Thursday, March 11, 2021

One Year Work-From-Home

On March 11th, 2020 -- one year ago -- I went into "work from home" mode, because the office was closed due to COVID-19 health concerns. As so many others I naively expected that this thing would be under control by June. In team meetings we were confident that we'd be working from the office again "by July at the latest". Little did we know ...

I had worked from home occasionally in pre-COVID times, even in the office I primarily used my laptop, so the impact on my work style was minimal. I now used a dedicated chair in the living room, that I only used when working. I set up a desk light that I turn on in the morning when I start work, and turn off in the afternoon when I'm done for the day. Since I no longer have a commute to separate "home" from "work", these little rituals help with defining time and space, and lead to better work/life balance. 

Our patio became my favorite place to work. I adjusted outside hours as temperatures changed. I started with sitting outside after lunch. As we got deeper into spring and summer, I settled on a routine of working from the patio until late morning, and moved inside when it was getting too hot outside to make the extra heating from the laptop comfortable.

In July 2020 I finally admitted to myself that this COVID thing is going to be with us for a while and returning to the office full-time in 2020 was looking increasingly unlikely. My employer had set up a program to support office furnishings at home which I used towards a motorized standing desk like I had in the office, a nice monitor, and external webcam, keyboard, and mouse.  

A year into this exercise we're still unclear about when we'd be back in the office 5 days a week. We have shown that the team, the department, and in fact the company can function with a vast majority of the office population away and connected only by electronic means. The impact on employees has been very uneven. Especially families with smaller children are struggling to organize their days and bring together the needs of work, childcare, and school. At work I have seen a trend towards both more structure and more freeform interactions. Meetings with larger groups are more structured with everyone joining online. At the end of the meeting everyone is gone, and there are no informal hallway conversations on the way out of the conference room. There has been a major democratization at larger meetings in that it no longer matters whether you participate in a meeting from the host room or another room. The experience is the same for everyone. There's been a significant increase in impromptu video chats and one-on-one meetings that are often shorter than a full meeting slot. This helps make up for the lack of in-person interactions, but isn't a great replacement to sitting down with a colleague over a coffee.

Of course there's no business travel currently and, as regular readers of this blog know,  I have been traveling quite a bit for work. Long-planned trips to London, Zurich, and Sydney at the beginning of the pandemic were canceled. We might return to the office at least part-time later this year, but I doubt I will be on a business trip for the foreseeable future.

Things have changed. This might be the "new normal". Or not. Let's wait and see what the next year brings.

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