The Pandemic’s Unintentional Mark on the Workforce: More Autonomy, Please!

Photo by vadim kaipov on Unsplash

The pandemic was an unwanted crisis but a welcomed time to reflect on the bigger picture and the quality of our lives. During this time I thought about how to do less of what makes me unhappy and do more of what brings me joy. This included a focus on health and spending more time with loved ones. 

I know I’m not alone in this—lately, it seems every work-related report from the media is about employees leaving their companies to pursue fully remote jobs or upskill to do something else that makes them happier. 

My last job was different from my previous roles because I never met any of my colleagues in person or stepped foot into an office. For some, this would be torture, for others, the ideal working scenario. For me, I was somewhere in the middle.

I always enjoyed going into the office but liked the flexibility to be able to work from home any time I wanted. That’s the great thing about startup culture, and I’ve been at some companies where I was given that autonomy over my schedule. 

Dreaming of going remote

Like many employees, I’d long wanted control and flexibility over my day-to-day schedule. I even quit my full-time job in 2017 because I was burnt out and tired of being tethered to an office. 

It ended up being such a profound year of growth. I explored the world and worked remotely—it was the inspiration for my travel blog. Little did I know four years later, the workforce would mostly be at home anyway. 

The pandemic accelerated a remote lifestyle and proved it can be done, even for industries that had traditionally embraced a no work from home policy. Many companies and businesses are thriving, and employees seem to be enjoying this control and autonomy over their schedules.

Working from home… wait, what day is it?

Not having the option to go into an office and see colleagues, eat lunch together, or jam on new ideas proved to be challenging. Also, when you’re at home, you’re sort of expected to always be on call. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t immediately respond on Slack because you’re home anyway, right? Sometimes, work felt never ending and I missed those days when leaving the office signaled the day was done. 

Despite a flexible routine and schedule that revolved around meetings, the days felt eerily similar. Being at home, day after day, started feeling like one long day. 

Adapting to my schedule

After a few months, though, I got used to the boredom, seeing the four walls of my living room/office, and the monotony. I also got used to having control over my days, and that benefit outweighed the negatives.  

Once the vaccines rolled out and things slowly started opening up again (like my yoga studio), the easier it became to work from home. I’d recall those days when I had to be in an office and thought—goodbye office drama, popularity contests, and team bullies (there’s always one!). 

I thought about how productive I’d become. I found my groove of working for an intense two hours, going for a walk or taking a break, and then repeating that cycle. In the mornings, I walked or went to yoga. If I ran errands in the middle of the day, I worked well into the evenings to catch up on the work I missed. The best part was that I didn’t feel particularly stressed about it. I figured, the work would always be there!

Pre-pandemic, my commute time on BART was sometimes 1.5 hours, one way. I was essentially saving 15 hours a week and investing that time into getting my projects done. Things were humming along and I started seeing the benefits of being able to work from home or anywhere else. 

Last winter I took off on my first really long road trip for a few months to snowboard on weekends in Colorado and Utah. I can’t even begin to express how convenient it is to drive two minutes to the resort parking lot and immediately hop on a gondola or chair! I visited my parents more frequently and saw friends in other states.

Reopening the office

Then, as everyone had predicted, a few tech giants in Silicon Valley started reopening. Companies that had previously said they’d go full remote changed their minds. Financial institutions mandated that their employees should return to the office. 

Lots of companies didn’t know what they wanted to do, but said their remote situation would evolve to a hybrid style of being in the office a few days out of the week or month.

I saw the office reopening in my horizon, too. While the remote working situation at my office remained uncertain, I started to imagine what life back in the office would be like. Autonomy over my day is everything and the thought of it being taken away was overwhelming.

I thought about how expensive the Bay Area was, and questioned whether I was a fool to continue living there. Coincidentally, during this time, a company I had interviewed with following the lockdowns last year reached back out to me about a new position. They also happened to be a remote-first company. So, like many workers leaving their jobs to continue the remote life, I too left. (I don’t want to sum up my departure as being so black and white—it was more complicated than that, but it was one of the reasons why I left. Long story short, I was sad to leave.)

Who knows, maybe after a few years of working remotely, I’ll be itching to get back into the office, but for now, I embrace the remote lifestyle.

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