If the explosion of remote work during the pandemic taught employers anything, it’s that workers have full lives and demands outside the confines of their office buildings.
The transition to work from home (or hybrid work) was a real game changer: Kids crashed Zoom meetings. Laundry loads were sneaked in between meetings. Beds became workspaces. And we all used the blur function every now and then on video calls to hide the mess behind us.
Meanwhile, many workers realized they could get a lot of non-work-related living done during their work hours, as long as they stayed in communication with their managers, met their deadlines and kept on top of their job.
We know this from personal experiences but also because we recently asked our readers to share what they kept hidden from their bosses or co-workers while they were remote working.
Here are 15 of the responses we received, from the mundane (working from the toilet ― no judgment, you multitasker) to the momentous (pregnancies!).
I work from the toilet.
“Early on in COVID, I worked a lot in the bathroom. Most of our work’s Gchat and email correspondence had fallen into meaningless chitchat about assignments, so I thought, ‘I can do this on the toilet.’ I’ve only run into a problem once, when I was videoconferencing on my phone: I thought I had logged off my meeting when I went to use the bathroom, but I didn’t realize I had left the camera on till I was browsing on the toilet and my phone kept saying, ‘Call volume adjusted.’ I have no idea if anyone was still on the call, but I logged off right away. I’m too embarrassed to ask anyone if they saw or heard anything.” ― a city employee in Southern California
I hike during office hours.
“I’m in sales and was working with my customers regularly. I spent most my ‘work from home’ exploring and hiking around Connecticut and the Hudson Valley area of New York. Answering calls, responding to emails and taking care of my customers all from the comforts of a hike up a mountain, down paths to waterfalls, and to abandoned buildings and plane crash sites. Very few knew I was on the trails. Work still doesn’t know.” ― Chris, a sales worker in Connecticut
I work naked.
“I am regularly naked at home, so even if it is corporate stuff, why not? I save laundry money, save on air conditioning and, most importantly, I don’t put pressure on my waistline ― that makes me feel bloated easily. I’ve never had a slip-up at work where my co-workers saw me naked on a videoconference call. It happened to my co-worker once; they didn’t realize we were on a video call and we all saw them shirtless! When we return to the office soon, the dress code is smart casual. I was hired during lockdown so never experienced the office setup. That is a lot of effort for me. Choosing clothes, washing, ironing…” ― Kuya Manzano, a translator, computer programmer and actor in the Philippines
I make memes during slow times at work.
“My work doesn’t know they are paying me to make meme templates ― like the one below ― during work hours. I work from home part time. As an IT help desk, we need to have people in the building, but to reduce the risk of everyone getting COVID at the same time, we rotate with someone at home at all times. I was at home most of October. COVID ran through my family, but we are fine ― thank the vax gods. Outside of meme making, there was a day where I played Roblox for nine hours to grind for my 6-year-old since it was slow.” ― an IT worker
I had sex during a work call.
“Essentially, I had sex while on a work call. It wasn’t my idea ― my girlfriend really wanted to do it. It must’ve been a fantasy or something because she got really turned on and she muted the computer. The meeting was via Zoom, but the camera was off and the mic was muted. Every so often, we would unmute the mic and I’d chime in so it didn’t seem suspicious.” ― a worker in New York
The momentous, big life secrets
I had a pandemic baby.
