What I learnt from a year of working from home
June 26, 2021 - by Corina Lunn
Before Covid I was like most people who have spent their careers in an office. I just thought that was the way it was and never questioned it. I had worked from home a little, no more than 1 day a week, and it always felt a bit naughty, as if I was cheating and not really at work.
Then the lockdowns happened and all of a sudden we were all working from home. I was only 2 weeks into my time at Sovrn, didn’t really know anyone and certainly didn’t know how anything worked. The world was falling apart. I was scared. How would this work? Would I be able to find my place?
It turned out to be a transformational period in not only my career but my life. Working from home has helped me find myself and has helped me better understand not only how to operate in a remote world, but also how I function best. It has helped me find a new joy that I didn’t even know I was missing.
These are some of the things I learned.
You can build really deep connections with people you’ve never met
Like most people I assumed you have to meet people in person in order to build a relationship with them. While I think that is still a way of connecting, I have found new ways to interact in a virtual world. People working from home can give you more insights into their lives, whether it’s a cat walking across the screen, seeing some board games behind them, or their choice of virtual background. I have found it makes the people you meet more human, it’s easier to relate and find common values than the awkward first date meetings you have in person. Meeting people virtually is also more private, there is no office activity or coffee shop noise to distract you, and nobody is going to listen in. So you can discuss things you wouldn’t want to in an open setting. This has led to great insights with my team members. I have got to watch their puppies grow up, find out about their kids xmas presents, found a shared love of baking, and had way too many deep discussions about office chairs. I am looking forward to meeting my new friends in person one day, but I do feel that the relationships I have built virtually are just as strong and have been more enjoyable to explore. And when we do meet in person I know I am meeting an old friend and we can seamlessly continue building our relationship.
Comfort is important
Sweatpants to work. Nuff said. Actually this one goes way deeper than what you’re wearing, though comfy clothes do make a big difference. Whether its having a great desk setup, your preferred brand of tea, your favorite mug (yes the one with the kittens on it that has been chipped for 6 years that you have been too embarrassed to bring to work), or the ability to have fresh home cooking for lunch, these little comforts have made me happier and more productive.
One specific item I have found a huge difference in is the ability to get comfortable when watching big meetings, such as All Hands or Demos. Before I would be sitting on an awkward hard seat, unable to lean back, craning to see the screen. I’d start fidgeting after 10mins and thinking about how soon before I could go move. My concentration would go and I wouldn’t pay full attention to what was being presented and counting the minutes before it was over. Now I find a comfortable armchair for those meetings, have my favorite tea at hand and my screen in an ideal viewing position. I am able to give my full attention to those meetings, and even more so I look forward to them now as a way of immersing myself in new learning.
Meetings are my friend
I know, I’m weird. But hear me out. The remote world has meant that you can’t just tap someone on the shoulder when you need something. You instead have to message them on slack first, and then, when they finally get back to you, you have to set up a time to have the meeting to discuss what you wanted. Annoying and inconvenient, right? I’m going to argue that this is a much better way of working than randomly accosting people in the office.
When someone comes over and taps you on the shoulder they interrupt your flow. Whatever you are working on is immediately interrupted and you have to make a rapid context switch to focus on the person at your shoulder, remember how to form coherent speech, and pretend not to be annoyed at the interruption. Then you are most likely to find the quickest way to satisfy them to get rid of them again so you can get back to what you were doing, which has now been so interrupted it takes you a few minutes to find your place again.
As the person doing the interrupting you may think you are getting your answers faster and building personal relationships. But what you are getting is a quick off the cuff answer designed to get rid of you, not a fully thought out and coherent solution. And that relationship you’re building is more likely to make someone cringe as they see you striding across the office towards you.
If you instead apply the remote model, which can be used in an office too, you first send a Slack message. I can choose when I read it, be it 10 seconds or 10 hours after it is received. I don’t have to interrupt my flow. I am able to give it my full attention and carefully consider how to respond. Many things can be solved right there on Slack, but if you need a meeting, it will be one that everyone involved agrees to and is at a time that works for them. It gives everyone an opportunity to mull over the topic, be prepared and fully engaged. And the message you are sending is that you are respectful of everyone’s time and really value their input.
Bringing home into work is good for mental health
One of the biggest advantages to working from an office for me was always the ability to switch off when I walked out of the door. There was a big bold dividing line between work life and home life. When working from home it is much harder to separate the two and avoid work spilling over into home. Turning off slack notifications and trusting everyone else to be fine without you until morning can give you anxiety.
But what about the reverse, bringing home into work? When I have a rough day, whether it’s long or particularly challenging, when I have a mental block on whatever I am working on, I bring a little bit of home into my work. Whether it is getting some fresh air standing on the deck while the morning sun warms my face, chatting with my husband while making tea, or giving the dog some impromptu tummy rubs, all these activities scream home. They have the power to instantly whisk me away into a different world without spreadsheets or deadlines, a world where I feel safe and loved, where anything is possible. Just a few minutes in this magical world we call home is enough to give me the power to work through anything, it centers me, gives me back my strength and makes me believe I am right where I need to be.
Being me changes everything
I always thought I was beyond peer pressure. That I was content with just being me. After all, I was always a jeans and t-shirt in the office kinda gal. I never felt like I was trying to conform, that I was stifled in the office. And then there was no office and everything changed.
It was like a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders that I had never known was there. Suddenly I could fly. I could fully express what it is to be me. And it felt glorious.
I can’t tell you what the difference was, it’s probably a combination of lots of little things. But the change was significant. I have been feeling more joyous, more relaxed, more energized, more driven, more engaged with both work and home. I have discovered a power within myself I didn’t know was there. And I want to share that with the world.
Disclaimer: The opinions above are my own. You don’t need to agree with them. In fact I hope you don’t. I hope they make you think. I hope they help you examine your experiences with fresh eyes, whether it is something you are doing for the first time or something you have been doing forever and take for granted. Being mindful about what we are doing and how it makes us feel allows us to find what works best for each of us. And if you can create a world around you that lets you be you, you can share the power of your uniqueness with all of us.