I’ve been a remote worker for about a decade now. Even before I started working for the famously distributed Automattic, I worked from home. First picking up the odd gig as a copywriter, then as a girl Friday for a meal planning company and its lovable yet inherently lazy founder.
So I’m no stranger to working from home. When y’all now new remote worker types around the world joined me in the global distributed workforce you might have thought I had an advantage. A leg up. I get it. One would think.
But really it was a significant adjustment for little ol’ work from home me, too. For a few reasons.
Like everyone else, my household had a status quo. It had a flow. A vibe. It had a schedule. My partner had not one but two offices he needed to be in during the week. My kid had places she needed to be even though she was doing online learning. I worked out of an office a couple of days a week, at best. If I wanted to.
Oh and I traveled. Like a modern day NBA player setting up a dunk. I traveled what some would call… a lot.
Between January 1, 2020, and the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, I went on three business trips. The day I came home from that last trip, we started to transition into quarantine. I only went out twice in the week that followed. Once, on my birthday to have brunch with my friend and daughter. Once, later that week to have lunch with my parents and to do some last minute stocking up on some grocery staples.
Both excursions were, admittedly, strange. We didn’t hug or kiss or touch hands. We didn’t share food or drinks. We kept our distance both from each other and from others.
That week, I cancelled three upcoming business trips. My partner cancelled the in-person version of his big annual event and started working exclusively from home. We wouldn’t let my daughter go out with friends. We cancelled her 18th birthday party. Her transition into adulthood. Instead opting to celebrate at home. With a fucking Zoom call.
It was a weird time. But it took awhile for me to recognize that I was losing something, too.
I was losing the quiet solo space from which I had happily worked. I was losing the daily routine of my loved ones leaving the house. (If I’m being brutally honest, getting the fuck out of my house. My workplace. And my space.) I was losing the ritual of moving from private life Cami to work life Cami after everyone else made it out the door.
My ritual, my routine, was just as gone as everyone else’s was. But maybe, just maybe, even more-so.
Six months later, I’m finally accepting that this is the new normal, as much as I hate that phrase. Even now my daughter is quietly in her room working on something, my partner sits at the desk four feet away from me clicking and clacking on whatever the fuck it is he does all day, and I’m on the couch with my feet up on the ottoman tapping away at this keyboard as the laptop perches on my lap desk. We’re no longer figuring out what works. We’re not in transition. We’re not trying to figure out how to get through the next couple of weeks or months.
We just are. This is how things are now.
So as I’ve been accepting this — and frankly as I’ve adjusted to my new anti-anxiety meds — I’ve started to work at the little things that help make the day feel right.
I’ve given whole talks on this topic. I’ve literally presented full length presentations on what you need to do to be effective as a distributed worker. Multiple times. To different people. I’ve sat on panels on it. I’ve answered emails full of questions about what it takes to work this way.
Seriously, you’d think I’d have this shit down.
And I used to. I used to know what worked for me. And I can tell you it’s totally different today than what used to work. Because I used to travel 10 times a year and see people in person and dress in outside person clothes on a regular basis for events. And to go to an office. I used to go to happy hours and meet people for coffee. And complain about the days I had to leave the house.
I’ve let all of that go.
I don’t know what used to work. It doesn’t matter. There is only what works now. And that’s playing office.
I think back to when my family moved to Vacaville, CA. I was in 5th grade. Too old to play make believe for some. But not me. I remember vividly putting on a dress shirt with my shorts, stealing some of my mom’s high-heels and a scarf. Putting on earrings, lipstick, and bracelets. And setting up my desk, which was the bench from the stand up piano with an old railway adding machine. I would walk into the room with my dad’s old briefcase, let my Teddy Bear secretary know I definitely wasn’t taking calls, and sit down to feel the bright redness of my lipstick. To fidget with my earrings. To listen to the clack of my bracelets as they clacked against the desk as I pressed the antique buttons on the adding machine. And then I would read my dad’s old poetry books from college and wonder what they meant. Or I’d color. Or write very very bad poetry of my own.
You know, business.
And right now that’s what works for me. I’m playing dress up and heading to that piano bench. I’m asking my Teddy Bear to hold my calls — every fucking call, Bear — and diving in to the workday.
That’s right now. That’s what’s working for me. I’d love to know what’s working for you…