On this day in 2020, my company sent out an email with details on alternative work strategies for the next 14 days. This meant we were being kicked out of the office and forced to work from home. The CDC and our local government were issuing guidance surrounding the impeding COVID-19 global pandemic. Two weeks was the average timeframe floating around for the lockdown. We had originally planned for a technology test day where most people would work from home to test the strength of our remote infrastructure. At this point, we weren’t a heavy work from home company and more of a in the office everyday type of workforce. This technology test day never happened and we were thrust into the work from home life for the next two weeks. As you probably know, it didn’t last two weeks. In fact, my company has still yet to define how the future of working will look, whether that’s full-time work from home or a mix of in-office and at-home work strategies. Over these last two years I’ve learned a lot about me, how I work, and how I can do my job from anywhere.
Shortly after starting to work from home, the two week estimate grew into “TBD” and we started to settle in. I posted an article (Working Whilst Home) and also shared it with my company. This was my take on effective time and space management working at home coming from a previous telecommuter. This article still holds true two years later and I’d encourage you to read it before we dig into what has happened since.
Two Years Later…
The last two years have flown by, but at the same time crawled along. This is the COVID-era time paradigm consisting of periods of lockdown in your home and lulls where COVID seemingly takes time off. My employer has talked about going back to the office a handful of times over the last 20 months. Weeks before the planned date, we receive a communication that COVID is back with a vengeance and we’ll be delaying our return. This is somewhat of a roller coaster of emotions to be ramping up to change your life again, but only for it to stay the same. Not the fault of my company, it’s what we’ve all been dealing with for the past two years. While much of the numbers around COVID have changed, me working from home has not.
Over the past year, my company has re-opened our office to the people that wish to go in and work. This is great as it allows people who need to escape their home, go to the office and work. Since we were instructed to go home and work, I’ve probably visited the office 30-40 times for various tasks and activities. I haven’t needed to spend an entire day at the office on any of those trips, which to me is a win for work-life balance.
Not having to go into the office everyday means I don’t have to get up early, get ready, worry about dressing for the weather, pack lunch, drive, sit in traffic, and then drive back home at the end of the day. I could literally roll out of bed and be working within minutes. While I’ve said in my previous article you shouldn’t do this, I’ve fell into this practice. I do sometimes postpone my getting ready until lunch time. Taking a nice shower halfway through your work day is a revitalizing experience not many have the option to do.
I’ve also enjoyed the freedom to organize my personal life around my work day. Stepping out for a doctor, dentist, or pet vet appointment is much easier when you’re at home and everyone is remote. Eating better is another benefit of being at home all the time. If I’m already out of the house and didn’t pack a lunch (because really… who has time for that) it’s so easy to just hit up Chipotle for lunch everyday. At home I can cook the food I already have and not feel the need to go out to eat. Another personal life benefit is scheduling delivery or repairs at your house. I can recall a few times lately when someone asked when they could come look at something and my answer has always been, “You can come whenever, I’m here all day”. This flexibility seems to garner priority service since they don’t have to work around you being home.
Over the last two years I’ve done some upgrades to my home office that have definitely helped me be more efficient working from home. Prior to the pandemic, without any foresight, I bought a sit-stand desk for my home office. As an avid standing while working person, I wanted a similar experience to what I had at the office. When the pandemic forced everyone home, we quickly saw desks like that go out of stock for months. I was lucky to be setup with a work area already. About a year or so later, I upgraded my home sit-stand desk to a bigger one that could raise to a more comfortable height for me. This has been the most impactful change I’ve made. I’ve also added various technology to make my work from home life a lot better. Most of that is featured here on this blog!
My Work Style
Working from home can be a daunting task for some, especially if you’re used to being around people and having work assigned to you. While at home you have to manage your time and hold yourself accountable. Working in the office with coworkers, you are somewhat pressured into keeping on task just by the thought of someone seeing you slack off. I’ve found that I get a lot less distracted at home, and am able to focus on larger tasks much easier. Taking breaks helps me better accomplish tasks and at home I get to take those breaks, on my schedule. When in the office, being interrupted in the middle of a task is counterproductive but also very disheartening when you’re trying to get things done. I believe that good controlled distractions can actually increase productivity. Regardless, the way a lot of us work has changed forever. Some companies already had a remote workforce, but now it’s more common and employees are demanding it.
How Will I Go Back?
I’m at the point in my life and career where I think I can do most of my job from home, and do it very well. I don’t have a problem going into an office on an as-needed basis where I can work from home otherwise. I could never go back to working in the office five days a week. Even the thought of having scheduled days where I’m expecting to be in the office all day makes me cringe. I work better at home and because my job can face a lot of interruptions, I prefer to have those come in the form of emails, phone calls, and instant messages. Some might ask me “Don’t you miss human interaction?” No I don’t. Well that’s not entirely true, I do get human interaction at home, just not in-person. A few times a week I have several video calls where I get to see and talk to other humans. Also, if I ever crave the interaction (spoiler: I won’t) I can go into the office where there are always people working. But that’s just me and my personality. Keeping people at a distance where I can manage the situation has always been my preferred method. You may call that introverted, but I call it me.
If in the future I’m faced with the decision of going back to my office part/full-time or finding a new job, I will need to think long and hard about that. There is no right answer and I don’t think the decision should be made for me. I’m a believer in the choice of the employee. Want to come in and work in the office when you need or want to? Go right ahead. Want to stay at home and work where it’s quiet? You can do that too. Forcing employees to go back to working in the office without a good reason is totalitarian behavior and thankfully today’s job market isn’t standing for it. The excuses I’ve heard about going back to the office are usually filled with buzzwords like synergy, culture, communication, and solidarity. What is amazing is that the excuses come after saying how well a company has been doing over the last two years with working from home. You may hear something like “You all are doing such a great job, but we need to get back to the office to re-establish our company culture. We know that we can do great things together!” As you may already know, this is what we call a shit sandwich. Furthermore the employees who feel that they need to work in the office everyday or most days, shouldn’t pressure the work from homers to be like them.
For me personally, I don’t know what’s next. The outlook on COVID, for now, looks good and I could be returning to the office by this coming summer. While the details on my return are still not definite, we have been discussing at least two days a week in the office. I’m interested to see how that goes after two years of no office requirement. We haven’t yet felt what is being referred to as The Great Resignation, but I feel the switch back to office life could trigger some of that. The enjoyment and satisfaction I have for my job was increased since the pandemic started and I attribute that 100% to being able to work from home. Mentally too, I’m at a better place than pre-pandemic because of the environment I’m able to create for myself at home. I realize a lot of people don’t have the same opportunities as me, especially when they can say they love their work. I will always say how fortunate I am to be in the position I’m in and won’t soon forget it.