Like many other people, I have spent most of the past two years working from home; but I have also made occasional trips into the Luke’s Place office in Durham Region. My colleagues and I have found it helpful to be able to connect in person from time to time; we thought that second interviews with job candidates might be worth doing in person (we were right); it was the best place to meet with television journalists and, occasionally, politicians wanted to meet in-person (usually for a photo op!).
Given the intensity of the subject matter of our work, opportunities to be physically together with colleagues have been important. We’ve made ways to stay close while not together over the course of the pandemic with zoom cocktails, using a team text to share personal and news stories and, recently, sharing Wordle successes with one another; but I have desperately missed the in-person stuff.
Our in-person gatherings have been fraught with pandemic complexities. The health and safety precautions in our building are somewhat onerous. We have had to complete a screening and take our temperature when we come into the building. Masks, of course, have to be worn, although we are able to take them off when we are in our own office or in one of the large meeting rooms, adequately distanced from one another. All upholstered chairs have been replaced with furniture made from non-absorbent materials. Rooms are fogged before and after use. There are no gatherings around the table in the lunchroom.
Yesterday, after getting up early enough to complete Wordle before hitting the road at 6:30, I drove to the office for a project team meeting. The day held the promise of springtime, with a forecast of sun and a high of 13 degrees, and it delivered on both counts.
I arrived at the office, ready to complete my screening and take my temperature but, much to my delight, those requirements have been removed, so getting into the building was a breeze. For the first time since January 2020, I used my keys to the building, my office and my filing cabinet, where I found a few chocolate bars and packages of crackers that were well past their best before date, along with physical files I had not seen for more than two years.
For the most part, we have managed working from home, but yesterday’s meeting was a good illustration of what we haven’t been able to do so well since March 2020.
In the many Zoom meetings we have had about this project, we’ve been able to get the basic work done: sharing work we have each done, deciding on what comes next, and so on.
What we have not been able to do well is the big-picture thinking about how the project — envisioned before we imagined that we would be doing much of the work remotely — could develop and roll out over the next two years.
Back in business
Yesterday, equipped with our laptops, printouts of the workplan, a whiteboard and markers, we did exactly that. We tossed around ideas, we drew images and flowcharts on the whiteboard, we erased ideas as we replaced them with other ones. We laughed a lot, we talked over top of one another, we got off topic and then brought ourselves back, we dreamed and imagined everything we could possibly do with this project.
It was so much easier to ensure that everyone had the space to contribute than it is online; we could read body language in a way that is just not possible on Zoom; we could make direct eye to eye contact; we didn’t have to look at our own face in that damn Zoom box. We could get up and roam around the room.
At the end of the meeting, I felt re-invigorated. What a change from the fatigue that seems to always settle in after a long session on Zoom! The brain fog I had been experiencing about my role in the project, what we needed to do next and how to put all the pieces together was gone. I now have a detailed and clear to-do list in my notebook. We photographed our final whiteboard drawings to complement the more detailed notes one of my colleagues took during the meeting.
Of course, there was food. We ordered in lunch, which we ate together spaced out around the table in the meeting room, while we continued to share stories and catch up with one another. We ended our time together with a homemade chocolate cake (I double the amount of cardamom and orange peel).
As I drove home, I reflected on how the day had brought into sharp focus for me the limitations of the way we have been working and living for the past two years. I had that almost forgotten bright and happy feeling I used to have after days in the office with my colleagues — I was even singing along to the radio — and rejoiced in knowing that soon that contact will be a regular thing rather than a special occasion.