[OPINION] Working from home: A sort-of open letter to HR

I am grateful for the privilege of working from home. Being pregnant and at a higher risk for infection, I only have to report physically to the office for my government job once a week.

I fully understand that this is not a privilege all pregnant employees enjoy; from the start, I have intended to make my employer not regret granting it to me. Many pregnant individuals have no choice but risk their health or let go of their jobs. I am lucky. 

Contrary to some people's perceptions, however, working while at home is as hard, if not harder, than spending eight to five at the office. 

First, I am still working, but there is this heightened anxiety that my bosses and other employees are thinking I am not. I constantly try to prove I am busy. While at the office my physical presence is almost always enough, now I have to take and post lots of pictures to verify that I am not wasting government money. It is tiring and it feels fake. 

Second, I have to be available beyond normal office hours. Before, I would punch in at eight and leave at five and the rest of the day was mine. Now, this isn't the case. It doesn't matter if I have literally spent nine straight hours on reports or virtual meetings. It doesn't matter if I have done all my tasks. In this alternative work arrangement, I am expected to give up my lunch breaks, my five pm to eight am, my weekends, and my holidays because no one physically sees me work. It is unhygienic, but I even take my phone with me when answering the call of nature, so I do not risk missing the call of the boss. Power outage or intermittent Internet connection in my area? I am expected to solve that. Immediately. 

There's also the extra cost on my part. I had never considered installing an internet connection since I wanted to enjoy the luxury of being unplugged at home. But now, it is impossible to get anything done without it. My parents' furniture is so comfy and familiar that I had to buy a new desk and a new chair to create an atmosphere of work. I also had to get another electric fan aside from the one I already use at night. Plus, I had to take home my office-issued PC since I had never had any need to have a personal laptop. So hello, higher electricity bills. Anything I save from transportation is nothing compared to the additional expenses that come with setting up a home office. 

I am also expected to ensure that the office operates exactly as if I were there, and I am supposed to know everything that happens at all times.

The office garden is dying because nobody told me the water had stopped flowing. Someone reported to the main office that there is no physical distancing in the waiting area, because the four people there are busy inside trying to quickly finish their tasks on hand to notice what's happening outside.

Aside from that, there's this guilt I feel over the fact that my job order staff are doing all the physical work and getting exposed to all sorts of danger while I am safe at home. I feel like a captain who has abandoned her ship. 

Lastly, I am forced to treat home as an extension of this job. Since 2010, I have succeeded in separating work affairs from home life. I would rather do unpaid overtime than bring unfinished work into my personal space. But what used to be my sanctuary from a day's work has become stressful as well. The bedroom that has always meant self-care now functions as an office. Because of limited space, I had to give up the meditation nook in my bedroom to set up my desk and chair. Sometimes, people would need something official from me and come to the house uninvited. My sacred space is gone.

I am writing this for the few people who think that working from home is buhay hayahay. No, I am not tending my mother's garden or playing with the dogs. I am not cleaning our house or washing our clothes. I am not spending my day baking banana bread. In fact, my food has been cooked the Sunday before and has been packed and frozen, because just like when I was at the office, I am still working. We even suspended our online business so nobody would say I had a side hustle on official time.

I hope that some people stop assuming that I automatically prefer this alternative work arrangement. Believe me, working from home is demanding. The only perk is that I don't have to take a bath every morning.

I am also writing this as a call to action for my colleagues. If you do not feel well, if you suddenly develop COVID-19 symptoms, do not be so ashamed that you may have to work from home that you end up hiding your symptoms from our colleagues. Be scared that you could be causing the whole office to shut down if, unfortunately, you test positive. 

Let us end the assumption that working from home is not real work. This is not sarap buhay. We are not all like Bato. – Rappler.com

Patricia B. Castillo-De Guzman, 32, is a librarian from the Schools Division of San Jose City. She is currently on the seventh month of her first pregnancy.