I felt a slight bit of sadness today when I saw the email come through about returning to work. With the easing of the pandemic in Australia, my workplace has given the go-ahead for Phase 2 of the return to work plan. I saw the email header, sighed a little, moved on, and then later came back to it.
Though there’s a lot of my colleagues who’ve been going into the office everyday (as a public broadcaster, the ABC is deemed an essential service), I’ve been working from home since March. On less than half a dozen occasions I’ve been into work (most recently on Monday).
On a couple of occasions, these have been to pick up some items off the printer. I have a printer at home, but occasionally I’ve needed to print off some larger A3 items (my eyesight is not what it used to be!)
Some of these visits have also been for the kind of reasons you can only do face to face.
At other times, the occasions have been more “social”, such as a welcome lunch yesterday for a new colleague. How weird must it be to start a new job, especially having lived in the UK for a decade, and those you work most closely with aren’t in the office?
It’s probably the “social” stuff that I’ve missed most. Learning about the day to day lives of my colleagues. It was only when I went in a few months ago, for example, that I learned a colleague was pregnant. “It didn’t feel like it was the kind of thing I wanted to tell you over a Zoom call”, she said. Her baby arrives in January.
That, and the informal discussions you can have with someone in the corridor, or while waiting at a nearby coffee shop. It’s amazing how much you can achieve very quickly when you run into someone unexpectedly. Things which could have taken a meeting or two, or several emails, can be resolved in less than ninety seconds.
“You need to work harder around the dailies”, a few colleagues have commented. What you could otherwise achieve very quickly in those informal meetings, you need to work harder at. “You need to plan for those converstions”, they’ve often said.
But it’s also been a great “leveller”, a few people who live outside Sydney have also commented. “I’ve always felt a little left out of those informal conversations”, a few colleagues who live in Canberra have told me.
“That, and the fact it takes you several hours to travel to and from the airport”, they’ve added, noting that a meeting of only a few hours usually involved day-long, if not overnight travel. I used to travel a fair bit for work, but have been achieving a lot of good engagement through video conferencing. Good for the planet!
The thought of how hard I might find it to return to full-time in the office occured to me late this afternoon. I’d had a fairly intense day of meetings, conversations and writing, starting quite early.
I’ve gotten in the practice of getting up early, doing a few hours of work, and then taking a break for an hour or two. It suits my body clock.
At around 3.00pm I was in a meeting with a colleague from South Australia. As we finished our conversation, we were talking about how lovely the day had been, weatherwise, in our respective states.
“It’s a lovely day here”, I told her, adding I’d only taken a brief break for about fifteen minutes to make some lunch. “I’m going to go for a walk down the street. I need some milk”, I said. That brief walk down the street, enjoying the outdoors, and wearing only a t-shirt, shorts and thongs, reminded me how much I’ve really enjoyed working from home.
There was a lovely feeling in the air. I’ve noticed this on the occasions I’ve gone out for lunch, or down the road to grab a coffee. There’s a lot of people in my neighbourhood who are also working from home, and there seems to be a “joy” in my neighbourhood that I’ve never noticed before.
Though I live close to work, I’ve really enjoyed not having the daily commute. By the time you get up, get dressed, and go to work, there’s easily ninety minutes of “lost time”. In contrast, it can take me ninety seconds to go from my bed to my computer. That can also a negative!
Coffee, breakfast and the daily ablutions can be achieved during or in between some work tasks. Actually, cancel that, the ablutions should not be achieved during work tasks!! You’ve seen that video, right?
And coming home, there’s also the commute and “wind down” time that, in many respects is also “lost time”.
Though I have one of those 24×7 jobs anyway, I’ve really enjoyed being able to work more flexible hours. My official hours are 0900-1736 with a one-hour lunch break. But working at home, that’s all changed.
I’m an early riser, so doing a couple of hours of work from about 6-8am, has been fairly suited to my personal body rhythm.
I’ve been far more productive working at home, with less daily transactions to worry about. The only distractions have been noises from the street and from my apartment block.
Who knew there were so many leafblowers and lawn mowers in my street? Who knew the people upstairs thought a pandemic would be a good time to start renovations?
Aside from those bits of distracting noise, I can mostly start and finish a job with maximum concentration.
Colleagues also seem more “mindful” of your time, with many phone conversations starting with the phrase, “I’m sorry to bother you”.
I’ve also noted people are more likely to start meetings exactly on time. Phrases like, “I’m sorry I’m late. I got caught in the lift” are no longer uttered.
Occasionally someone will say, “I’m sorry, I have to answer the door. There’s a delivery”, but generally people arrive on time, get through the discussion that needs to happen, and meetings will often finish before the allotted time.
In the midst of the pandemic, I’m very very lucky to still have a job. I’m also very very lucky to be able to work from home. I don’t take any of that for granted. I’m still part of the “work from home if you can” part of the ABC. However, it’s true to say I’ve loved working from home, and hope that I can continue to do so, when things return to normal.