Being in the office

📅 Posted 2021-12-17

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There’s something a little bit magical about being in the office.

I didn’t think I would say that, but I think all of this time during the pandemic working from home has made me really appreciate being in the office.

I’m writing this post right now, from the office. I came in today to farewell one of my staff (sniff… it’s always a happy/sad time) and collect their equipment and security pass. So this is feeling fresh, right off the top of my head.

I can tell immediately that there is less ‘visible’ output from today. It’s partly because it’s the last day before I go on leave for 3 weeks over the end-of-year break but also because farewelling a staff member requires different activities from what I’m normally doing. Determing & measuring productivity could be a whole blog post in itself!

Let me paint a picture for you. Normally, in the ‘work from home’ (WFH) mode, my typical day will start at just before 9am with me reading Slack messages whilst eating breakfast. Most of my meetings start at about 9:30am but occasionally I have one which is earlier.

Meetings run right up to lunch on most days, with a short break which I defend with a placeholder in my calendar, and then the meeting fiesta resumes from 1pm onwards. Very often I have meetings up to 5pm, which doesn’t give a lot of time for ’thinking time’ or even getting much of a break between each session. I usually do a bit of catch up from the day after 5pm and then start making dinner whilst checking there aren’t any things I need to respond to on Slack in the meantime. I say “need to respond to” when it’s more like “feel like I should respond to” as there isn’t really a directive to be responsive at this time, but having spent the day working, it’s often tricky to “switch off” without a hard break that the daily commute would normally enforce.

If I didn’t police my lunch break, I could easily have so many meetings at the time that most people seem available (scheduling is really tough - I know!), that I wouldn’t get a feed. Food is important.

Fridays are typically the worst offenders with upwards of 8-9 meetings throughout the day on various topics.

I don’t mind the idea of a meeting at all, but the sheer quantity and intensity of being on camera, in a meeting, staring at a screen for most of the day is something I’ve had to try and get used to.

There is something about working in “sync” in a work-from-home world. For some reason, conversations must be scheduled meetings and less “async” time where you can leave a message and reply later. I don’t think this is a hard rule, it just seems to work out that way in practice. I think this also comes from being in a role where I interact with so many different teams, which has it’s benefits of having lots of very interesting conversations about all kinds of opportunities and problems!

There are many distractions (chat, email, covid news) whilst you are attending a meeting at home and it’s so tempting to switch windows whilst you listen but I find this not only gets you caught out (“oh sorry, you dropped out there a bit (total lie), could you repeat the question?”) or a feeling of being completely drained from attempting to switch/multitask all day.

In the office, things are very different. You can go and chat to someone IRL and get an answer far more instantly. Someone else overhears what you’re talking about and chips in on the conversation. Maybe they correct a fact which wasn’t quite accurate or have some more detail to add. Opinions are much easier to share.

You can jump on a whiteboard and explain a concept, building up a rough-yet-useful diagram bit by bit. It’s a lot easier than using online tools, in my experience.

Oh how I miss a real whiteboard! Next year I might have a go at doing more “point the camera at a piece of paper and start drawing”. I did this a little bit but haven’t used this technique for a while. Yes, I could use a tablet and be more ‘digital’ about it, but I still like the tactile nature of a pencil, an erase and a piece of paper. It feels very real.

After a few whiteboard moments, you might go for a walk with a team to grab coffee. You’ll chat about work and also what you did on the weekend whilst you walk to the favourite cafe and back. You might bump into different people - including people not inside your immediate work circle - as well as regular folks. Sometimes you might hear about someone’s weekend karate or how they’re setting up a new home automation system. A coffee run turns into a ritual gathering for a cross-section of the workplace to connect. To be inclusive, even people who don’t drink coffee come along regular walks such as these, just to hang out because it is nice.

More work happens until lunch. I’m usually a “bring your own” kind of lunch person with a special “buy lunch” moment on Fridays to celebrate the end of the week. But even if I brought my own lunch, I might still tag along with others who would go and buy their lunch, then we can all return to the office communal area to eat together. More connecting!

A pedometer reading for a typical office day is excellent. I’ll hit 10k steps every day without a fuss and without even thinking about how much walking I’m doing. I’m a “walk to the next bus stop if it means I can beat the bus in traffic” kind of person. I’ve walked home a couple of times, but it’s about 70 minutes which is a fair stab of time, although quite doable and very much welcomed for those times when you need to get into deep thinking.

Fridays are also great for hanging around in the office, pulling some snacks and drinks together and smashing some boardgamese with different people. Maybe they’re people I regularly work with, or maybe it’s a different crowd that I need to build up my social credits with should I need to call on them in more dire times. Old work mates could make a visit if nearby and join in on the action. Leaving the office before 6pm on a Friday would be a rarity!

At home, it’s a bit of a sorry time for the old steps with most days scratching about 1k if you don’t push yourself to GO OUTSIDE.

Today was great when a co-worker said “FOYER!” on an instant message which means meet in the foyer for a quick walk. It’s been about 2 years since I’ve seen that kind of notification come through onto my phone! We got bubble teas, which is quite indulgent, but also a good time to chit chat about strategy and things that are happening in our respective areas. More connecting.

I know that being 100% at home is not the best (oh boy am I over it) and nor is 100% in the office (I really hated the bus commute when I was doing it). And I know that a lot of people LOVE working remotely and that’s cool too. We can’t forget those who are at home and need to think about ways to tie them into the office fun, in ways we don’t even know how yet.

This new ‘hybrid’ way of working requires a lot more thought to get right - I think having half the team in the office and dialling in from our desks isn’t going to work. Nor is everyone occupying meeting rooms all day saying “I might as well be at home, then”. So this space is going to be very interesting in how we tackle these new challenges.

For the way COVID is going, I cannot see us going back to the old “normal”. People have opted to move pretty far away from city centres and we need to support people in what works for them.

In the meantime, I’m going to take the next 3 weeks to reflect, dabble in the garden, play some piano, and generally think about things which I haven’t had time to do in the last 6 months. Phew! What a year 2021 has been!

Wear a mask, get vaxxed and stay safe everyone!

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