In Dundee, I’m into the 12th week of “lockdown”. Some people are calling it a “new normal”. I call it a “necessary normal (for now)”. That being said, 12 weeks has been a long time spent adapting to a set of circumstances that nobody would have thought possible just a few months ago. This is my reflection on how this has worked out for me, how I have coped and adjusted, and what the future looks like in terms of working from home during the pandemic.
MAKING A ROUTINE
The first thing that struck me when I switched to a working from home in a pandemic (note that I am not merely working from home), was the sudden lack of routine. Typically I would hit the gym in the morning and that would wake me up get me set for the day. Without those daily endorphins I had to be creative in setting my daily routine. For the most part I’ve managed to still wake up and go to bed at a reasonable time. I am lucky that I could invest in some home gym equipment, and I’ve been out for a walk every morning and evening to book-end my working day. It’s not much of a commute, but it does have an air of normality about it.
When this situation first started, there were two very clear camps in my circle of friends and colleagues. There was the group that claimed to have increased their productivity now that they were able to focus without the day-to-day monotony of life. Then there was the other group who saw a decrease in efficiency, particularly in the beginning, and began to wonder how they would ever keep up with the demands of an ever-changing ‘workplace’. I suppose I’m somewhat lucky as I can see some of both in my own situation.
There are a lot of efficiency increases around meetings. They just don’t happen as much any more. One on hand, I miss the human connection, but it has put an end to those pointless meetings that you know could have been dealt with by a single email. I’m also finding that meetings are not dragging on and making people late for other things. It’s less acceptable to be late now.
On the other hand, there are more emails and more misunderstandings, simply because you can’t just wander past someone’s office door on the way to the printer and ask your questions. It takes more time to write it all out than just ask a simple question, clear up any misunderstandings and move on, all in the time it would take you to make a coffee (I’ve got a machine, so that’s very fast!). For me, that human connection is missing and I’ve not yet found an easy way to replace it.
If you are (un)lucky your department will have invested in Teams or Slack or something similar. Rejoice! Yet another communication medium, being used by a million people for a million different things. It makes me wonder how we coped before all this – the situation has reduced the human side from a lot of things and tried to replace it with a “system” that can “fix” it. Communication, research, workflows: these are now a problem to solve in an abstract form. I can’t help but wonder how many people truly feel that they are part of a person-centric approach to leadership in among this influx of new technology? If that’s you, I’d really like to hear from you!
Where meetings still exist, they come with their own set of new rules and etiquettes. I know I’m not the only person who has played “Zoom bingo”. Turn your camera off, mute your mic, don’t eat or drink, the list goes on. How did we cope with behaving like sensible human beings during in-person meetings? In many cases, meetings with active discussions have become one-way traffic and I find myself as a passive listener, rather than an active participant in discussions. Is there anything more depressing than a blank screen when the opportunity is there for the communication to be so much more rich and meaningful?
The one situation where this is obviously not the case is the meetings where people have cameras on and engage with one another. The facilitator has more work to do in this situation, but I can see other people and they can see me. I am connected to other humans who value seeing me and hearing me. From my experience, I can’t help draw a positive correlation between the connectedness of a community and the amount of video face-time in a call.
With all this being said, I want to finish by focusing on some positives that I will take with me from this situation; things that I will remember and that I will try to continue as we move back towards a more mobile society.
- I like eating lunch at home. When I was in the office, I would all too often eat while working. Now, I sit in the garden with my lunch, or turn on the TV for half an hour. Anything but sit at my desk and my laptop. My afternoons are more productive, my mental health is improved, I have energy for my evening ‘commute’ walk around the neighbourhood.
- Being generally less mobile means that there is an overall gentler pace of life. I’m not rushing from one location to another between meetings. I’m not driving around campus for 30 minutes looking for a parking space because I am five minuter later than usual. I’ve not had road-rage in months!
- I’m attending so many seminars and conferences. Typically, the cost of travel can reduce the number of events I can attend, but with so many conferences now providing online events at cheaper prices, the budget can stretch much further. For example, ACM now has a task force for online conferences (https://www.acm.org/virtual-conferences) and I’m looking forward to attending ITiCSE 2020 online in a few weeks (https://iticse.acm.org/). I’ve also managed to attend other events such as #a11yTO Camp (https://camp.a11yto.com/), which just would not have been possible without an online provision.