This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.
Bark, bark. Meow. A baby crying. The sounds of home.
A long, long, time ago in pre-pandemic times, what started as a quiet day quickly turned into chaos.
It was all the way back in the early 2000s, a Thursday, just a few months after our child was born. My wife was out of town for work, and I was holding down the fort at home.
She was nice enough to write down some explicit instructions to help me get through the week such as, “Don’t forget to feed the dog. Don’t forget to feed the cat. Don’t forget to feed the baby.”
This seemed easy enough.
Until my phone rang.
It was one of our largest clients who was in a panic. They had a big website with thousands of users, and it was totally down.
As a tech consultant, responding to emergencies was nothing new. I immediately started troubleshooting as I talked to them on the phone trying to solve the issue.
I was beginning to make some progress when suddenly, things got worse.
The mailman pulled up at the end our driveway causing our dog to bark as loud as he could. The barking in turn startled our sleeping infant awake causing him to cry as loud as he could. And of course, the cat (still in a jealous post-partum depression since we added a baby to our family) ran into my office and started to continuously meow at me.
It was chaos. With one hand holding a crying infant, one hand typing on the keyboard, a dog barking, a cat meowing, and an understandably stressed-out client on speakerphone, I was struggling.
“Are you at a zoo or a daycare?” the customer asked. Embarrassed, I tried to shush the dog, cat, and baby but they all ignored me (as usual).
After about 30 minutes things settled down. The dog fell asleep, the cat disappeared, the website was back up, and our kid got distracted by his pacifier.
I took a deep breath—problem solved.
Nevertheless, I was still embarrassed.
This was pre-pandemic times when working from home was frowned upon. I felt like I’d made a terrible impression with all the sounds of home in the background. My personal life had been mixed with my work life, and it felt unprofessional.
But with the pandemic and its aftermath, times have changed.
The boundaries between home and work life have faded away. No longer is it unprofessional for a client or a colleague to see or hear glimpses of your personal life during work hours.
A dog barking during a Zoom call, a child interrupting a sales presentation, or a cat walking in front of a webcam are not only acceptable, but totally normal.
To me, this is a good thing. It’s helped to remind me that what’s going on at home affects work and what’s going on at work affects home.
This has of course always been the case, but before the pandemic forced us to mix the two together in plain sight, there was an imaginary wall that most of us worked hard to keep up.
Today, a kid interrupting a Zoom meeting or a dog barking during a conference call is no big deal. In fact, it makes us all more relatable by enhancing our connections to co-workers and clients.
I can’t say I enjoyed juggling a website emergency with a dog barking, a baby crying, and a cat meowing, but I’m no longer embarrassed (and the baby’s away at college, so I’ve got that going for me).