Not since the Industrial Revolution have we seen such a transition between home-based work and city factories and offices – only this time it is back to home-based work.
Now, I hasten to say, I am not a social demographer or historian, and certainly not a fan of competency extrapolation: so I should qualify this and say it is my observation that this, albeit temporary, reversion of office based work to domestic based work has had some interesting consequences.
We are, many of us, still doing the same jobs, but thanks to the wonders of modern IT systems, we are doing them from home. WFH It has become a thing. Well, it has always been a thing, but it is now acknowledged, given official approval. We no longer have to sneak back home to deal with a domestic crisis, sick child, supervision of tradies, the delivery of the new fridge. We are meant to WFH unless we can’t.
There are the obvious things: an outbreak of baking, gardening, walking around our neighbourhoods, gifting sourdough starters and herb cuttings, chatting with the neighbours up the street who we hardly saw other than dashing in and out in the driveways, zooming in to our church small groups…slowing down…enjoying the simplicity…not stressing so much when the kids zoom-bomb our work conference call. Too much oversharing on fb, Instagram, twitter…
Chores which were mundane at best, the cause of resentment or worse, have overnight become trophies. Shopping – no it’s my turn to get out to the supermarket, you went last time…
Is that a plane over-head…?
Meals – proper dinner cooked and on the table, regularly every evening.
In this new WFH world we have noticed all those maintenance jobs that have been waiting for five years for attention because we are at home in the daylight and not rushing around with school sport, shopping, looking after parents. A new-found love of really living in our homes and neighbourhoods, not just passing through rushing on to the next thing.
Now I am not suggesting all is sweetness and light in this newly discovered domesticated world. It isn’t. The stress of micro-decision overload when we are operating out of routine; of living closely with our families/housemates all day, everyday, without reprieve, are well-documented. Let alone the loss of employment and anxiety about the future.
But nevertheless I have found myself musing about this domestic revival, and what it might mean.
My favourite writer of all is Marilynne Robinson. Many people have heard of her novel, Gilead – especially since being ‘outed’ by Barack Obama – but I came across her earlier novel, Housekeeping which she wrote in 1980 without knowing much about her – except that she was considered in the same school as one of my other favourites, Frederick Buechner, also American and Pulitzer short-listed writer. Housekeeping is, as the title suggests, about housekeeping, but not just in the sense of doing housework, but in the richer sense of creating a physically safe and spiritual home where we can bring restoration and healing. Robinson returned to some of these themes in her 2014 novel, Home, with remarkable exploration of the prodigal’s return and much more.
The house embodied for him the general blessedness of his life, which was manifest, really indisputable. And which he never failed to acknowledge, especially when it stood over against particular sorrow…
Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.
So will things go quickly back to ‘normal’ as soon as the lockdown is eased and we return to work and school? Will anything endure from this experience of lasting value?
I do hope so. I hope that there are enduring benefits, not just permission to WFH as a norm, releasing pressure on those of us juggling competing commitments, but above all we will manage to put some of those little joys back into our daily lives – the baking for the sick neighbour, the singing in the community choir, sitting down for meals and talking, growing things.
By Anne Robinson, Founder of Prolegis Lawyers and Member of Cinnamon Network Australia Board & Cinnamon Network International Leadership Council.
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