We Weren’t Playing House, We Were Playing Office

Wake up. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Get breakfast. Jump in the car. Go to work.

Be woken up. Harass your kids to take a shower and brush their teeth. Force feed them some form of breakfast. Get them on the bus. Get yourself presentable in seven minutes. Jump in the car. Go to work. Realize at 10:43 a.m. that the only thing you’ve eaten so far is the pavement you hit whilst you were running to a meeting that started 17 minutes prior to your arrival.

If you have parents living with you, add 15 additional steps.

If one of your kids isn’t feeling well, subtract six steps and add 14 steps plus a $35 co-pay and a headache.

If you are reading this and feel as though I am not doing your reality justice, forgive me. My daughter is nineteen and it’s been awhile since I’ve had to full-time quadruple tap.

Tap 1: Take care of myself. If I’m no good, I won’t good for anyone else.

Tap 2: Take care of my significant other who also takes care of me.

Tap 3: Take care of my daughter who may one day need to take care of me.

Tap 4: Take care of work so that I can partially fund this crazy we call life.

Today I’m only triple and a half, this since my daughter is in college.

Still, we tap dance a lot and all of it is in the name of keeping our house in order. Not our office, our house. You see, we don’t play house, we never have. House is what’s real. House is why we go to the office. House is why we are late to the office. House is what we are thinking about when we are at the office and something about our home life is being neglected. House is why we stay at the office even though we want to “Office Space” the shit out of our printer and that co-worker who isn’t pulling their fair share.

We don’t play house, we play office.

I know what you’re thinking. If we don’t play house, why did we have a playhouse, makeshift or otherwise? What about that fake fruit that looked good enough to eat and our parents clothes that were 10 sizes too big? And who could forget about feeding our friends and doll babies who tripled as our children, siblings, and parents? That wasn’t us playing house. It was us rehearsing to have a house that our office could help us acquire.

If there is one good place that COVID-19 has brought us, it is closer to the realization that until we were forced to work from home, we were in danger of forgetting that home is what it is all about. And since we’ve evolved a bit over the past decade, home is whatever one defines that place that allows them to live their best life.

The office is and has always been a means to an end. Not work. Not our careers. The office. That place that until 7 months ago was believed to be required and critical to our success, stability, and social standing. And guess what? We can work hard and advance our careers without the office. So says Microsoft, Google, Uber, American Express, and a boatload of other companies — 2/3rds of them to be exact.

This doesn’t mean we don’t like, treasure, value, or respect our work. It means that we don’t need to treat our office and the building it resides as our second home. It means that we can stop using phrases like, “We are here more than we are with our families”. We played office because someone sometime long long ago decided that if we were going to be productive, we would need to do so from a place that we could be seen and heard.

This week, I facilitated a corporate retreat that was focused on helping a senior leadership team execute their back-to-office planning. This was supposed to be easy since 73% of the workforce had already decided that they were tired of remote work. What is more, 64% of them cited “isolated” as the feeling that most registered with them when describing their biggest fear of a long-term remote work model. Given these numbers, there was nary a need for a culture facilitator. After all, most people were seemingly on the same page.

Except…

Remember that danger of forgetting that home is what it is all about? Let’s just say that most people wanting to go back to the office isn’t the same as most people liking the office. Nope. Instead, the majority of employees in this company like the idea of a home life, it just hasn’t been real enough for them to strive for. They have played office every waking hour of every day for so long, home aint where their heart was anymore.

That was then, this is now.

Within 40 minutes of facilitating the discussion, more than half of the leadership team were on the fence about going back to the office. What is more, they struggled to articulate the value they saw in office life, particularly when compared to the home life they were leaving on the proverbial table. One of the senior leaders was twice divorced, in both cases because, in her words, “I never made my marriage a priority”. One of her colleagues had a 14-year old son who has played 62 baseball games — none of which he has ever attended. A number of employees were not in relationships and were “literally depressed every day” at the thought of working for a paycheck that made them “financially rich but socially poor”.

We don’t play house, we never have. The fact is, we play office, sometimes to such a degree that we don’t even have a house. Instead, we have a place that we rest our head and fill our bellies in between our work planning and office manning. This has to stop and COVID-19 is finally making us realize it.

To drive this point home, let’s ask a few rhetorical questions:

  1. Do you work to live or live to work?
  2. Do you have relationships or do you jettison them?
  3. Do you want more me time at the spa or more meme time at your desk?
  4. Would you rather ponder the meaning of life from the beach or on a drive home from work at 11:13 p.m.?
  5. Who do you got — Hi-Five or Shai?

Here’s the thing: Most of us have to work and not all of us have a choice in where we work. This is especially true for minimum wage and service oriented employees who have no choice but to work high risk, on-location jobs that likely don’t pay benefits.

Life is not fair and I don’t write that statement lightly. That said, I write it truthfully and somewhat harshly. We have a choice. We can open our eyes to the reality that we play office so that we can live house or we can keep seeing the house as a dream sequence that we’ll never fully realize because of the office.

How will you choose to show up in your own life?

P.S. — The answer to rhetorical question 5 is Hi-Five and I can’t wait another minute to tell you why.

Certified Master Facilitator / Certified Diversity Executive / Award-winning leader in empowerment and equality.

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