For me and countless others, this week marks one year of working from home (WFH). I decided to take a moment to reflect on what it’s been like, lessons learnt, and a view of the future.
What it’s been like
I’ll admit, I wildly underestimated how long this would all go on for (not a unique thought, I’m sure). I smile as I recall thinking it would just be a couple of weeks (I confidently left some snacks in my desk drawer!).
I’d had some previous extended WFH experience: a few years ago, I worked from home for six weeks following a sports injury. And, of course, I regularly work on personal projects in my spare time from home. However, this was very different. To name but a few reasons:
- The uncertainty of when it would end made strategising difficult
- The lack of locations options of where one could work (one couldn’t just work in, say, a library or a coffee shop)
- The general background stress of the ongoing pandemic
2020 was a bizarre year, to be sure. But, I must count my blessings. So, here’s an attempt at a balanced view:
- More time to the day since I reclaimed my commute time
- A chance to take stock and focus on the most valuable tasks
- The cold, snowy NYC winter made not having to leave my home quite appealing!
- Not collaborating in certain ways, such as spontaneous ‘whiteboarding’ or ‘hallway conversations.’
- Collegial coffee breaks aren’t quite the same over video call(!)
- Missing out on commute-specific productivity (no phone signal? no problem!)
- Needing to recreate the structure and routine that a conventional in-office workday naturally provides
I hope the circumstances which brought about this shift to WFH never recur. But should I find myself WFH for an extended period again, for whatever reason, I’ll leave a note to myself with some helpful tips to hit the ground running:
- Prepare a good home office setup.
- A spacious desk, comfortable chair, large monitor, and quality headphones/microphone will make the entire experience better.
- Have a professional background for video calls and meetings.
- Alternatively, configure a virtual one on your video call client.
- While I envy those with imposing bookshelves filled with weighty tomes as backgrounds, small New York City apartments don’t quite allow for that(!)
- Recapture the value of commute time.
- My subway rides used to be quite productive: I would read books, listen to podcasts, respond to emails; the morning commute was a great way to get a headstart on the day, and the evening commute was a great way to decompress between the office and home.
- Recreate this experience by going for a walk around your neighbourhood at the start and end of your workday.
- Take well-earned breaks.
- Be sure to take both small coffee breaks during the day, as well as annual leave days off.
- Self-care is vital both for your health and your productivity at work.
I now go into the office one day per week, making for a nice change of scenery. Fortunately, I live within cycling distance of the office, and so I can avoid the subway!
With news of the rollout of multiple vaccines underway, I remain optimistic about the future. I look forward to a safe return to the office, whenever that might be.
Predictions of mass telecommuting have been around since the 1970s, and while 2020 certainly accelerated that, I don’t know if that trend will generally continue beyond the pandemic. From a personal perspective, I find that being together with my colleagues, present and in-person, maximises my collaboration, creativity, and productivity. Conversely, research suggests that that is not the case more generally.
From a human perspective, I think we’re fundamentally social beings who need to connect to others in a way that video calls can never really replace. That alone might provide the impetus to return to the office. I look forward to Normal.
The views expressed are my own and not those of my employer.