Digests: When WFH became WAH

#weeknotes  #covid  #personal  #digests 

I’m jumping back onto the weeknotes train. Incidentally I’m changing the name to ’digests’. This is to lessen my own anxiety over not posting every week and allows me to write when I can, and about what I want.

These days finding the time to write is few and far between, hence the subject of discussion.

Seismic shifts

For the past 3.5 months the world’s turned upside down. From the existential threat of a microscopic virus 🦠 we’ve all been forced to change so many behaviours, with some for the good and some not.

For the most part, the enforced working from at home has been amazing. With my kids off school we’ve spent every day together. Cohabitating with my mini co-workers we’ve eaten 3 meals a day together, my incredible wife has been teaching them while I work, and together we’ve made the most of the Downs on our doorstep by going for 10-mile hikes most weekends (not to mention graced with amazing weather).

Overall the domestic side of lockdown has been (speaks in a hushed tone) excellent. I already miss the lack of traffic, the silence; the change in pace to a cadence that felt more natural.

Counter-intuition

Then there’s been the work side of lockdown. Looking back, ‘working from home’ pre-COVID was often a luxury. A way of upsetting the monotony of office attendance, not to mention affording some time to deal with life admin: the stuff that needs doing, but not from the office.

Since COVID I, like many, have been forced to set up an office in the living room. I’ve quickly realised working at home isn’t quite the same thing as working from home. With what seems the entire world forced to sit in front of a screen all day, I’ve been not-so-pleasantly surprised by some aspects of remote working. These are things I never thought would be issues, and yet here we are.

Glued to the screen

I never knew how much remote work required being figuratively chained to a desk from 9 until 5:30. Perhaps as my role has changed from designing on screens to helping lead an agency, it seems my life has become an endless video call. In-person this felt more natural; the obvious physical movement from one room to another made it somewhat manageable. Now, I feel I can’t take a 5 minute break without guilt, or having to instantly ‘jump on another call’. After almost 4 months, I’m questioning whether the concept of remote teams was almost too good to be true. Now I’m just wondering if and how it’s sustainable in the long-term.

Performance anxiety

Another factor I’ve noticed is the lack of body language. Early in lockdown I saw various tweets looking to clarify why we all felt so exhausted after video calls. The brain, it seems, works overtime trying to fill the gaps between what it sees and what it senses. With no physical cues, we can’t interpret body language, mannerisms or intonations via virtual meetings. As gregarious beings, we thrive on close verbal and physical contact. Moving to life behind a screen has made me feel more tired and in such different ways than I ever expected.

Remember the phone?

Phone calls these days feel like a novelty. Imagine, 1-to-1 conversations where there’s little interruption and it just… flows? Instead the average video call is three or more, or a crowd. Getting a word in edgewise on top of poor broadband or audio connections and group dynamics is the new struggle.

No time

When I mentioned working from home (WFH) things like life admin seemed so simple. Now, with everyone remote and meetings seemingly every 30 minutes, it feels like there’s less time in a day to get anything but to have more meetings.

More, the actual stuff that has to be done as part of the job seems to fall by the wayside at the expense of video calls. I’d normally blame this on poor time management, but I think in this respect it’s a symptom of collectively reacting to the existential threat by remaining as busy as humanly possible. Don’t get me wrong, I love being busy, but something’s out of balance when by day’s end I feel so exhausted that I spend the remaining hours before bed simply decompressing. Then rinse, repeat.

The good bits

With the bad bits vented, I need to echo my general feelings on lockdown: it’s not all been bad. Being at home with my wife and kids has been amazing. As an extroverted introvert, I miss the energy from people but equally I’m content to be with my family.

The collective move to virtual has shown how much of our work can be done — theoretically — from anywhere in the world. It’s shown how we weren’t set up properly in some ways, yet in other ways how well we were set up, like being able to live and work in such close quarters and really enjoy it.

All in all, these last few months have been historic in their happenings. The repercussions have only just started, and this has been just a quick foray into layers of feelings, emotions, fears and observations. I’ve no idea what’s next, but at least I’m realising that writing again might help to alleviate something.



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