A new era
“I’ll be on campus today”.
This is what I shared with my colleagues early this morning as I was putting up my cycling gear, read to go to my office for the first time in 2022. It’s strange how mindsets have changed over the last two years. We went from warning colleagues when we would stay at home to focus on some pieces of work (e.g. grant writing) to warning them when we will be in the office. In both occasions, the implied frequency is low but the location is different.
Is it all good though?
An Overdue Change
For many reasons, I truly appreciate how lucky I am to live this; not every changes since the pandemic are good – I’m looking at you work overload! – but I do like this one.
Interestingly, working from home is a concept I was already quite familiar with from a young age. My mum did pioneer it in the 90’s as the company she was working in was constituted of many members having another professional activity scattered around France. For this reason, many employees opted for home working to avoid a cross-country commute. This was before fast internet – or even any internet at all – so my mum had to rely on couriers collecting and dropping off twice weekly huge bags of printed reports and articles for her to work over during the week. Later, the telecom cost dropped sufficiently for having most of the paperwork to be faxed. In fact, it was working 24/7 which led to a few rows at home about the noise from the fax machine at random hours; the email issue before its own time. Nevertheless, my mum did commute back to the Paris office a times a week (at first, later decreasing to a few times a months). In this sense, she already experienced what I and many other office workers are loving now (in reflexion, I should ask her for her own experience from this times)
With the advent of the internet, constant and ever more overreaching electronics communications, it is a wonder that home working hadn’t taken hold much earlier. The proof was that the transition did work quite quickly, almost overnight. Admittedly, there has been a number of teething issues and a tsunami of work overload but I guess that most of it resulted from outdated practices which lent themselves poorly to remote working due to inertia from the system.
A New Work-Life-Work Dynamism
Within a year, I somewhat reached my steady state relationship with home Vs office working. Apart from a few interruptions due to lockdowns 2 or 3 (please no more though!), the most sensitive arrangement seems to be 2-3 days a week at the office with the rest from home. This allows me to spend more time with my loved ones (primarily my wife <3), appreciate better food at home (my French roots require a daily sacrifice to the God of fresh bread!) and taking care of myself (gym, naps, decent coffee, and interruption-free long work sessions). This also means that the separation between work and life is even more blurred; it wasn’t well defined in academia to start with… And the massive overload associated with moving a lot of legacy work practices and teaching online prevented from these benefits to be fully appreciated, but I do hope that they are here to stay.
Finding the Sweet Spot on the Managerial Side
One thing did suffer from remote working.
Work team cohesion and mangement of colleagues became a bit stretched when fully conducted remotely. I’m not advocating with what big bosses are often lamenting in the news about the fact that workers need to go back to the office. A certain level of in-person interactions does go a long way though. For this reasons, the time at the university is mostly dedicated to spending time with colleagues (PhD students, postdocs, technicians, admins, other academics, industrial partners), where ideas can be exchanged more conveniently (dare I say more convincingly?) before we all go back to work on them, whether it is from the office or from home.
This makes me appreciate my time both at home and at the office; let’s see how this relationship will evolve.
A Concluding Word?
I mentioned in the previous post that a concluding word would be appropriate but I’m still yet to find one.
So, I’ll pass it down to you. What do you think of today’s topic? In the meantime, take good care of yourself.