- For many office employees — especially with chronic illnesses — working from home during the pandemic was a relief.
- "I have endometriosis," one employee told Insider. "In the office, there's a constant fear: Am I going to have a pain flare? What will I do?"
- This is their story, as told to writer Fortesa Latifi.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a public-relations employee who was given a week's notice to return to their office. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their career, but Insider has verified their identity and employment. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Like so many others, I worked remotely from March 2020 onward. I work in public relations, and for us, it's pretty seamless to work remotely. But my job recently instituted a new hybrid schedule — two days in the office and three days at home — and employees were given one week's notice to return to the office.
I was shocked. One week? How could management think that was enough time for people to entirely rework their lives?
Through the pandemic, we learned to work remotely — and for some of us, it worked really well. I have endometriosis, a chronic disease that often results in extreme pain, and being able to work remotely was such a relief for me.
In case of a pain flare, I had everything I needed around me: medications, my heating pad, and everything else I needed to attempt to be as comfortable as possible while dealing with my disease. When I'm in the office, there's a constant fear: Am I going to have a pain flare? If I do, will I be able to drive myself home?
Once, I even had a cyst rupture while I was working at my desk. It causes so much less anxiety to be at home with all my supplies. Plus, then I don't have to worry about looking "unprofessional" for using a heating pad while sitting at my desk.
I'm also way more productive at home. I recently went into the office and only got about 20% of my usual remote workload done.
When my company announced we had one week to return to the office, a lot of employees were surprised. It seemed like junior staff and senior leadership alike were taken aback at the turnaround time.
I tried to push back against the decision, telling my superiors that I took issue with not only the decision itself but how it was handled. I asked if I could remain remote until the end of last year because of my chronic illness, and I was told that wasn't a possibility. I pushed back again, saying one week wasn't a lot of notice to return to the office.
They said this was always the plan, and I should have been prepared — even though a timeline was never communicated.
The whole situation made me get the message loud and clear: We weren't valued as employees. We were just numbers to our bosses, work horses cranking out new business and awards. That was the priority.
I'm not the only person who struggled with going back to the office on such short notice. Some of my colleagues had young children or infants and were left to scramble to find childcare. The whole situation was so strange, especially due to how much remote work there is in the PR industry.
Because of everything, I decided to resign from my job. I loved the people I worked with, but in the end, I felt like I had no choice. It kind of felt like I was being forced out based on the circumstances.
The first week I was back in the office, I had to do a telehealth doctor's appointment from a conference room even though I had set up that specialist appointment months before when I thought I would be remote and able to travel to see the doctor. Instead, I hid in a conference room to talk to the specialist, which felt embarrassing and invasive.
Now, I have a new job that's entirely remote. The ability to work remotely was my No. 1 priority in my job search. After everything that's happened in the pandemic and with my own chronic illness, it would be silly not to put my physical and mental health first — and that's what working remotely allows me to do.
I also think that allowing your employees to work remotely shows an understanding of the circumstances in this country right now. It makes an employer's values really clear to me if they listen to the needs of the people who work for them.
People with chronic illnesses and disabilities have been requesting remote work and flexible hours for decades now. With the pandemic, we've suddenly found out that it is possible.
In fields where remote work is possible, there's no reason employers can't give this simple accommodation. It's the bare minimum.