Every business day at 5:00 pm, I turn off my corporate desktop, exit my corporate cubicle, say goodbye to my corporate colleagues, and forget about work until 8:45 am the next day. This is one of the many perks of being labeled a non-exempt employee. Unlike my salaried peers, I am not required to work beyond standard business hours. For this reason alone, I have come to prefer being non-exempt in the corporate world, saving my nights and weekends from work-life imbalance. The one problem I have with my luxurious non-exempt lifestyle is that we are not granted the privilege to ditch the office and work remotely. In my three years in this role, I’ve rallied myself out of the house on days I hopelessly wished I could do my job from the comfort of my couch. I rolled my eyes at emails from exempt-labeled colleagues announcing that they would be working from coffee shops for the day as I coped with uninteresting office conversations and bad lighting. Some days, I would find a newly vacated office still equipped with a desktop, and I’d hideout for the day to focus on work without exhausting myself to engage in office dynamics.
Then it happened. The pandemic forced my workplace into remote working. And though the crisis caused much anxiety, you can imagine the joy I felt when asked “Lenovo or Apple?” regarding the laptop I wanted to use during the stay-at-home order.
For me, being able to work remotely during the crisis means comfortably coexisting with work in my home. I imagined checking email in my pajamas and chiming into meetings without taking off my bonnet. But at the height of the pandemic, and Zoom, I found myself anxiously preparing for video calls throughout the day. I felt enormous pressure to over engage.
Thank God I found solace in my safe space, also known as the group chat where my girlfriends and I talk our shit. It now served as a support line to validate the pressure we were feeling to perform as we would have B.C. (before corona). Not to mention, the Zoom craze launched Corporate Americans all over the world into a video call frenzy. “Look at this [insert face-palm emoji],” a friend wrote in the chat. She followed the message with a screenshot of an email chain between coworkers. They were coordinating a team edition of the early 2000’s MTV show Cribs. “This Zoom shit is getting out of hand. I refuse to take them on a tour of my Black girl magic castle. No.” The group chat filled with responses: “I hear you girl! Why do they want us on video every day?”
“I see my coworkers more now than I did in the office and I am over it,” another responded.
Others chimed in with their own stories about Zoom-crazed colleagues. Once we realized we were in fact not trippin’ about our collective experience, it was time to ensure that we as Black women were taking what we need.
A couple of weeks into the stay-at-home-order, I stopped turning my video on for meetings. It was a decision I wrestled with before committing to. I was scared I’d create the wrong perception. And being the only Black person in my department, I didn’t want to stand out as a nonparticipant. But I desperately needed a break from the corporate ideals of social and cultural norms. I wanted my moments in quarantine to be authentic. And honestly, I’d had enough of the Corporate-American gaze. I decided I deserve this time to be a Black woman in all of her glory while she works from home. As long as I could use my voice and share my screen, seeing me every day was not an obligation.
My group chat evolved from expressing frustration to affirming our work-life boundaries. There were still some things to vent about, like the emails of memes that every one of our corporate peers found hilarious, except us; most of us the only black women (or person) in our departments. I even understood the humor behind the Brady Bunch meme to mimic what Zoom meetings look like. But the lack of Black and other racial minorities in the Brady Bunch mash-up is what stood out in my authentic experience. How could they not see that this image did not represent our team at all?
My friends and I needed to set clear boundaries to balance our personal needs with our job demands. Why? Because we are not simply working from home. We are working from home in response to a crisis. What we need in our pandemic-induced work from home environment is flexibility in our days, empathy, and privacy for our unique and separate home experiences. For me, that meant being engaged in work but also taking the opportunity to rest and restore. So I turned off my Zoom camera, and it greatly improved my relationship with remote working. I was still connected, but not so concerned with simulating office dynamics.
You may be reading this and thinking of other ways you want to set loving-boundaries for yourself as it relates to work. If video meeting over-kill isn’t your remote working nightmare, maybe one of the below solutions will help you to better balance yourself and your digital workspace. I encourage everyone reading this to not rush to work against time. Allow this time to work for you; not just for a company's demands. Radically and unapologetically take care of your mental, emotional, and physical needs for space during the virtual workday.
Vent in Real-Time
Gone are the days where we smile through our work-related grievances to appease our peers. We are in the safety of our homes and free to feel. It is much healthier to confront stress in the moment than to bottle it up for a more “appropriate” time, as we are accustomed to doing. Take advantage of this time at home to authentically express your feelings. Respond to the email after you’ve therapeutically said your curse words.
Unplug During Your Lunch Hour
You’re at home! Take a nap after completing a lengthy assignment. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Take a refreshing midday shower. Whatever you do, close your computer and don’t look at it until you have taken your full break. There is no emergency in your email bigger than the pandemic. Take an hour from work, sis.
Hide All Things Work-Related at the End of the Work Day
When the workday is over, I store all office supplies in my backpack until the next workday. This helps me to separate my work vs.home environment. Being intentional about putting your laptop away can help shift the energy in your home and your mood.
Take a Day Off
Just because you’re home, and the world is essentially closed, doesn’t mean you should not take personal time off. If you are questioning whether it is appropriate, I am here to affirm that it is necessary to spend a day offline. In many ways, working from home has been more demanding than being in the office. If you work with quality leaders, they will encourage your mental health days. You owe yourself the grace and kindness to do what is best for you. Which brings me to my last point:
Give Yourself Some Grace
Black people are facing adversity at a heightened level as it relates to pandemic fatalities, the President’s racist rhetoric, and unjust killings of black men and women; all the while being expected to operate at high capacities in predominantly white spaces. It is okay to take a break. It is ok to turn off your Zoom video and take a moment to lay down in the middle of the day. Boundaries are for love. Boundaries are for understanding your needs and giving to yourself, wholly.
Desire Grose is a contributing writer for BSW Chronicles. You can find out more about her by following her on Instagram @desiregrose.