Here’s a helpful guide to dressing for success while we’re still working from home.
I recently learned that, as part of a larger corporate overhaul, the Help Center I write will be abandoned within a few years. I found this out when my boss mentioned it in passing in an unrelated meeting. He didn’t even realize that he’d inadvertently delivered a perfect gut punch straight to my solar plexus.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time asking: Why am I doing this? What’s the point, if we’re going to throw it away in a year, or two, or five? I want my work to mean something. What does it mean if it’s discarded as unneeded baggage so soon?
It’s been about a year since COVID-19 started making itself felt here. Patient Zero landed in Everett on January 18. It took a while, but by late February we started sensing that this could impact our lives. Assisted living facilities started experiencing the terrible toll first. Soon schools began worrying about COVID cases. On March 4, 2020, I was working from home when Benji’s school called: Someone at the school had tested positive for COVID, and they were sending all the kids home for a few weeks.
Today I had the most epic “the chaos of working from home” moment of this entire pandemic.
Before you can appreciate the chaos of the experience, let’s take minute to envision my typical day working from home. I have office space in our spare bedroom, while Ian retreats to his own man-cave office for the workday. Benji interrupts me frequently, particularly during school days, but also I often get 30- to 90-minute stretches of uninterrupted time when I can focus.
During those stretches, I really appreciate the superiority of my home office compared with my cubicle at work. Most of all, when nobody interrupts me, I work in a fairly quiet environment, not hearing constant distracting background conversations nearly as much as in the office. I play music on speakers, sparing my ears the experience of eight hours of earbuds.
Throughout the entire pandemic, executives from the CEO on down to my boss have assured us that they planned no layoffs for our company. Our clients are advisory firms that mostly charge based on assets under management (AUM). Although millions of people are experiencing desperate financial straits, the fortunate tiny percentage of people who have investment accounts have (after a not-unexpected plummet early in the pandemic) enjoyed shockingly good market returns, which means their assets have grown — and, accordingly, so have their AUM-based advisory fees. When financial advisors make money, they can pay the annual subscription cost for my company’s software. Which all means that I get to keep exchanging my writing ability for a steady paycheck.
While we’re all at home, we each retreat to our own rooms during working or school hours. (Quick aside: Boy am I thankful that we bought a four-bedroom house, giving me and Ian each our own private offices.) Of course we close the door when we need to be left alone. But it’s hard to tell what the closed door means. Is the person in a meeting that can’t be interrupted? Does he just need to focus, but a quick question would be okay? Benji in particular has a hard time not coming in talking, and I’ve had at least a few times of slightly embarrassing un-muted incidents where colleagues have been treated to family conversations.
Let’s skip to the fun stuff. Here’s a video of me explaining technical writing to an eight-grade audience:
Now some backstory.
Back at the beginning of the summer, a former AmeriCorps member posted on Facebook asking for people to make videos to explain their careers to eighth graders. These videos replace an in-person career fair that, like everything else, has gone entirely online this year.
I volunteered to provide a video about technical writing, if she wanted one on a topic that boring; she accepted (desperate times, I guess) and sent me the information. I didn’t have time to really get started on it for a while, although pretty early on I roped in a very generous e-learning colleague to do the video editing.