“When I discovered that I was pregnant with my third baby, I was just really getting my freelance writing career off the ground. I was finally landing some anchor clients and getting steady work. I was afraid that if I told them I was pregnant they wouldn’t send me as many assignments (or else drop me altogether). I emailed one editor and asked if I could have an extra few days on two assignments because I was in labor (she said yes and told me to take all the time I needed), and the other asked for edits and I explained that I was in the hospital having a baby but that I would be able to do them as soon as I was released, and she told me not to worry and she would do them herself. I still have a great working relationship with both of them! Now I’m very honest about the fact that I’m parenting with three children in the home sometimes, and, just like everyone else, I’m doing my best.” ― Lauren Wellbank, a freelance writer
“I chose to keep my pregnancy secret because I was still under probation and I had a feeling my supervisor wouldn’t approve. I also felt like I didn’t owe them my private medical information. It was fairly easy to pull off because at the time we were all WFH, except for the occasional field training. I did have two trainings, once in my first trimester and once in the second. I’m an environmental scientist, and during the first training the smell of the vegetation was making me sick ― the only time my whole pregnancy that smells made me feel sick. I was trying to fight the need to vomit all day. The second training, I was starting to show, so I wore a baggy sweatshirt. A month before giving birth, I eventually had to reach out to HR to get my leave paperwork sorted. They responded, against their policy, by cc’ing my boss, which is how she found out. It wasn’t ideal, but I would have had to tell her eventually anyway.” ― an environmental scientist in California.
I moved to another state.
“I was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and moved back to Houston, Texas, where I grew up. I made a conscious decision to keep them in the dark because we were supposed to be residents of Colorado working there. When the word came down the pipe that we weren’t going to be in office for a long while, I decided that it was my chance to move and not have to look for a new job. I pulled it off for about a year. They had no idea at all that I had moved. I probably could have still been there, but I got a new job in Houston. I’d say to not let a job hold you back from something you want to do. They will replace you for anything.” ― a computer programmer in Houston
I moved to another country.
“I moved to Seoul, South Korea, after living in Ontario, California, and I left not only my co-workers but everyone in the dark about my move. I told close friends and family, but at the beginning of the pandemic, traveling was taboo, so I thought it was best I didn’t broadcast that I was traveling.
“My job went from in-person to entirely online with no possibility of return until the vaccine rollout started, so I went to South Korea to work there and look for a new job. A year in, I found a nice stable job in Korea, so I’m no longer working for my online job in the states. My former employers never found out. For now, I have no plans on moving back to America. South Korea handled the COVID situation completely different than America. I feel safe here. I have universal health care. There’s more than 70% of the population vaccinated with little to no pushback. I don’t see how I can leave this and go back to America any time soon.” ― an educator in a private academy in South Korea
I took care of my dying pet.
“Working from home made it easier for my husband and me to care for our late cat when she had cancer. I didn’t need to tell my boss or anyone else, since my work was never affected and I made sure my work was always completed during my shift and before I logged off. Working from home while Bianca was sick made it so much easier for me to keep an eye on her and her changing condition. I was able to notice the changes she was going through, such as being very hungry in the beginning of her illness or being very quiet in her last month. She’d hide sometimes, not having much energy or an appetite, and sit facing the wall. She died at the age of 17, and I’m glad I was there for her.” ― a school employee in Southern California
“Most of my co-workers knew I had a dog ― he would come into the office on occasion ― and some knew he was sick, but I think very few realized what caring for him entailed. Justice, my dog, had an insulinoma, which is an insulin-secreting pancreatic tumor. This meant that his blood sugar was always low (think about what happens if a diabetic takes too much insulin), and when it got too low he was in danger of losing consciousness and having seizures, which sometimes meant vomiting or loss of bladder function. In an attempt to minimize these occurrences, Justice was on medication, got fed five times a day, and I was always prepared with honey packets or maple syrup. Despite this, he was generally a happy boy!
“Justice passed away on Oct. 28, 2020. He had had a series of seizures, and by the time we and the vet were able to get them under control again he had just suffered too much damage to give him a good quality of life. With that being said, his last seven months were spent with me at home with him! More than anything, working from home provided me with peace of mind knowing that someone was looking out for him and I could act quickly if needed.” ― a health care strategy and data analytics worker in New York
I have a chronic illness.
“I have chronic pain, an autoimmune disease, as well as PTSD and anxiety. It wasn’t a conscious choice at first to not tell my employers ― it just didn’t come up in conversation. I go through phases with my health and sometimes I have big chunks of good time. Since I was in a ‘good phase,’ there wasn’t a need to bring it into the workplace. It was almost out of sight, out of mind for me.
