Today was a Snow Day for many of us here in the D.C. metropolitan area. As of last night, every local weatherman was confidently predicting six inches in D.C. proper and probably ten inches out in the western suburbs where I live. The federal government cautiously closed up shop early this morning, and local school districts and businesses quickly followed suit. Washington, however, lies at an awkward spot near the mid-Atlantic coast — a place where the lines between warm and cold and between moist and dry drift back and forth like restless serpents — and forecasters here seem to have about a 33% accuracy rate when it comes to winter storms. By the end of the day, though, I had maybe four inches in my driveway, and I understand some places in D.C. had no accumulation at all. Ha! Faked you all out! Mother Nature is such a joker.
Still, the roads were quite nasty in my neighborhood this afternoon, around the time our kids would have been heading home from school, so I felt that my time off from work was totally justified — the kids had to stay home for their own safety, and I had to stay home to look after them. However, there were probably a bunch of people who work in the District and live in the District, or in the eastern suburbs where they saw nothing but rain, who cannot say the same thing. (And what if my kids had been in college? Would I have still felt as righteously homebound?)
On the flip side, I heard that not everyone is created equal in the eyes of the federal Snow Day gods. In at least some agencies, people who were originally scheduled to work today from home were expected not to take the day off. After all, they were going to be home anyway, so the poor commute wasn’t going to affect them. Apparently these folks could not justify not working. But many of their co-workers could just as well have worked from home themselves, even though they hadn’t planned to. Why didn’t they have to justify not working?
If we live in a world where teleworking is increasingly the norm — as insisted by many of those who railed against the recent proclamation by Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer banning telecommuting at her company — then it will become harder to justify not working at home whenever one is able to. The degree of pressure any one of us feels will depend on a complicated array of competing factors — our own drive and ambition to succeed at work, our countervailing impulses to carve out time for ourselves and our families, the expectations of employers, the demands of clients and customers — and some people will be able to set clear boundaries where other people won’t. To me it seems that blurring the line between work and home has as much potential to disrupt that elusive “work/life balance” as it does to preserve it.
After all, there may well be times when you ought to have to justify not working when you normally would. But there should also continue to be times when you ought to have to justify working when you normally would not.