On May 5, 2020 I participated in a panel discussion (fun starts at the 1:35 mark), presented by AO Docs, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting work and how technology is helping, or hurting, us adapt.
The pandemic hasn’t really impacted the way I work. I’ve been consulting in one way or another for over thirty years and am used to working from home, hotels, coffee shops, airports, wherever. Some of my colleagues on my current engagement have been working from an office for their entire careers, and struggled a bit, at first, with not being in physical proximity to their friends and coworkers at the office. But that’s not really what I want to write about; I want to write about opportunity.
I’m never going back
On my current engagement I’m at my client on a back-fill assignment until the end of this year. This means that under normal circumstances I’m in the office every day, working as if I’m one of their staff. On March 14th I, along with everyone else that works there, received an email: don’t come in on Monday, you’re working from home until this COVID-19 thing blows over. Now, being the super-intelligent, partially clairvoyant type that I am, I’d been bringing my laptop home with me for about a week, in anticipation of receiving just such an email. Not everyone was as prepared, so there were some logistical issues to sort out so people could get into the office safely to retrieve what they needed to work from home.
While this operation did have a pandemic plan, it was predicated on a significant percentage of their workforce being incapacitated by illness and the rest being able to go to the office. 100% of staff being healthy but having almost zero access to the premises just didn’t figure into their models. There were some connectivity issues the first couple of weeks, as well as getting to grips with some new tools (they were / are in the early stages of moving over to M365).
A few weeks into our present state work is still getting done, productivity hasn’t collapsed, and the world wasn’t on fire. A company that pretty much manages by bums in seats found out that working from home works well and people are meeting their goals and commitments. There really is no reason to herd us all back into the office when the physical distancing restrictions are lifted, or EVER. Leave us to determine for ourselves when we need to be in the office and when it’s better to work from home. The benefits of working from home are numerous: better work life balance; less stress from commuting; better for the environment; reduction of physical infrastructure costs, and increased, yes, increased productivity.
Watch where you’re pushing that cart
Unless it’s related to cigars, guitars, whisky, motorcycles, gourmet local food, or beer I really don’t like shopping. This pandemic has forced me to change my grocery shopping habits. I used to figure out what I wanted for supper sometime during the day (when I was at the office) and pick up what I needed on the way home. Now I have to figure things out a week in advance to minimize the number of times I have to go out and face the multitudes and their germs, or perhaps it’s me with the germs. I dunno. Strange, but I actually find going to the grocery store a more pleasant experience now than in the before times (barren deli counters notwithstanding). Stores are less crowded; there aren’t any 4 cart collisions in front of the dairy case; no one is crashing their cart into my bum in the checkout line; and people just seem to be a little more chill and friendly.
Opportunities 2 & 3
Planning my shopping excursions has made me a little bit more thoughtful and deliberate, which has actually given me more time to do the things that actually bring joy to my life. Limiting my errand running to once a week means I have more time to play guitar, have virtual happy hours catching up with old friends, and have the occasional herf (you’ll have to google that) via zoom.
It seems that in grocery stores and liquor stores (they’re an essential service, you know) we’re all being a bit friendlier to, and respectful of, each other. I hope we keep being kind and considerate after this pandemic thing is over and done with.
How long will this last?
I’m not going to sit here and type that this COVID-19 thing is the best thing that’s ever happened. To be honest, it sucks. I have missed being able to see my kids (divorced – finally saw 2 of 3 this past weekend) and my girlfriend, missed being able to go to my favourite guitar and cigar shops, missed being able socialize in person with friends, and missed going to the office (that last is an outright fabrication). At the same time, I consider myself very fortunate that no one I care about has gotten ill or died, that we’ve protected the most vulnerable, I’m still working and making a living, and I’ve gotten the opportunity to virtually connect with some old friends (why’d it take a pandemic for us to figure this out?).
As awful as the pandemic is, and it is truly horrible on so many levels for so many people, it’s also an opportunity and a gift. We can use this time to heal and to be better. We can heal the planet, heal each other, and heal ourselves. We can become better companies, better people, and a better society. It really is up to us.
What would be even worse than the pandemic is if we came out the other end and went back to how things were a few months ago. If we do that, we dishonour the tens of thousands who have been taken from us. We can’t let that happen.
We don’t know when this will all be over. Anyone who even tries to make a prediction is a liar, a fool, or a politician. All I know is that there is light at the end of the tunnel; we just don’t know how long the tunnel is.
Hopefully that light isn’t a train (as in a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner episode). I noted the other day the CEO of Open Text will close half their offices from their learnings over the past two months. There will be change but I’m not sure enough of one. I understand that the human connection is not quite the same when it’s missing the group physical and for some the work group is a pseudo-family. Some prefer the pseudo-family for various reasons so there is a desire to get back to the old normal. Then there are the um, leaders who don’t feel like leaders unless everyone is at their desk. Will not get side-tracked on that one.
There is a good 40% or so who have adapted fine to at least mostly working remote. I will continue to work from home, as for me, it makes no difference. Virtually everyone I speak with is in another building, state or country so driving around was wasteful. PC, headset and work is done. Not running out for a meal etc. either as the news constantly reminded me I’m in the over 60 risk group. We do miss going to one local brewpub which makes a great German-style Hefewiezen beer and a rye beer my wife loves (may be open now where might be able to pick up a growler). We’re not into the casualty thing as a few friends have lost loved ones so we adapt, wear our masks and keep moving down the tunnel….with a periodic ear to the rail.
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I prefer working from home, but there are times when I think it’s better to be all in one spot (e.g.: workshops when you need to draw things out on a whiteboard). The physical proximity stuff I miss is all related to non-work stuff. Even outside of work I have lots to occupy me at home, but it would be nice to once again be able to just stroll around the Farmers’ Market or to take my youngest to our favourite pizza place. I’m confident that we’ll be doing all those things eventually.