This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It's only been a week or so since Britain went into lockdown, but the global coronavirus outbreak has already drastically changed our lives. Supermarkets have been pillaged for toilet roll and baking supplies, nobody remembers what "jeans" feel like and streets are (mostly) empty as millions self-isolate to stem the spread of the most catastrophic health crisis in decades. In short: coronavirus is horrifying, and its political and economic effects will be felt for many years to come.
There is another, less visible impact of the coronavirus outbreak. One happening right now, in the homes of straight women across the country. As The Virus forces desk-based workers to perform their jobs remotely, unwitting women find themselves sharing glitchy home wifi with a dystopian spectre who apparently doesn't understand how to mute his Hangouts notifications.
Airpods in, he paces around the room with a hardcover Moleskine in one hand, his MacBook Air raised aloft in the other. He's on an hour-long conference call with the ad ops team, brainstorming a brand-aligned digital synergy plan. "Yeah," he shouts, his voice puncturing the "Study/Relax/Chill Rainforest Sounds" YouTube mix playing in your headphones. "Let's circle back on that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No, tooooo-tally." *Laughs extremely loudly for what feels like 15 minutes straight.*
It's your Work-From-Home Boyfriend, and you have to put up with this shit for at least the next three months!
The Work-From-Home Boyfriend can take a number of different forms. Perhaps yours eats lunch not a minute after 11.37AM, or does one video call with his boss in the morning before sitting on the sofa for the next eight hours, pausing FIFA only to share corona TikToks in the work Slack. Maybe he's decided to wear a different vintage football shirt every day. He hasn't showered in a week-and-a-half, but just sent you an email with the subject line: "IMPORTANT MEETING INVITE". (It's a blowjob; he is inviting you to a blowjob meeting.) This is the chaotic good of Work-From-Home Boyfriends. Treasure him, for he will download a Sims expansion pack to your laptop and create "a new invention" dinner of potato waffles and Tangfastics when the big Sainsbury's runs out of vegetables.
Then there is the other kind – the kind with the Airpods. He's a hustle bro who won't let a little hiccup like a global pandemic disrupt his projected KPI targets for Q4 (you guessed this about him when everything kicked off, but never thought you'd actually witness him say "let's action that" in the flesh). That, or he's a "creative" – and it's disrupting his vibe to work in the communal living room, if he's honest, before reminding himself that, actually, Ai Weiwei created some of his greatest work in exile. He's thinking about using his time in self-isolation to write a novel, he hasn't got round to it yet because he's discovered that every season of The Sopranos is on NOW TV.
Your Work-From-Home Boyfriend's #workgoals attitude was pretty hot on that Hinge date, and you'd go as far as saying the app he was building sounded genuinely interesting after three pints (admit it: you just refuse to face the apocalypse without someone who will eat you out semi-regularly), but now, in this strange new world of social distancing and queuing for Tesco, when you have to share a bed-desk with a guy whose work persona was once a happy unknown, you begin to wonder: who is this dude?
Your Work-From-Home Boyfriend's day starts with coffee that somehow involves using four previously clean mugs and an elaborate Lavazza milk frothing device that he Amazon Primed before they stopped delivering non-essentials (he really misses the WeWork barista – don't laugh, but they just had a proper rapport, y'know?). This commitment to hot drinks is confusing, because when it gets to mid-afternoon and it's his turn to make tea, he forgets. By that point he's put on his comfiest Polar hoodie and assumed position at the tiny desk in your bedroom, "jumping on" a succession of calls, in which he says the word "decks" more than seems necessary and speaks over his women colleagues when they try to raise sensible points. You now know more about his company's online marketing strategy than most of its senior management team.
Between midday and 4PM, your Work-From-Home Boyfriend checks his WhatsApp groups and refreshes the Guardian live blog, then reads the new Popbitch. After his third coffee, he whacks on a Ben UFO mix and begins typing frantically and swearing at Keynote for not importing the specific sans serif font he wanted. The flimsy IKEA dining table you are using as a desk starts shaking and you decide to call it a day and lock yourself in the bathroom to look at Tiger King memes.
In an office environment, the Work-From-Home Boyfriend is king. His phone voice dissipates through the Monstera plants and white-washed concrete of the open-plan space. He talks in managerial jargon with Tom from sales and they guffaw harmlessly in the breakout room, disturbing no one. He eats Itsu sushi platters at his desk or works from a Clapton coffee shop full of people as obnoxiously loud as he is. But confined to the walls of a small flat or shared house, and with coronavirus anxiety making us all go a little mad, he is a very different beast. Essentially, Your Work-From-Home Boyfriend has been forced to recreate his standing desk with boxes of stockpiled Coco Pops and it makes him feel very confused and sad.
Of course, anyone who has a job and good health during the coronavirus crisis should be grateful – even if they've become their partner's colleague without warning. Plus, at least Your Work-From-Home Boyfriend is actually heeding the public health advice and STAYING INDOORS, FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, rather than popping to the corner shop every five minutes for a can of Vimto. After fuming internally about the amount of client calls you've been forced to listen to, it's worth remembering you at least get to work from the comfort of your sofa, unlike the NHS staff, supermarket workers and delivery drivers risking their health every day.
The coronavirus crisis has exposed the ways in which capitalism devalues us as humans. Companies are forcing staff to work when it is unsafe, or refusing to provide sick pay, while others have fired workers altogether. Renters who find themselves out of a job have almost no protection against private landlords. With his management-speak and budget tracking presentations, your Work-From-Home Boyfriend is just enacting the corporate role the capitalist gods demand he play. It's not his fault our society is this messed up.
Coronavirus is scary and horrible, and we could all use a bit more empathy right now – even for men incapable of regulating their volume when speaking on video calls. Please, though, no more "circling back".