What have I learned through 'all this'? People make work meaningful.

On Nov. 6, Elizabeth Council, 2018 MSU StratCom graduate, shared this tweet: "If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me is that the work will always be there; it’s the people who might not." We asked her to expand upon that thought, and she's done just that. Here is a blog she's written on work, the pandemic, people in our lives and getting through "all this."

March 13, 2020, was the last official day that my co-workers and I worked together in a shared office environment. Like so many, we left that Friday afternoon thinking we would be working from home for about two weeks. Little did we, and so many others who work in higher education, know that two weeks would turn into six weeks, and six weeks into four months, and four months into the greater part of a year. 

Admittedly, I was pretty cool with working remotely. And, for the most part, I still am. I have worked from home in previous jobs throughout the years and I can comfortably work from just about anywhere that I have internet access. Most importantly though, it has been reassuring to know that through “all this,” the health and well-being of both myself and my colleagues at Hope College are a top priority.

It has been a blessing to be more present for my daughters, ages 12 and 15, and to assist with the many transitions between in-person and remote learning they have endured. I have appreciated being available for the day-to-day management of my family’s home life, like starting dinner a little sooner than usual, keeping up with the dishes and laundry, checking in with neighbors and friends through “all this,” and just keeping us all in some semblance of a daily routine. And, selfishly, I’m also thankful that I don’t have a daily 45-minute commute to my office in Holland, MI.

Each year, my ComArtSci tree comes out to commemorate my December '18 graduation from the StratCom M.A. program and to remind me of the wonderful connections made in that very first cohort of students. 

Still, I do miss the boundaries that come from working in an office and most of all, I miss my coworkers. A lot.

I miss the quick conversations that happen just before and after meetings. I miss sharing funny stories at the lunch table and catching up over mid-day walks through downtown Holland. I miss my boss’s laughter and hearing about my co-workers’ kids. I have wondered, if not for having worked together before, would we still work as well together as we do now? How sad would it be to not have ever really known each other in that way, before “all this?”

While working from home, I have noticed that many people—myself included— try to limit the amount of time they have to be in a meeting, or rather, on camera. We join our meetings at the last possible minute and often end the video call as soon as we are done with the agenda. In a way, meetings have never felt more efficient! That’s great, right? Yes and no. 

I sometimes think about whether our new mode of productivity combined with Zoom fatigue has us unintentionally sacrificing the very same camaraderie that helped us make it through this remote work experience so well. I’m afraid only time will tell. Still, as I go about my new daily commute from the bedroom to the coffee pot to the couch for my morning dose of caffeine, I have discovered new parts of the workday that I will certainly miss when “all this” is over and we go back to the office. For starters, this is the first time I’ve enjoyed a morning routine. 

The first hour of my day is my new favorite hour of the day. The hour that helps me set my intentions, make plans and think deeply—or sometimes just give myself space and time to zone out and allow the caffeine to jumpstart my brain before I “jump on a call.” (This phrase makes me cringe, if I’m being honest.) 

Sometimes, in this first hour of the day, my husband who also works in higher-ed will join me on the couch with his coffee and we’ll compare notes about our calendars for the day. Who has a call when, what big meetings we’ll be attending and any exciting projects we are working on. We also remind each other of our kids’ Zoom calls and meetings and projects. We’re each other’s new co-workers, but that’s a good thing.  

This time and conversation have filled the void of the in-between times I miss so much from being in the office with my coworkers. The conversations that make our days interesting and our relationships real. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned while working remotely through Covid, it’s that the work will always be there. It’s the colleagues who may not. And so, with this realization, I’m hoping that someday, when we’re all back in the office, when “all this” is over, we’ll get to start our mornings off together over cups of coffee, and jokes and laughter and stories about our kids, making up for all the time and connectivity we lost together in 2020. 

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