It was finally 6 p.m. – time to sign off. I had made it through a long and stifling day. Shutting my laptop, I hurried down to make a cup of decaf coffee. I was still making up for the cups I’d missed out on all those mornings during Ramadan. The machine had barely begun whirring when my phone pinged. It was my boss.

Working remotely has drastically changed people’s lifestyles. One’s down-time seems to be growing scarcer by the second. Is leisure going extinct as bedrooms turn into home offices? The line between home and work is blurry when you work from home.

One day I was on a professional call that had gone way over its allocated time. Yet, I found it difficult to signal that I had to leave. Technically, I didn’t have to leave. I was at home and could get to my other assignments soon enough. I did not have any other meetings to switch into. Dubai was under strict lockdown and it was past curfew. I was literally in no physical position to oppose sitting in for longer. 

Given the situation around the world, I don’t mean to gripe over this. I acknowledge my position of privilege in that I am not in the same boat as frontline workers providing critical public services (whose efforts I am forever thankful for). Inside my home, I can rely on being safe and so going to work does not hold the same health concerns and points of stress. 

However, I do worry that working remotely removes the boundaries between time ‘in the office’ and at home. How can I draw a line between my personal and professional life when both take place in the same environment? Especially in jobs that are flexible with hours, it is only a matter of time before the boundaries are so mixed-up that it is nearly impossible to untangle.

Moreover, I still feel like I always have to be ‘on’. Even after working hours, I constantly make sure my phone isn’t on silent mode. I am constantly aware of the time and obsessively check my emails on the off chance something comes through that I needs my attention.

Do we really need to conjure up an excuse to have some time to ourselves?

In many instances, I would experience burnout without even realizing it. I remember walking away from my laptop, where I had been making some negligible additions to a project, to get some tea, and I suddenly felt lightheaded. I realized that I was making very little progress with work even though I had been racking my brain for hours. Turns out, I had forgotten to eat lunch and dinner.

Given the constant proximity to our phones and laptops, when we’re working remotely, we don’t have many excuses to throw out when missing a call. Therefore, we are assumed to be constantly available. Even during the weekend. But do we really need to conjure up an excuse to have some time to ourselves?

This mindset extends to academics as well. In my experience, professors expect more time to be invested in our work as they ‘know for a fact’ that we aren’t going anywhere. 

Our bosses, professors, and superiors seem to expect more time and effort to be put into projects given that this pandemic has considerably limited our social lives and other extracurricular pursuits. While it is true that every email for the first few months started with, “Taking into account the uncertainty of our times”, this acknowledgment of hardship did not translate into their expectations of our productivity levels. 

One key way to instill boundaries while you work remotely is to physically designate a working space. I started off by moving around the house throughout the day. Perching my laptop next to me in the living room, I had my morning coffee. Then, I transitioned outside onto the veranda to soak in the afternoon sun before finally retiring to my bedroom.

Let us not allow leisure and taking personal time for ourselves to go extinct. In the long run, this is not a sustainable lifestyle for anyone.

I soon grew tired of this method as it meant my work traveled with me all around. Having one desk that I work at has, thus far, been the most productive solution. I knew to put on my working cap when I sat down. It allowed me to go into ‘work mode’ without feeling like I was existing somewhere in limbo between leisure and work.

Another way to instill these boundaries is to install an app on your laptop or phone to track your usage. Designate an amount of time to work, take digital breaks, and offline breaks (don’t forget to eat!).

As long as the work gets done, everyone should be entitled to having personal time to spend however they choose. Let us not allow leisure and taking personal time for ourselves to go extinct. In the long run, this is not a sustainable lifestyle for anyone. We need to take notice of how our days are being divided up. If not, we risk the development of a new medical condition, that supersedes a burnout, which will negatively affect our working class. 

  • Amal Als

    Amal Al Shamsi is a writer with a BA in Literature from New York University Abu Dhabi, interested in the study of marginality in modern and contemporary fiction. She is passionate about integrating other mediums into her writing, such as film, visual art, and music as she engages with the cultural dialogue around the world.