Why I feel not lucky to work from home with chronic illness
Since the middle of March, I have not been able to access the building I work in. Instead and like so many others, I started to complete all my work from home. For the first weeks it felt like a dream come true. Before the pandemic started, I regularly had to compromise: looking after my symptoms or pushing through the pain to meet work commitments? When the pandemic hit, I was able to strike a balance between the two overnight. Many people I have spoken to over the past weeks said that I was lucky to still work from home with a high chance of not returning to the office on a full-time basis for months to come. I do not feel lucky at all!
You may wonder why? Or maybe you have experienced a similar dilemma and agree with my statement? Let me explain. I worked in Finance at two different Universities in the United Kingdom before starting my role as a researcher last year. Nobody had thought of a pandemic in those years and I was regularly fighting with my workplaces to work from home. My first workplace tried to make things easier for me after seeing how hard I worked and in what medical state I would get into the office in the mornings. Usually, they would try to send me home to take a day of sick leave. I would protest and would tell them that I could not take sick leave several times a month. I would also argue that my brain was functioning and was up to the job. The truth is I would already be mentally and physically exhausted after the commute and knew that I could not do the same journey back again so soon. I found comfort in the fact that the office had plenty of bathrooms in the case I needed it urgently. And there were many instances where indeed I needed it urgently. After a few months, HR recognised the benefit for me to work from home ones or twice a week. Here is the thing, many people think that working from home means not completing any work at all. Organisations want to ensure they are only allowing their hard-working employees to work remotely.
To this day I have not understood this logic. In my job someone would figure out within a day if I was home without doing work. Despite this fact and after a job change, my employer was not happy for me to work remotely at all. After more than a year we settled on regularly scheduled unpaid leave. The pandemic has changed all this. My new employee has no problem for me to work from home although there is still a big question mark what happens once students return to campus and I am expected to pick up my teaching responsibilities. But at the moment, it is the complete opposite; I can work from home five days a week- no questions asked! Many friends and colleagues say I am lucky but this is not what I was fighting for. There is no need for a universal 5 day, 220 days a year remotely working policy. As many of us with #ChronicIllness, I try to balance full time work commitments and the demands of a body that has more limits than the healthy population. The flexibility to work from home now and then gives me the peace that I can still be productive if my body cannot cope. Being forced to spend my full-time job in my kitchen each day, every day is as exclusionary as demanding me to come into the office every day. I am wondering how to tackle this new ground but I am definitely up for the challenge.