It’s 5:30 in the morning, and the first thing I’m going to do after the first thing one usually does after rising out of bed is look at the weather. Typically, this would be done to inform me about how to dress for what I’ll encounter when I head outside to go to work, except that today, I might not have to go out at all.
Despite this, I might get dressed to feel a little more “work mode.” Maybe just to differentiate today from yesterday, maybe because I’ve got a Zoom call with colleagues later, or maybe because, at some point, I need to take the garbage out to the curb. If I’m off the hook for any of the above and it’s raining or cloudy, that forecast is calling for a high chance of me just staying in my jammies all day. Why not? The adult version of me gets a kick out of being a soft clothes rebel every once in a while.
What’s on deck for the workday starts to come into focus. The responses I have for some end of day emails from yesterday have aged like a fine cheese, and I’m ready to show these folks why I’m a thoughtful and worthy partner that’s invested in helping them accomplish their goals. I’m also prioritizing and scheduling those daily duties that fall within my job description, and that’s revealing the extra time I may have to get ahead on some other stuff or offer a hand to coworkers for the things I know they’re busy with.
Now that I know what I have to–no, GET to do, I can stop and think about what I didn’t have to do. I didn’t have to commute to the office, unlock anything, take anything off, plug anything in, or put anything in the Fridge of Horror and Doom. Nor did I have to struggle to hold on to a thought while a coworker interrupted me with an update about what day of the week it is or asked me if I did anything exciting in the fifteen-minus-eight-sleeping hours since I last saw them. And I sure didn’t have to politely but begrudgingly repeat that routine with every coworker that trickled into the office. (I like my coworkers, but c’mon guys.)
I’m fresh, focused, and optimistic. Initiate launch sequence! We’re kickin’ down doors and takin’ names today!
While this all reads like a bucket list of highly desired employment goals, it might sound crazy when I say there was a time that I didn’t think I wanted any of this. Leave it to The Ultimate Teacher–forces beyond our control–to once again pull back the curtain for me.
What’s Wrong with Me?
I’m not quite sure why I didn’t see these potential wins with remote work before. With the COVID-19 pandemic altering life as we knew it, I’m lucky enough to be amongst the 29% of Americans that can work from home. But I don’t only feel lucky because I’m gainfully employed. I’m grateful that, for the first time, maybe ever, I have a clearer vision of what I’m capable of when I just get to DO MY WORK. I’m centered, detail-oriented, and sharper. I’m achieving quicker turnaround times, and I feel more confident about my contributions to my team and my employer. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I’m excited about going to work these days, and it’s not just the luxurious comfort of this fleecy loungewear talking.
My mother raised me to be on alert for the bottom falling out of anything that seems too good to be true, so I can’t help but run further diagnostics on what’s actually happening here. What did going into an office provide me?
As I mentioned, I do like my coworkers–they’re more than that–they’re friends, too. And, as one would expect, our lives have become intertwined beyond the job we have in common. I do miss some of those interactions. However, when we do talk now via email or video, it feels more intentional and goal-oriented. There isn’t as much time for unnecessary grumbling, small talk, or groundless speculation. The little day-to-day eye rolley events that turn into “things” over time aren’t there to distract us.
It remains to be seen if these absences will amount to what has been observed as a threat to a remote workforce–loneliness–but for now, I’m still engaged in some way with colleagues on the daily, and this reaction I’m experiencing from working remotely is refreshing and appealing enough to make up for face time.
How You Like Me Now?
I’ve also deconstructed what to me was a false sense of security that came from being in the office; being “observed.” Daily interference from colleagues, a ringing phone, or office visitors led me to lose my train of thought, and in turn, required me to double, and triple check work, backtrack, and subsequently get rattled. This would make me question how productive I was or, at least, appeared. “At least they see me here, showing up day after day. At least it looks like I’m doing something!” Now I KNOW I’m getting s#!t done. My hope is that will be noticed and make up for whatever hollow comfort my employers also got from seeing me throughout the day at my desk with a furrowed brow and a distant look in my eyes.
I’m reasonably certain I’m not the first person to go through the process of learning a new way to work from home. And I’m sure there are many for which this new way to labor has not been as satisfying as it has been for me. In the future, when some semblance of calm and safety return to our lives, and we can all look back on the different ways we adapted to a crisis, it will be interesting to see what, if any, justifications are presented for doing things in the same ways we used to.
I think it’s worth exploring if there aren’t widespread undiscovered talents, skills, efficiencies, or preferences in all of us that will only be realized by breaking free from “normalcy” and routine. Is there potential for a radical uptick in quality output from our nation’s workforce if everyone who knows they can perform better in a non-office environment can choose to? Only time will tell. But we’ve got a greater opportunity to gather data about the effects of remote work now than we might ever have again in our lifetimes. I’ve got two thumbs up over here on the couch if it counts for anything!