Working from home is good for Jewish lives

Whether it’s choosing your hours or doing a nine-to-five from your kitchen, the potential benefits of flexible and remote working are immense

September 23, 2020 11:37

Despite being employed throughout, I’ve spent only approximately three of the past 15 months actually at the office. Some of that is down to half a year’s maternity leave, a period in which the notion of a demanding client took on new meaning. But mostly it’s because of coronavirus.

From urging us to stay at home, ministers are now admonishing Britons back to work. While few have been resting on our laurels while WFHing, there are good reasons for returning to city-centre desks, ranging from shoebox flats to the simple value of a face-to-face conversation.

I know people chomping at the bit to get back to the office, commute and all. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the watercooler chat and the proximity of Pret. Many are keen to return once they reconcile doing so with health and safety worries.

Yet after the threat subsides, I suspect few workplaces will revert exactly to the way they were. Whether it’s choosing your hours or doing a nine-to-five from your kitchen, the potential benefits of flexible and remote working are immense. Why wouldn’t we seize them?

For those balancing professional life with observing Jewish practice, such flexibility can also be invaluable. Small tasks — picking up challahs, popping to kosher shops — suddenly become far more manageable. There’s no rushing to get home before the fast comes in when you can sign off and tuck in seconds later. I’ve relished calmly welcoming Shabbat and festivals (and even having guests), having had ample time to prepare around work commitments.

If that sounds trivial, it isn’t. Orthodox Jewish life isn’t always convenient, or indeed smoothly compatible with secular priorities. Maybe this mattered less when fewer women worked, but these days couples tend to split bringing home the bagels and roasting the chicken. Yet it’s not always easy to “have it all”, to misuse the phrase so often bandied about in work-life balance conversations.

That’s partly about lifestyle; the strictly kosher must be exhausted, repeating why they can’t dig in to the meeting sandwiches. It’s no fun being a new hire and explaining you can’t check emails on Saturdays and must leave early on winter Fridays. But it’s also about simple practicalities and having enough time to fit both worlds in. Flexibility won’t automatically enable observant Jews to have it all, but the ability to set one’s own timetable and routine can certainly help.

Imagine a British Jewish life where observance rarely jars with work commitments, because you can set up meetings around religious moments. Where you can get to that bris and still be at your desk by 8am; or make an unexpected levoya by shifting your schedule around. For parents considering Jewish schools, Friday lunchtime finishes become infinitely more doable if work is remote; for those with relatives in other cities, the ability to travel on a Thursday night and clock in from your destination is a game-changer. For mourners, how much better if work allows for them to recite Kaddish at their local shul?

Small benefits, maybe, but they add up. Take the glut of festivals this time of year. Wonderful as they are, they can be a nuisance; all those amputated weeks wreaking havoc with work and school routines. It’s no wonder many get through Yom Kippur and are done; adding Succot into the mix is a complication too far for plenty of people otherwise profoundly engaged with Jewish life.

This year brings the first in more than a decade when the festivals fall on weekends. It’s a welcome break — and I imagine in normal times it would lead to far busier services. When Judaism fits neatly into day-to-day life, surely we all benefit?

Obviously, not every job can be flexible or remote. And yes, those who really care make it work whatever. If Judaism is that important, you choose a company that enables you to leave early on Fridays and doesn’t mind random autumnal absences (indeed, few decent bosses would today take issue).

You get your challahs on Thursday nights; you cook for Yomtov at dawn. You use annual leave to get to simchas. You figure out how to make Jewish life fit with everything else, just like your parents did. Or, of course, you decide you can’t have it all, that something has to give.

But the working world is undergoing a seismic transformation, one that was on the horizon but that has been expedited by the pandemic. Perhaps this transformation can strengthen Jewish life, by making it coexist that bit better with everything else.

After 15 months, I’m excited to get back to my desk. But I’m also excited for a future involving more work-life balance — and greater Jewish-secular balance too.

September 23, 2020 11:37

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