Recently, my company announced that employees like myself who can work from home, should continue to do so until at least Jan 2021. While it’s difficult to anticipate how the course of COVID will continue to run and what work will actually look like after that, it’s enough of a change to mean accepting remote work as a certainty for the time being. It’s time to make some changes to how we work and how teams operate to remain productive and happy. No one anticipated this big change, but now that we’ve had several months to experiment and come to terms with it, this is the perfect time to start planning changes.
I’ve been working from home continuously for over 4 months now, since the beginning of March. Before that, I was no stranger to working remotely, whether it was from home or while traveling. However, the longest stretch of that was never more than a week or so, so shifting to 100% remote work with no clear end in sight continues to be a large adjustment. While the technology really hasn’t been much of an issue, our VPN has held up and video calls are good enough, missing the interpersonal connection and the structure that comes with a day in the office has been difficult.
One of the challenges early on was with scheduling the day and maintaining a boundary between work and life. Honestly, it continues to be a challenge and I don’t think will ever cease to be one entirely. When I was going into the office physically, I had an actual break each day at 5 to head out and make my bus home in time to make bedtime with the kids. At that point, I would sign off for the day and largely be able to compartmentalize the work day. Sure I’d often find myself answering emails or Ims on the bus or at home, but it was rare and felt more deliberate.
Now at home, there is no barrier. My day starts basically when I wake up and start checking email and other communications. It sort of ends when my last meeting of the day does, but since I’m only moving from the office to another room, that separation is far less distinct. I work with numerous people in Seattle, and so my day has actually shifted a bit more to match their time than ours. While we try to break up the day with dinner and a walk with the boys before their bedtime, I’m still often somewhat checked in to work during both. Establishing a firmer boundary there is one of my main priorities for the rest of the year.
With no real commute to speak of, it’s also harder to get exercise in. Normally I’d get a nice 10-15 walk in each way between the bus station and my office. I’d actually also get some movement in while walking between conference rooms in a normal day. Now though, I just sit in my office all day and hardly move. To combat this, I’ve become more determined to maintain my running regularly in the morning, take a family walk after work – also a way to help break up the day – and start my day on the deck for morning work and meetings before moving inside when it gets hot. Even this little amount of movement has helped keep me from getting too sore each day. Although my feet aren’t enjoying the lack of shoes on a regular basis.
My office itself has also undergone some changes to cope with more remote work. Usually when I would work from home before, I’d just sit on the couch or kitchen table for the day rather than bother with getting set up in the office. This was partially because of the setup, but also because there wasn’t much incentive to actually work in there. During lockdown, with the boys at home, I had to work in there with the door closed to actually get work done most days. Even now that they are back at school, having a dedicated space to work, focus, and maybe most importantly, segment off my work life from the rest of our home, has been critical.
I’ve even been investing in upgrading the office to be more like my office at work. I have had my laptop home since the beginning of the lockdown, but was primarily working off of it in the beginning. Then I decided to get a dedicated keyboard and mouse like I have at work, going for a mechanical keyboard to return to my early 90s computing roots as well as drive everyone at home crazy. However, after a couple of months with it, my wrists started getting sore from the additional power needed to push the keys, so I got a wrist cushion for both. Once the remote order from work was extended to January, I decided it was time to upgrade the 17 inch monitor I had been using for a couple of months that I originally got sometime around 2005 when I was still in college. My eyes were killing me at the end of a long day, so having more space and a better screen was necessary to be productive. I ended up going a bit overboard with a 34 inch monitor that I thought was the same as my monitor at work – switching to a single curved monitor last year was the biggest single productivity upgrade I had made in years – though turned out to feel so much larger in my home office than on my desk at work.
Our desk and chair are both holding up well and appear to have been worthwhile investments when we converted the room into the office a few years ago. Having a nice big desk is super at home where things tend to pile up even more than at work. Our chair is pretty comfortable and has good support, but the fabric on it is coming off pretty much everywhere which is a pain. It’s incredible how quickly the comfort of that chair became a major issue for me on a daily basis, but since I’m now spending the majority of my days sitting in it, it has become the most important piece of furniture in the house.
It doesn’t actually matter how comfortable a chair is, after 8-10 hours sitting in one without much movement, any chair is going to be uncomfortable. Since I’m not moving around between conference rooms or other locations in the building now, I’ve needed to find other ways to get comfortable and stay that way. I’ve tried to find some meetings throughout the day where I can stand as well as leaving some a few minutes early or joining some a few minutes late to take time to move around the house a little and stretch. Without this, around 5 or 6 at night, I can barely move my legs and back.
The rapid shift to remote work all the time and working from home for nearly a year (maybe more) came unexpectedly. One day I was in the office and the next day I’d be home essentially permanently. I haven’t been back into the office or even midtown New York since that last day of work, and at the time had no clue it would stretch so long. After several months to adapt to the new way of working, I’ve found the biggest challenges – staying in contact with everyone and collaborating, breaking up work and home life, and staying comfortable – and begun to find ways to make it work as best as possible. After this time, I’ve come to prefer working this way and imagine many others do as well. At this point it’s impossible to determine what the future may hold, but I know this is the way forward for a while at least, so I’m doing what I can to make the best of it.