“For me, there’s a lot I can still do. Even when I’m having a pain flare or a bad mental health day, I just need to change the way I do it. Being able to work from a reclining chair or from bed with a heating pad on high pain days has been infinitely helpful. I still take days off when my body says ‘Stop,’ but now I’m given an option, I’m given freedom to listen to my body. If I need to nap midday because my body and mind are exhausted, I can do that and then come back to the table refreshed and ready to continue the good work we do. My workdays don’t always look like everyone else’s, but I now have the capability to work a full eight hours while also respecting myself and my body.” ― Kate King, director of development at a regional chapter of a national nonprofit
I started grad school and moved to be closer to campus.
“I moved from Morehead City, North Carolina, to Greensboro, North Carolina, in July 2020 and lived with family for a while as I attended North Carolina A&T State University for their computational science and engineering masters program. I had mentioned to my employer that I was beginning coursework with the university, however, I did not mention I had already moved four hours away. I brought up my move to a couple of my close co-workers, but I did not feel it was necessary to inform my employer. After all, I was decent at my job and my performance would not have changed whether I was down the street from the office or across the country.
“My employer was surprised when they discovered I was no longer in the area ― about seven months in, I had applied for an apartment and the leasing office called my work to confirm my employment status. Still, there was no real fuss because I was consistently meeting and/or exceeding expectations. We later discussed my masters program and my future at the company while looking at positions within the company that aligned with my career goals. I worked there for another seven months before leaving. I left on really great terms with the company and have been since tapped on the shoulder for other positions.” ― Kwame, a grad student in North Carolina
I had a traumatic brain injury and attempted to keep it under wraps.
“In March, I was the lucky recipient of a traumatic brain injury, and while I didn’t know at first how severe my injury was, it almost immediately became apparent that I was not doing very well. I didn’t have the option of keeping my employer in the dark entirely. I eventually had to come out with it because I was obviously struggling with memory issues, concentration, things like that. I also have/had good days and bad days, and management’s guidance about when to work, reasonable accommodations and what support I could expect was not necessarily clear or well-defined. It was hard to get actual answers as to what I should be doing to mitigate the effect my illness was having on the team as a whole. And I also felt that any time I discussed my health issues, I was exposed to a lot of scrutiny from my co-workers, from HR and from management.
“I certainly tried to only tell them what they needed to know because I felt like it tended to bite me in the ass when I asserted my needs. I had to make an effort to keep them on a need-to-know basis while also navigating a pretty devastating injury. It was a balancing act I didn’t do very well, to be honest.
“After my injury, working from home became vital. Managing my stress levels, staying in cool, dark rooms when necessary, and not driving were all very important to my healing and well-being. I also used up all my accumulated leave time trying to manage my symptoms. Even working from home wasn’t enough to mitigate the effects of my injury, and I ended up having to take three weeks’ continuous leave.” ― Kate, who works in government social services in the Pacific Northwest
I was caring for my terminally ill father for as long as I could without work knowing.
“My dad was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer in October 2020, so by that time I had already settled into a better work/life balance and felt less compelled to report every hour to my boss. Since they were used to many of us juggling child care/remote learning, I waited to let them know what was going on with my dad. I think I was also a little nervous that I was pushing the line or that they would think I was taking advantage of their flexibility to add yet another thing to my plate. I offered to take some [family leave] time when things got really hard at the end of his life, but they assured me that spending time with my dad was the most important thing and I didn’t need to stress out about my hours at work.
“My dad died in August of this year, less than a year after his initial diagnosis. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I hadn’t been working from home. COVID really compounded the stress and complications of his cancer treatment. Any infection that resulted in hospital time meant he had to be isolated in the COVID unit while we waited for him to be tested, which was an absolute nightmare the couple of times it happened. If I would have had to return to the office, it would have meant my daughter would have had to return to in-person school and our odds of getting sick with COVID would
have been much higher. I know this: Finding the balance between keeping him safe from COVID and yet still spending as much time with him as possible would have been exponentially more difficult if I hadn’t been able to work remotely.” ― Krista Bartholomew, a financial controller at an industrial engine distributor in Omaha