“I still have no intention of going back to, like Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. I think that ship has sailed for me,” she said. She has no desire to structure her workday around drop-off and pickup times for her children, nor does she miss the stress of running late to the office and having to pull over while driving to take a conference call.
Kristen Surya, a New York-based lawyer in the music industry, is also determined to protect her energy when she returns to the office. As an introvert, she finds the highly social atmosphere of a record label draining at times.
“People love coming and talking to you,” she said. “It’s very social in a way that, like, makes me die inside,” she joked. Her office’s initial reopening date of early September has now been postponed indefinitely because of the Delta variant. But Ms. Surya is already thinking about the boundaries she will need to set when the office does reopen. “If I feel like I want to leave at some point in the day, I’m just going to have to let myself do that,” she said.
Ellen Ernst Kossek, a professor at Purdue University who is studying work-life boundaries and career equality, says that while employers still hold a lot of power, workers also need to create the post-pandemic workplace they want.
She advises workers to have conversations with their managers about the flexibility they really need and how that will affect their performance. But she also warns: Offering more remote work options and flexible hours in a culture that still expects employees to overwork may actually do more harm than good, contributing to a greater erosion of boundaries between work and personal life. The pandemic has confirmed this: Instead of using time spent on commutes, breaks and socializing at work to rest, most people simply worked more.
A recent survey also found that 39 percent of women fear that taking advantage of flexible work arrangements will negatively affect their career growth — with Black and Latinx women the most concerned. Other research points to some reasons, namely the fear that not having a physical presence will result in being passed over for promotions and decrease women’s influence and informal interactions with decision makers.
Suzi Kang, a quality assurance engineer based in Lincoln, Neb., was given the option to telework at the beginning of the pandemic. But she was very aware of the trade-offs. On one hand, she worried that remote work would make it harder for her to build relationships, especially as someone who started her job only three months before Covid. On the other hand, she often felt like an outsider — as someone who identifies as Asian in an industry dominated by white men. In the end, she decided the trade-off was worth it. “It does help to not have to put on a different persona for work,” she said.