Remember: This isn’t actually remote work.

The pandemic forced people in the US to work from home, but this isn’t what remote work should be.

[Content warning: brief mention of abuse]

I refuse to work in an office. My health, both mental and physical, are not reliable enough for me to commute to a new location every day. I’ve made the choice to only work remotely, and am privileged to be in tech where that’s an option for me. Since mid-2019, I’ve been in an office for about two weeks total.

A Black man wearing headphones, in front of two monitors on a desk.
I make this same face when I’m trying to figure out my emails, honestly.

If we say the COVID-19 pandemic started in the US in February 2020, and subsequently employees were forced into remote work, it’s been over a year for many people with zero prior experience working from home. I’d like to reiterate what lots of remote workers said back in February and March of 2020:

This is not actually remote work.

This is coping, for our safety.

We are still in the middle of a global epidemic. COVID-19 is thrashing US hospitals. Working from home is a necessity for many workers’ safety. This is not ideal, nor desired, nor particularly planned for. This was an emergency choice.

What does real remote work look like? Real remote work includes things like planning childcare and school; leaving the house to socialize freely; financial planning for food (and coffee, since it’s not the free work stuff anymore); and other boundaries we set to make living and working in the same environment bearable. Those boundaries can even living accommodations. I know many people who’ve moved since the pandemic because living and working in a studio exacerbated their depression. The social isolation of living alone and only interacting with others virtually can be devastating.

A child on a rocker in the foreground (in focus) and a person working at a desk in the background (not in focus).

Real remote work should also be a choice. Every person is different and requires schedules, reminders, alerts, rituals, or daily patterns to keep their internal momentum going. Forcing yourself to get up in the morning and work is a hard shift for people who need the presence of others as a motivator. Getting dressed doesn’t have the same urgency when you know you can sit in front of your laptop in pajamas with none the wiser.

Home also isn’t necessarily safe for everyone. For people surviving abusive home lives, trying to work and being unsafe are oil and water. They are fundamentally incompatible. My heart hurts for every person harmed by a roommate, partner, spouse, child, neighbor, landlord, friend, family, or anyone else that chooses to hurt them.

What our current viral landscape forces us into is a desperate attempt to reduce community spread of COVID-19, and it is not a consensual life change. I hope our current circumstances don’t color how fulfilling remote work can be in the future.