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Zooming in from home: May 2020

Most people have worked hard to separate and keep private their home lives from their work lives- The right to privacy is enshrined deep in our psyches and lifestyles, just look at the recent Harry and Meghan saga… Those boundaries serve to protect and separate who we are and how we are in different situations.I have long been intrigued by the way we are-they way of our being- in different places.

 As a daily commuter to London I have a seemingly infinite number of stories about how people behave in those situations where they between places, those situations that are not themselves defined. They are not at home, and not at work so they can behave entirely outside the norms for either of those places. I have watched daily acts of thoughtlessness, violence and recklessness perpetrated by people who are fabulous, both at work and at home. But there are no norms for that 40 minutes on the train or in the car, unlike at home and at work, so there is no need to behave in any particular way. Now we are in a situation where all our places are changed, all at once.

There are those work meetings that are gatecrashed by the kids, or misbehaving pets. One senior executive’s cat decided to come in and pee on the floor just behind her in the middle of (and in full view)of an important skype call with me. We catch glimpses into our colleagues lives, what’s on their bookshelves, how is their decor? These are their unedited, un-instagrammed lives. That is both real and unreal as the different worlds to which we belong merge and crash together. This pandemic and its digital solutions is crashing through previously solid barriers, right into the inner sanctuary of our protected home lives, asking us to weave between between those different and divergent norms, between places and groups and who we are, and have to be, in each. 

I don’t think this is an easy transition- and I don’t think this is a fleeting reveal. What is seen and shared can’t later be unseen. It is easy to say “this the real you” but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Most people have been trained for work, for a profession for how to behave in public from their earliest school days. When the barriers are breeched things change. Most people have an identity that is defined in no small extent by what they do- how they behave has been moulded by those spaces and places. 

Take the human out of their context and there is a real risk that people’s norms and identities collapse. The falling of the towers of identity we have built can be disorientating, confusing, frightening- and sometimes very necessary. In the current climate of remote working and socialising, I would suggest you consider and bear in mind what barriers and boundaries you want to cross and with whom. Take it slow, make active decisions, and in multiple person or family households be mindful of each other and who/how they need us to be.

At the end of this we will need to revert to being only professional work colleagues, directors and managers. Perhaps more human ones, but in many cases these will remain work colleagues rather than becoming friends and family none the less. So now after the first few weeks of remote working, and the collective emergency around that, take some time to revisit your working and socialising environment- and ideally separate them. What needs to change and who do you need to be for this time to work in your favour- socially and professionally- in the future.

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