it. I’ll wake up at 8:30, put on some clothes, and just wander around my neighborhood—people watch for a bit with my coffee.

But I don’t always make it up early enough for that. Some days, I wake up at 9am after lying in bed for two hours doom-scrolling or 5am because I'm panicked about an 8am meeting that I then sleep through. This has happened a few times, and I usually just say, “Sorry, had Zoom issues!” My internet connection often slows down the video quality anyways, so I’ve built up some credibility that I’ll run into problems here and there.

Even before Corona, I was anti meetings. When I’m in a Zoom with lots of people, I usually listen in with my camera off, sort of like that high school kid thing where you sulk in the back of class. I’m usually pacing back and forth in my apartment, but I also like to cheat, to figure out what’s the least work related thing I can do while still being part of a meeting—you know, never anything NFSW, just mundane stuff. I’ll be like what if I just cooked breakfast during this one-on-one? Or what If I called someone else during this meeting but still listened in on mute? What if I just danced? I don’t really care if my neighbors can see me anymore.

I still have between six to 14 meetings a week, and they’re often stacked on the same days. Not counting meetings, I’m still working about six to seven hours a day but I’m definitely not more productive from home. Before, I was doing the same amount of work in about four to five hours. I’d take breaks and talk to so-and-so or go on a walk or whatever to disconnect for a bit—then I’d go back into it.

I’m still looking for a healthy work-life balance. Sometimes I’ll go days without seeing anyone and it doesn’t feel like anything’s real. There are days where I’ve been like wow, this is some crazy existential stuff I can’t wrap my head around. And I’ll realize who says I have to work 9-5? Who’s going to arrest me? So I’ll just decline all my meetings for the day and go to the beach or walk around a park listening to music. Playing hooky actually feels like a really great reset.

"When I hear people say they never want to go into the office again—like I will die in a cubicle."

And sometimes I turn into a bit of a workaholic. Everything feels like a threat right now, so I’ll be like oh, I’ll just work some more and then falsely equate that with job security. Or I’ll feel like I can’t rationalize what’s happening outside my apartment, so I’ll look at a code editor like, this number doesn’t have an opinion. It’s not going to disappoint me or do something to mess up my life, so this is what I’m spending today in. Because there’s no one around to distract me, I’ll have these blinders on and realize it was 10am the last time I checked the clock and now it’s 11:30PM. After a week of that you’re like great, my wrist hurts now from all of this typing.

Some people want to work from home forever. I’m not one of them. I really do miss going into an office. I miss collaborative work. I miss being able to validate something or get feedback by just turning around in my chair. When I hear people say they never want to go into the office again—like I will die in a cubicle. I want that. But I don’t want to force you to do that! Just let me do my thing.

The executive who’s gone fishing but works hard, too

I work in the music industry, and work has been a lot more crazy this year. Artists have been stuck at home and they’re bored, so a lot of them are in their recording studios. One upside is that we can actually get a hold of artists since they’re not on tour. But we just have too many releases and a lot of them are massive ones.

I oversee an international division, so I work with people all over the world in pretty much every time zone. Stuff is coming in at all hours of the day from Asia, the Middle East, Europe, both coasts of the US. People are pretty good about barriers on the weekend, but if we have some big surprise release it can blow up my day. I try to start work around nine, but I always wake up at 6:45 to check my phone and see if anything urgent has come up. I’m juggling lots of texts and phone calls, e-mails, WhatsApp messages, direct messages, and pretty much any other form of communication possible.

My boyfriend and I left New York to a family house early in the pandemic. We both grew up really active, so we’ve been getting back into that. If it seems like a calmer morning, we might canoe down the river and fish and can still be back in time for the start of the day with time to spare. Then it gets kind of crazy.

For awhile, my meetings tripled. Everyone wanted to have meetings to recap meetings, so we started cracking down on that. I’m canceling and declining a lot more meetings, too, but I’m still at around nine a day, and often I’m leaving one to catch the tail-end of another. Then I’ll have to update my team on whatever happened, but I’ve started doing that over quicker chats instead of e-mails. Every now and then I can catch up on rest in the afternoon but usually it’s like this all day into the night. Luckily my boyfriend feeds me during the day and handles that stuff.

"There’s no reason for everybody to be in a massive office again just to get face time."

It’s a struggle sometimes, working around each other’s schedules. We only have one room that can get service off the Wi-Fi router, so we have to figure out who has the more important thing, and then the other works off of cellular data. That’s probably been the hardest part of the adjustment though.

If I could, I would WFH forever—100%. There’s no reason for everybody to be in a massive office again just to get face time. I’m doing better work and my team seems more focused on what needs to happen, less distracted by stuff that doesn’t add value. I just really love being on my own.

The accounting supervisor who already knows he’ll be laid off

Accounting is a breeding ground for people who overwork. I don’t participate in that. Yeah, I start work a little earlier now and tend to work a little later, but I do my own thing, too. I’m going to be laid off anyways. My company was acquired and I have a job through December. I was sad for a bit, and then I started taking back part of my day. It was like, you’re not getting all my time anymore!

Mornings are busiest. Around 7:15am on the West Coast, I’m answering e-mails that came in overnight from the East Coast. Sometimes I’m still getting e-mails at like 8 or 9pm and I just go ahead and answer them. I don’t really have to but I just like to get them out of the way. Throughout the day, I’m often taking little breaks or arguing with my girlfriend about what takeout to order, so I feel like it all washes out in the end.

"Not everything needs to be rushed, not everything is a priority, and I don’t want my team working that way."

Because I’m a supervisor of accounts receivable, I have eight reports. Going into this, I kind of knew going who was going to be slacking off. But overall, they’ve actually surprised me. They seem to like the freedom of working from home and are making a real effort for it to be successful. It helps that they have concrete tasks. It’s never like ok, what am I going to do today? It’s like we need to collect this amount, get this deduction resolved, figure out why this customer isn’t paying us—stuff that has to be accomplished or else it’s going to pile up. 

If it was up to me, we’d have some kind of hybrid after this is over—only go in a couple days a week. Five days in an office just makes no sense. All in all, I probably have four serious hours of work a day, and I could honestly get what needs to be done in a three-day workweek, but that’s not our culture. I’m at a public company and they want you working at least eight hours a day, five days a week. Whatever. If something can be done tomorrow, that’s fine. Not everything needs to be rushed, not everything is a priority, and I don’t want my team working that way. Like I said, I take a lot of breaks myself, too.

Stuff tends to come to a screeching halt in the afternoon, so I’ll take walks around the block. I’ll go out to our garden and play with the cat. And, to be honest, I’m smoking way more weed these days. I’ll pop out in the afternoon with a joint and journal a bit. I just try to have a more healthy perspective overall. I don’t want work to be some all consuming thing. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.