What I learned from Covid-19: Working from home is not for me!
When this whole Covid-19 mess started to unfold in Germany back in March of 2020, my company was among the first to send its employees to working from home whenever possible. At first, it was only meant to last a view weeks until everything was sorted out. As you are probable aware, though, sorting things out took a bit longer. It's been almost 15 months now since I last worked at the office with all my colleagues around. I've still been to the office on some occasions, for example when my internet wasn't working, but other than that, I've been working from home now for more than a year straight.
I still remember how I felt some days into the whole thing. After the technical issues got figured out I actually started to enjoy my work from home. Everything seemed to be a lot less stressful, I could just get up, make a coffee and start working right away without having to worry about proper clothing and without having to walk 15 minutes to get to my job. Over time, though, this mild euphoria has vanished completely and now that I will finally be allowed back in the office I can't imagine ever working from home for a prolonged time again!
I work lower IT management with 14 team members in my squad. At first glance, my job seems like the perfect candidate for work from home and it probably is. Before Covid-19, my usual day consisted of about one third routine business, one third talking to members of the team, making sure they could do their job, and one third talking to other staff or customers. In the early days of the pandemic this didn't change much. In fact, it felt like I even had a little more time for my day-to-day business, as people seemed to be mostly preoccupied with their own stuff. After a while, though, I was getting invited to more and more calls, sometimes as much as 9 hours of online meeting after online meeting straight.
My company recognized the issue and measures were taken. People were encouraged to not set up meetings between noon and 1:00 pm. Most sessions were set to start 5 minutes into the hour and end 5 hours prior. Ultimately though, nothing of that really worked. The free 10 minutes usually ended up being used for that super urgent call I had to make before moving on to the next meeting, the free hour at noon usually was used for top level meetings because no other slot could be found and it was still free for most after all.
It's not like I didn't have a lot of meetings before Covid-19, but by now things have gotten to a level were I feel like I'm only talking and/or listening the whole day. Everybody using a camera doesn't help either. While it obviously is cool to be able to see your colleagues every now and then, it also means that you feel monitored all day. You can't just walk around during the call, you can't do something on the side while a topic is discussed that's of little consequence to you. Zoom fatigue is something that a lot of people are talking about and while I would have never believed that to be true 2 years ago, these remote meetings ended up being 10 times more energy consuming than any meeting I ever had in person. Sometimes when I finally end my last meeting, I just feel like there's no energy left in me at all, it's just consuming everything I have.
That's not all there is to it, though. It's not only that I'm mostly only on the phone these days, it's also the time spent working every day. I work 38 hours a week, so that should be 7.6 hours a day. In reality though, I now work 10 hours each day every day. It's the maximum number of hours allowed by German law and I'm sure that a lot of my colleagues work even more and simply don't write it down. Getting to a point where I'm ready to quit working is just super hard when I work at home honestly. Back in the office, this somehow never was an issue. Sure, there were these 10+ hour days just as well, but sometimes I just didn't have anything to do left after 6 hours and so I moved home early. On average, I feel like I'm working a lot longer than I used before without actually getting done any more. It's quite the contrary even. I feel like I'm accomplishing less in these 10 hours than what I did at a good day in the office in 6 hours.
The worst thing, at least to me, though, is what the whole thing is doing both to the relation between me and my colleagues and to my relation with my employer in general. Before the pandemic, I really liked my company. It's a good paying, interesting job. We have great social benefits, we had a climate of respect, open communication. Sure, it wasn't all golden, but I liked where I worked and I didn't intend to ever change jobs before pension. Just as much, I had a good to great relationship with most of my colleagues. While most of us never would have met outside of work, we still had a lot of fun together and we've been working as a well oiled team. By now, not much is left of any of that. When you work at home, all you see from your colleagues is when either you need something from them or they need something from you. In short, one is always interrupting the other. Instead of being partners, they turn into a burden, somebody that is constantly draining your energy.
Just like all my meetings, the colleagues that constantly want or need something from me have changed into a tiring annoyance. And it's not just me. Members of my team are constantly coming to me, complaining about their colleagues and how somebody did this or that. It's annoying, it's draining, and it's happening because we only see the bad of each other. All the good that happened at the office is just gone. My company certainly tried its best to alleviate these issues. There were a lot of good ideas floating around, many different initiatives that got launched. In the end, though, not a single one had lasting success. It feels like everything only got worse and worse with every new idea they tried to implement.
All this is only the tip of the iceberg, there are so much more things going wrong right now, I could probably fill another 3 articles just telling random anecdotes of bad stuff happening. I think I'll leave it at that, though. This certainly has been a somewhat different article compared to what I usually do but it had to go somewhere. As indicated in the beginning, starting tomorrow I'm allowed back in the office as are all other colleagues that do want to return. I'm curious to see how many will actually show up. I'm even more curious to see where we'll go from there. Fixing all these relationships is going to take a lot of time, if it's possible at all. At the same time, we'll have to get back to a normal work process, all these meetings will have to go away. I might do another article in a few weeks and share how everything went.
And that's all from me for today, thank you all for reading and see you next time!
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