Remote Possibilities: What We’ve Learned in One Year of Working from Home
On our remote work anniversary, we review the surprising and valuable lessons we’ve gained
On April 28, 2020 we posted about what we had learned in six weeks of working from home. We couldn’t have imagined then the long haul ahead of us. Today, one year after the reality of COVID-19 set in and Rhea + Kaiser went fully remote, we look back on what has in some ways been a blur, and in other ways a defining moment in our lives.
From a professional standpoint, we all began our remote work experience with some skepticism and trepidation. Would we be able to maintain the same level of productivity without the ability to convene in person? How would we stay focused with all the distractions of home life? Could we find our creative energy in isolation? Would our relationships suffer when all communication relied on technology? Only time would tell.
Today we reflect on one year (and counting) operating as a fully virtual agency. Though we look forward to reuniting in the office, we also recognize what we gained when we were forced to adapt. Here are some of the unexpected bright spots that shone through the chaos.
We have always tried to view our clients and partners as an extension of our team, and strived to be considered an extension of theirs, but changing the way we work brought us closer than ever to that reality.
Our newfound proficiency with Microsoft Teams fueled new methods of collaboration. Chat messages with internal team members now live alongside those with external contacts. Seamless screen and file sharing make us feel like we’re sitting around a table together. And video calls promote a level of participation unmatched in typical phone conference calls.
What we lost in the inability to drop by a coworker’s office with a reminder or pass out a status sheet for a team, we gained in organization and project management skills that will continue to foster collaboration and efficiency when we’re back in the office.
Family members get sick. Children whine. Dogs bark. Furnaces fail. These realities of our private lives are not new, yet it took a pandemic for us to realize we don’t have to hide them. The backdrop of our personal lives is inescapable in remote work. Through this new perspective we gained a tolerance and understanding of natural disruptions, as well as a sense of being in this together.
One R+Ker put it perfectly when she said “this year brought humanity back to the workplace.” We have enjoyed getting a peek into each other’s lives, and the reminder that we are more than just our professional titles. We are all human. Whether it’s the needs of young children or day-to-day errands, we all realize and respect that the things that need attending to don’t have to come at the expense of our productivity or dedication to our jobs.
On the flip side, our professions are now more tangible to our families and roommates. Children see what we do every day when we’re not with them and have a better understanding of important concepts like the value of a job. Spouses and roommates see our workday firsthand and have more context around the stories we tell about our 9 to 5.
As we adapted to remote work life, “work from home” became “work from anywhere with a good internet connection.” We realized that effective communication is more about the channels and skills than the physical setting, and work from the lake house or a relative’s home can be just as efficient as work from a home office.
Though we appreciate this newfound flexibility, we also miss the human interactions we once took for granted. In the office, relationships naturally develop in the hallways before and after meetings or in the kitchen during afternoon coffee breaks. Without this luxury, we’ve become more mindful of purposefully connecting with one another. We’re more excited and motivated to reach out to colleagues, partners, vendors, journalists, and each other, and we realize the benefit of turning on our video to build relationships and comprehension.
Most importantly, the challenges of the last year have expanded what we communicate about. We have a renewed clarity that our professional work is not what makes the world spin, and each of us has unique struggles from time to time.
Rather than squeezing in a quick hello at the top of a call and diving into the task at hand, the pandemic has reminded us to ask each other how we’re doing and check in with intention. Our shared anxiety about global challenges has made it more natural to ask for help and ask how we can support each other.
Today, the return to “normal” is a glimmer on the horizon. Though it may not look like it did before, we will celebrate our eventual return to the workplace. And while we wouldn’t have wished for the hurdles of the past year, we celebrate the lessons in collaboration, humanity and communication that will enhance our work and private lives in the future.