Over the last decade I've had the luxury of working in a #hybridmodel (from home and in the office) as it suited me. But when the pandemic hit, my office went 100% remote.
And I hated it.
Did it save me commute time and money on gas? Sure did.
Did it allow me to have more time with family?
Yes again, but I'd question the quality of that time--unless you consider shushing kids out of your Zoom presentation or policing online school fun, "engaging" activities. Plus, who knew #minecraft was such a big component of school?
When I quit my dream job last year I was #burnedout out, felt disconnected and struggled to "put on a happy face" through hours of video calls and meetings.
So when I founded Big Eye Innovation I knew I couldn't do it alone (even if to start I was a solopreneur). I needed an escape option. I needed an office--to not only allow me to remove family distractions (my husband also likes to use the entire main floor for his business calls) but also for me to actually MEET and talk with other people--even if they had nothing at all to do with my business!
I discovered Staples Studio in #corktown led by the super-attentive Elsa Abikhalil, and was so glad I did. It's low-cost, a beautiful space (including an awesome patio), offers free coffee and yes, there are real, live PEOPLE there! In the few months that I've been a member, I've had some thought-provoking conversations and gotten some real work done (now if I could just actually get myself organized enough to take advantage of their #podcast studio I'd be set).
If this sounds like a plug, it is. But it's an unsolicited one.
Get Out of your Home Some of the Time
More importantly, it's a plug to get out of your pajamas and find a way to engage again face-to-face. It can feel hard, I know. Nearly every time I have an in-person engagement, I find myself trying to talk myself out of it. It feels easy to stay comfy in my tech-enabled shell. But more and more I'm challenging that little anti-social devil on my shoulder and resisting the urge to throw on a Snuggie and stay home.
Human beings are social by nature. And while a Zoom or Teams chat may be better than nothing, it certainly does not replace #irl (in real life) communication. We've yet to see the full impact of COVID on the social skills of our kids. Sure, they may be social butterflies in the #metaverse, but these days I find myself nudging my kids just to make EYE CONTACT to whomever they're talking to. And that's not even considering the "distanced" implications on mental health on a whole generation of young people (it may also be why I get weepy at every school-related social gathering these days because I'm so cognizant of all they've missed). One of the reasons I pushed myself to attend London Tech Week and pushed myself a little more to attend many of the networking events.
And you know what happened?
I remembered the beauty of meeting new people, hearing #newideas and getting a window into the varied, diverse and uber-interesting lives of the people around me. Apparently, these kinds of small interactions can add up and contribute to your overall physical and mental well-being. Will I maintain life-long friendships with everyone I met? Probably not, but the impact of these connections in the here and now has been an awesome boost.
Completely Unscientific Future of Work Tips
So how do you find that balance? Below are my "unscientific" tips for uncovering your ideal work future (if you're lucky enough to have the option).
In-person with purpose: I'd like to say I came up with this phrase, but I ripped it off from a speaker at London Tech Week! It's a good one though. If you're in charge of a team and wanting to bring them back to the office--make sure there is a reason for IRL attendance. Whether it's a brainstorming session (which I'm happy to facilitate for you), team-building activities or even just a get-to-know-everyone better lunch, understand and communicate to your team the WHY--why are we here? Why must this be in person? Why can't it be done online?
Check in with yourself: If you find that you're turning down opportunities to meet in person, question your motives. Is it because the offer isn't "worth it?" Are you too busy? Are you genuinely concerned about catching COVID? OR--and this is a big one--have you "settled" on social distancing as the "status quo?" Once I checked in with myself about why I was reticent to join an in-person presentation, I realized I felt anxious because I was genuinely out of practice. Going "live" after 2 1/2 years of distancing had created a detached new normal for me that I had to address. But I pushed through and had ZERO REGRETS about attending. The presentation went amazingly well, and I met a great network of people genuinely interested in the advocacy work I am doing. A virtual event could not replicate those interactions.
Be prepared for awkwardness: Remember when you started using video conferencing and weren't quite sure how things operated? It was downright awkward. After so many years, I think most of us are feeling that same weird "don't quite know what to do" vibe when we're back in in-person meetings, conferences, and lunchrooms. Do we hug? Handshake? Fist pump? Distance? Mask? There is a lot to consider--some of which will likely be guided by your organization or workspace. If in doubt, ask and work hard to be extra considerate of those who might be at a different comfort level than you.
Did I mention in-person is exhausting? In fact, online meetings are too. It's just a different kind of exhaustion in my opinion. For me, I find virtual meetings emotionally exhausting and less so physically while in-person meetings generally boost my mood but leave me physically wiped. Depending on whether you're an introvert or extrovert you might find the reverse to be true. Either way, assess how you feel after a day of in-person and be sure to engage in activities before (a "warm up" if you will) and after the fact (or a "cool down") that help to keep you feeling emotionally and physically balanced. I like to warm up to in-person jitters with a quick workout at the gym and then cool down with some TV or reading after the event (okay, mostly Netflix 😉).
There is no "one size fits all" approach to work post-pandemic and what's growing increasingly apparent is organizations (aside, perhaps, from Telsa) will continue to offer greater flexibility to their workers' preferences. Even if you do decide to go 100% remote, be sure to find ways to connect offline--whether it's with your neighbours as you walk around the block, with friends on a patio, or even with the checkout person at the grocery store. Heck, one of the most memorable conversations I had in London was with the barista at Quiet Coffee outside Charing Cross station (sorry we weren't that quiet lol).
There is a big wide world out there, filled with interesting, dynamic people. And frankly, I for one am finding delight in rediscovering it.