Working from home in an epidemic has been hard. On the surface, I find it boring, I struggle to motivate myself, and I’m less effective. But I hear from my colleagues that they want more of this, that they are more productive, more engaged and not looking forward to returning to the office. For a while, hearing this was frustrating, but I realise I have to adapt.
Most of my job is talking, reading and listening. I’ve been told I’m political in how I go about pushing for my ideas. Sometimes I produce physical work but for the most part I get paid to use common sense, instinct and to tell convincing stories. I also have to bridge parts of my company, departments that are now not only distant in what they do but in location. This is the work I enjoy, and it is the work hardest to do from home.
Instinct is not tangible, so the only way to share on Slack or a video call is with data. This is a good thing; working at home has been good training to not take the easy route, to do my due diligence. But it also makes me more anxious about what I share: I need to bring real justification every time. I worry that because so many of my whims get lost, the occasional good ones are lost too.
The job of a product manager, I was once told, is to do what it takes. It means being a small part of every corner of the company. When you share a small office — I work in a startup of 30 — this is easy. It is much harder to be an authoritative voice in so many places when to speak to somebody means organising a call.
And finally there is the not feeling guilty for a fifteen minute tea break, but feeling terrible for spending the same time at home without working. Perhaps this is because breaks at home are alone and at my desk. At work, they are accompanied by a short conversation or a wander. It is a meaningful distraction that drives focus when I return.
For many, especially in jobs like software engineering, working from home is more efficient and more rewarding. I feel this too, when I have a challenging task to face with clear direction it is beneficial not to be distracted by a tap on the shoulder. I rarely have clear direction, however, and when I do, it is not the work that makes me tick.
So it worries me when I hear of Twitter, Square and Facebook extending work from home policies permanently. That they don’t require many employees to ever return to the office. Shopify are closing their offices for the rest of the year — there isn’t even the option for an office. Fortunately I was comforted by Apple’s more relatable description of a balance between those who are more productive at home, and those who are less; it is “mixed depending on what the roles are,” Tim Cook said.
Then CEO Sundar Pichai told The Verge that even though most of Alphabet’s work can be done from home, the ability to do so varies “widely across teams.” There are people who “really want come back ... depending on what [their] personal experience is.” After all, Google famously invested in their working environments in order to encourage people to work better together.
While I value that most of my colleagues will benefit from more allowance to work out of office, I can’t imagine myself being truly rewarded by work that is not primarily undertaken in a communal location. I thrive off in person collaboration.
But people are different and their roles unique. It could be that I need to adapt, grow and learn how to be better and more versatile. I will be become better at remote work by necessity so when I progress in my career it will not be a concern. Right now I am fortunate to be in a company that will continue to have an office, on-site employees, physical collaboration and the type of work that keeps my career relatively on track. What I know for sure is that I am doing the right job for me, that after my excruciating graduate career uncertainty, I landed in the right place.
While I am forced to take a break from what gratifies me, I must make sure I learn what there is to learn from these agonising months, so next time I can face these challenges with enthusiasm.