Aoife Geary on how our everyday behaviour has changed now that we’re working at home and living at work…
Do you have a work persona and a home persona?
Maybe at work you have a phone voice and wear snazzy blazers whereas at home, you communicate only by text and spend 85 per cent of your time in pyjamas. Maybe your work persona avoids discussing JK Rowling’s latest tweets but at home you’re happy to have prolonged arguments on the subject.
During the pandemic, the line between work and home has become almost non-existent. We’re working from home and we’re living at work. It’s meant that two previously separate parts of our lives have overlapped in one messy yet boring Venn diagram.
Before Covid, we had more control over how our colleagues saw us. They got to know us by sitting in the same office, working on projects together, having post-work pints or looking at our latest (carefully curated) Instagram post. In other words, they saw the image we chose to project. Now, through forced remote working, we’re revealing parts of our lives which were previously hidden, particularly our homes and who we share them with. Housemates, family, children and even pets have made on-screen appearances during the working day.
It was a novelty at first, getting a greater insight into each other’s lives. In some ways, it’s even led to greater connections. We tend to have more empathy with our colleagues if we’ve seen them try to placate their children and contribute to a team meeting at the same time.
However, working from home has also put a strain on our working relationships, as we try to communicate solely through our screens. It’s made it much harder to gauge how a person might be feeling. In some cases, it might take a person bursting into tears before you even realise they’re struggling.
Apropos of nothing, I recently cried on a work call.
It came as a total surprise to me. And my colleague. The call was completely run of the mill. We weren’t arguing. If anything the topic under discussion was pretty bland.
The force of the tears was particularly alarming. I didn’t just shed a single stoic tear; I wept. It was an almost comic reaction; one usually reserved for hungover days sitting on my couch watching videos of dogs being reunited with their owners. Emotional outbursts don’t fit in the ‘work’ section of the venn diagram!
However, on this day, for no good reason, I was overcome with emotion. Maybe I was weary of the pandemic or maybe I was just sick of looking at my increasingly dishevelled reflection on zoom. Either way, I had never cried at a meeting before and I was horrified by my own behaviour.
I remembered a study from New York University a few years back about women crying at work. The study asked business leaders (41 women, 24 men) across different industries in the US what they thought of their female colleagues crying. The consensus was that crying causes irrevocable damage to your reputation, disrupts others at work and is basically deplorable. There were certain instances where crying was deemed more acceptable e.g. when dealing with the death or critical illness of a loved one.
While I thought these findings were a bit ridiculous at the time, they had stuck with me. I now started applying them to my own situation. I believed that because I had cried at work my colleagues would see me in a new and negative light; weak, irrational and hideously puffy. I worried that it would affect my status at the company. Would people avoid working with me for fear I’d explode into tears again? Would I have to invent and kill off a relative to regain their trust?
Luckily, my colleague was completely understanding and didn’t make me feel awkward about the situation whatsoever. We haven’t spoken about it since and it’s not affected our dynamic. So, I decided to give myself a break too.
Like so many others, work has dominated a lot more of my time and headspace during lockdown. The unexpected merging of our home and work lives was always going to be a big adjustment and heightened emotions are a largepart of that.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend an online sobbing session, I’d no longer be embarrassed by it either. We’re living and working in a new world; the old rules don’t apply.