Two years ago I texted my team to work from home for a bit. I thought I was asking them to go home for a couple of weeks, maybe a couple of months, not a couple of years.
Like most of corporate America, I’ve been working remote since March 2020. The last day I was in the office was March 17, 2020. I remember it like yesterday, I texted my team that evening and told them not to come back in the next day. At the time my team was split; most of us in Connecticut and a smaller group in Maine. I had returned to the office on Monday after two weeks being remote and out for family reasons to find a sea of uncertainty, unknown and unease. While some schools were already remote and parents started to pull double duty that week, the state hadn’t gone into lockdown just yet. It was clear that productivity was low – and I couldn’t fault folks for wanting to talk about this new thing that posed so much unknown. I latched on to that low productivity to justify sending the team home. At the same time, I knew there were conversations about people being uncomfortable and not wanting to be in, but we still weren’t in a open culture that everyone felt they could freely share their concerns. While I told my boss I made the call due to productivity, and it’s my official reason in the message my team got, if I’m honest, I sent the team home for their mental well-being. Being home was safe. They controlled what happened there. They weren’t worried about coworkers who had been traveling. Being home enabled them to put themselves and their families first, while getting their work done at the same time. If I had to do it over, I’d do the same thing. We’d be home before the company (really the state) mandated it. The difference is today I’d be honest. I’d stand up to leadership and say that even though it wasn’t the norm and even though other teams weren’t doing it, it’s what my team needed. With the specific group of people, our life circumstances and the environment we worked in, being home and removing that anxiety is exactly what the team needed.
It’s been a long two years. We have missed out on many interactions and social events. The opportunity for chance encounters is gone. Networking takes a lot more effort. We see more of the people we live with….remember when we could say we spent more time with the people we worked with more than the people we lived with? Hopefully we have better work life balance. With restrictions coming to an end, and more offices reopening, even if in a different capacity, we find ourselves on the verge of learning to manage and deal with yet another new norm. I can only hope this new norm takes the best of both the normals we have already been accustomed to.