What Happens to Your Identity

A few months ago, I sat in the small room, just off my dining room, that I now call my office and listened to conversation during one of GovLoop’s New Supervisors Community of Practice sessions. It was winter and I was in semi-dark because if I turned the light on, there’d be a halo behind my head and that would look kind of odd, I thought.

People were sharing ideas for upcoming virtual summit topics and began discussing the hybrid workforce. At one point, someone said that you lose part of your identity when you work from home. The comment gave me pause — because it’s true.

In every office space I’ve inhabited, from a small cubicle early in my career to a large room in a historic brownstone, I’ve always had plants. I’ve had Impressionist prints and a rather ugly elephant knickknack that fellow writers at a magazine years ago passed around for good luck — and gave to me when I left the job.

I’ve had a photo of myself and my husband, taken before we left for the 10-year high school reunion I dragged him to. But there were no diplomas or certificates; I don’t think they reflect who I am.

And you can be sure, I never debated whether to turn on the light.

When you walk into an office building and sit down at your desk, the surfaces around you become a palette. You can show your colleagues and employers what you want them to know about you. And the less-than-glamorous aspects of your personal world — the unmade beds, the ugly wallpaper, the cluttered living room, etc. — are hidden.

Remote work in many ways leaves you vulnerable. And for all its benefits — and I do appreciate working from home — it takes something from you. Our professional identities mix with our personal, and our boundary lines blur.

Some of my Impressionist prints are in storage today. My home “office” is too small to accommodate them.

This essay is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide “Solving Your Hybrid Workforce Problems.”

Graphics by Kelly Boyer with GovLoop.

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