One year ago today I was in the office. We were just a few people as it was Friday and most people were working from home. We had planned on going to a conference in Solingen but decided not to because taking a train seemed unnecessarily risky. My team had already decided that we’d be working from home for the next two weeks but I went to the office because I wanted to watch the conference remotely with my favourite coworker and we were waiting for an email from HR making it official that the whole company would be working from home until further notice.
The day started out with me taking my laptop over to Andreas’ desk because he needed to do some touch-ups on a big feature for one of his team’s stakeholders while watching the conference, so we put up the conference stream on one of his screens while we was fixing stuff on his other screen and I mostly watched the conference while helping him with some stuff that came in from the side. We shared a desk, looked at tiny laptop screens together and probably touched a lot because that’s just what I used to do with people I’m close with.
Around lunch time, the NewCraftsConference in Paris in June was cancelled which was not surprising for us, but still sad. We had booked our train tickets a few weeks earlier, with the plan being to start from Cologne early in the morning the day before the conference was suppsed to start, so we could have a day of sightseeing. He hadn’t been to Paris before and I had only been once, pregnant, very moody, 14 years ago. I love going to conferences with my favourite coworkers. Being out of your normal environment, spending some free time together exploring a nice place and learning interesting new things is just so awesome. We decided to go to Epi Boulangerie for lunch that day. A little bit of Paris flair to make up for the cancelled conference. We took a lovely lemon-meringue tartelette back to the office to share.
When we got back to the office, press releases about school closures started coming in. By that time, it was 4 people in the office and all of us were affected. Two of us have one teenage kid, one has 2 kids in primary school and one has a partner working as a teacher. We don’t have a lot of coworkers with school-aged children so it was really weird that it was this group of people in the office sharing the news about school closures. A few minutes later, our manager posted on Slack informing us that Studitemps had decided to have us all working from home from next week on. Again, no surprise, we had been waiting. But we then realised that a lot of coworkers were on a day off or on holiday and it would be a good idea to tell them not to come to the office on Monday unless they needed to get some stuff for working from home. So we organised who of us would text those people in case they wouldn’t look at Slack.
An hour later, we were informed that the new feature would not go live this day because the stakeholders had decided that a big process change was not a good idea with this weird situation of having to work from home from next week on. We should have anticipated this and just watch the conference and not care about the rest. Oh well.
With nothing pressing to do anymore and a conference that we had already kind of abandoned due to the chaos of the day, we started thinking about the end of the work day. By then, two other people had arrived, to get their laptops for the week ahead, if I remember correctly. And there were a few others from other departments in other parts of the office. Not many, though. A lot had already left. So I started going around, asking those who were still there if they would join us for a last beer o’clock at the Kiosk we used to go to after work. All those who were still there, joined, at least for one beer. After all, it was the last time we’d see each other for a few weeks. Haha. How naive we were back then to think we’d be back at the office after the Easter break. A few weeks later I was more cautious with my wording but still hadn’t fully grasped the extent of all of this.
Press forward to today. I’m sitting in bed, with my work computer on my lap, typing this blogpost on a Saturday morning. It’s very cold and windy and I don’t want to put on the heating, so staying in bed a little longer while doing something semi-productive seems like a good idea. When I turn my head a bit, I can see my desk where I have been working from for almost every work day for a year now. My bedroom office has changed quite a bit. I wasn’t in this room a lot before so it didn’t look very nice. And I had to move all the furniture around because it made me really uncomfortable to have the camera in meetings showing my bed.
Working from home still feels not right for me. I miss having people around. Calling someone (or asking “do you have minute, can I call you?” beforehand) takes so much more mental effort than raising my head and saying “Um I think I’m stuck, can someone help me out?”. I miss the way back from a meeting room where I just chat a bit to the person who happened to leave the room with me. I miss the tea kitchen talk even more, after difficult meetings or when I felt really stuck. I would just stand up, see who looked like they could take a break with me, shuffle over and say “Tea?”, sometimes with an added “Pleeease?” if I really wasn’t feeling well.
This week was very interesting. I talked a lot about different perspectives on the pandemic and being in the office. I had a bunch of conversations about communication (in Meetings, on Slack, …) while working remotely. I did in fact do a Learning Hour on Cognitive Overload and Context Switching as I planned to do where we (again) talked about how working from home changes all this as well. We are thinking about the future, about how we want to work once it is safe to go back to the office while taking into account that a lot of people will want to continue working from home most of the time. I had long calls with Sascha about how we work as a team and how we work remotely with other teams (and with his wife about how we deal with feeling isolated).
And I had a coffee call with one of the guys from my old team where he jokingly asked me to join their team because they could use some help and I opened up about actually feeling very lonely and isolated and being very happy if I could join their pairing/mobbing sessions every once in a while, just to have some contact to others while working and maybe help out just a little bit. And we did that yesterday. They invited me to their Around call where they weren’t even pairing, they were both just working on their own stuff and sometimes asked questions like “Hey, I have this problem with my editor, have you had this? Do you know what I can do?” or “Huh? This test is really weird, can you take a look at my screen real quick?”. And I just continued working on my taks without feeling so alone. I’m getting teary writing this down. It was awesome. I need to do this more often.
Back in April last year, I already noticed that weekends were difficult. They still are. But I’m getting better. Last week I did some knitting while watching Neflix, went outside on my own and took some pictures and planned the coming weeks and months. This weekend is actually quite full. My brother’s family (the only people I see inside aside from my own extended household) is coming over for lunch, then a friend comes over for a walk (I am popular now because of my pictures of the beautiful nature around here, people now visit me) and tomorrow we’re going full circle with this pandemic year: Andreas is coming over for a walk with his whole family who I’ve seen a lot more of in the past year via video camera (some relationships have intensified due to the pandemic, and some extended to spouses and families), and now in real life for the first time.