I have now returned to working from the office, but this has been after nearly two years of continuous and intermittent working from home. I love working out of an office; I think it makes me much more productive. In addition, nothing can substitute the insights and joy I gain from impromptu conversations with colleagues I meet down the corridor.
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But this is also an apt moment to reflect on the extended WFH period, which, like all other situations, has had its own unique charms, exigencies and humour. Here is a quick look at six irreverent but real rules that marked the WFH period.
Mute and unmute theorem
The word “mute” has taken on new meanings in our life during all our WFH zoom calls, which I have lost count of. In particular, the words “You are on mute” have come to haunt me and have sometimes even appeared in my dreams. Despite my efforts at taking great care, I often end up being on mute while speaking, at which point multiple colleagues pounce on me with great relish. However, in many cases, within a few minutes of unmuting myself, there is generally some disturbance or the other on the call. Then I hear a diametrically opposite instruction – “Can all of you go on mute?”. This is an excellent WFH illustration of Newton’s age-old theorem: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
The distractions hypothesis
This hypothesis states that the probability of a new distraction turning up every day at home during WFH is close to one hundred per cent. The origin of such distractions could be from social media, binge-watching, online shopping, gaming, kids, pets, wilting plants, assorted couriers turning up at the door amid conference calls and seeking OTP numbers with great urgency, frantic attempts to restore home WiFi or even a sudden loud implosion from the home next door. A corollary to this important hypothesis is that it is impossible to predict most such distractions. Still, you can only ignore them at your peril, so it is best to reconcile with this reality and adjust everything else accordingly.
Twenty-four hours rule
This rule defines an important human truth – that it is very difficult for two people to spend all twenty-four hours together every day, for two years at a stretch. You may be deeply in love with your partner or spouse and totally inseparable as a couple, but day-long observations of their work idiosyncrasies, constant shop talk and general sloppiness are as much as the human mind can take. This is particularly true when both of you share a single room or dining table for working from home. This rule makes you realise that working from separate offices has one unintended benefit – it has held many relationships together.
Goa envy axiom
Here is an axiom that has been applicable to most of us. Each of us knows atleast one friend, colleague or acquaintance who has decided to move to Goa and work from there during the WFH period. For Goa, you can substitute the Himalayas, Lonavala, Alibaug or even the Bahamas, which depends entirely on the type of people in your professional or social circles. The rest of us have many reasons why we have not relocated to the beaches or mountains. While these are eminently logical and hardworking reasons, they don’t take envy away. Each time the guy in Goa appears on a video call, you think of yourself and what could have been.
Intellectual look postulate
Video backgrounds matter on zoom calls, and if you want to be perceived as an intellectual type, then there is only one easy solution - you need books in the background. It does not matter if you have not read any of these books, if they are fresh from the bookstore, or even borrowed from your neighbour. What matters is the sheer number of books and how weighty they look. An entire library shelf behind you, packed with volumes, is an unbeatable visual for sure. And if you throw in a few well-known authors who write thick philosophical tomes that are seldom read, your intellectual gravitas is guaranteed. On the other hand, a neat background with flowers and pictures on the wall speaks a very different language.
Children and Pets Maxim
This maxim involves a belief in extra-sensory perception. It tells us that if you have small children or pets at home during WFH, they figure out exactly when an important work-related call begins and turn up magically at that time to assist you with the call. This holds true regardless of how remotely they are located before the call begins. They could decide to help by appearing dramatically in the camera frame, starting some sort of typing on the keypad of your laptop computer or cleaning up your table by getting rid of the coffee mug you have placed there in one swell swoop. They also deploy many other techniques of well-intentioned helpfulness, which are too numerous to list here.
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Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. His favourite axiom is based on the unfortunate observation that our appetite for snacking goes up significantly while working from home.