Looking back at 2020
2020: Oh god, what now?
Well, what to say? Shall we start at the start?
In order to compose some thoughts on the year, I’ve been digging through my weeknotes to pluck out observations.
This one from mid-Feb seems particularly poinient.
With flu running rampent in our household and a series of child related school events in the run up to half term, I’ve been extremely grateful for flexible working and understanding colleagues! This week has been like playing life on the hard difficulty setting.
GSuite, Trello and Slack (alernatives are of course available) really do go a long way to enable a distributed mode of work, which I’ve really needed this week. It’s also been fun introducing colleagues to them for the first time. Because they’re boringly awesome, it sometimes takes a little time to discover why Word, Sharepoint etc. have been hard work.
There’s some forshadowing there!
It was May before I’d write another weeknote, which is a shame in retrospect because I’m missing specific thoughts and feelings from mid-March onwards where we suddenly stopped going to the office everyday and started working from home.
Took a unplanned weeknotes hiatus. It’s a bit of a shame because lots of interesting things have been happening (massive understatement much?) but I’m trying to be okay with that, because it was probably what I needed.
Whilst my homeschooling may have reached all new lows, the kids have been pretty ace (correlation?).
I have found that my wireless headphones just about reach the kettle in the kitchen downstairs, which is useful for mid-meeting coffee replenishment.
In June I think the initial rush of adrenaline from responding to a crisis was starting to wear off and everything was feeling a bit hard going. This was brilliantly summarised by this image that was doing the rounds on Twitter around the same time…
I can see the signs of regression creeping into S2 E3’s Weeknotes. Having some sort of framework to talk about (or explain) why everything feels a bit tough or hard going at the moment is really helpful in a “oh, thank god it’s not just me” kind of way.
In July I was thinking a lot about what the long lasting implications of distrubuted working were, if any. Would our working patterns be forever changed or would we revert back to normal given the chance? What if it wasn’t a binary choice?
I think the binary choice of ‘office’ or ‘work from home’ is the wrong focus for the debate.
This is a complex topic which needs to take into account that people are different, jobs are different and caring responsibilities are different. Not to mention the broader implications this has upon society. The conversation we should be having is about how we support a range of modes of work.
It also looks like I was still trying to manage the tensions of blurring work and life. This quote spoke to me then, and it still does now.
Leonardo da Vinci once proclaimed that a piece of art was never finished, but merely abandoned. For the majority of people that is now the ultimate outcome of each day at work. There is always something else they could do and there is always a tool to hand which would allow them to do it.
In August I was pondering what remote recruitment might look like.
The main thing that struck me is that good remote interviews are mostly good interviews. That is, much of the good practice is transferable and relevant. The technology does of course add a layer of things to consider.
I was also wondering if work was actually more busy now than it had been pre-covid. Is there any correlation I would I have been as busy at this point in the year regardless?
It’s difficult to know in retrospect if I’d be ahead, behind or roughly in the same spot if things had panned out differently.
There’s is some data from study in the US that working days in lockdown are on average 48 minutes longer.
My experience is that minus the commute and the school run, I’ve been able use that time for productive work. Email use has dropped but has likely been replaced by Slack/Chat use. Meeting length also feels like it’s down due to trying to minimise ‘zoom fatigue’ and wanting to keep things focused on task.
This marked the point at which schools re-opened and working from home became a little bit more ‘normal’. Although early on I had lots of worries about how this would all work in practice.
Despite the mixed feelings about the kids going back to school, the little dose of normality is welcome. And for me it means I can work from home minus parental duties, although towards the end there I was really only intervening to settle the odd dispute and ensure everyone was actually eating and drinking at the appropriate times. I have pangs of guilt about this which I’ve written about before, but the kids seem happy so I’m trying go easier on myself.
On the flip side it means starting the school routine up again, which means school runs, washing uniforms, making lunches and doing homework. Although I’m sure all of this will be easier than when we were attempting to do this when both of us commuted to/from work every day.
So now the ‘proper’ remote working begins. Will be interesting to observe at the end of this week what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.
And actually, it turns out it wasn’t all that hard to mould the school routine around work. Certainly far easier than when I was commuting to work everyday. Being able to work remotely enabled us to divvy up parental duties far more equally than before. And we also saved a huge amount of money of pre/post school childcare.
I’m giving us a solid B- in terms of organisational effort. We made it through the week without having to cajole anyone too much or frantically searching the house for one or more things before we could leave.
I mean, yes.. I almost forgot to collect my children one day this week due to getting too absorbed in work and sailing past all my carefully set alarms/alerts (hence not an A grade) but on the plus side I enjoyed a nice afternoon run. 🙂
The school pickup/dropoff is actually proving to be a nice break in the day to get out and walk (…with kids and dog in tow).
For some reason (perhaps the realisation that I wasn’t likely to be roaming for a while longer yet), this was the point at which I decided to go all-in on the homeworking setup and add a few items that felt like they’d make my life easier.
I decided to double down on my home working setup this week by adding an additional monitor and a whiteboard to my very small broom cupboard that doubles as an office. I felt somewhat guilty adding a third monitor to my setup which already looks like a prop from The Matrix, but it was borne from frustration of doing several bits of work where I need to compare two or more documents + have a video call open + take notes. I’ll write up my logic for how I use the screen for different workflow if anyone is interested.
I think the whiteboard purchase came from a yearning to get back to physically writing/drawing things after working with digital tools for a while. I mean, obviously the digital version is easier to share and collaborate on, but I’ve situated the whiteboard behind me so theoretically I could use it on video calls with colleauges. And to be honest, sometimes I just want to noodle around to draw things out myself. Could end up not using it all that much, but it was worth a £20 punt.
Early in December I was frantically trying to finish off work for the OU course I was doing on Design Thinking. As a result, I was doing a lot of work on the design process and the value of abstracting to be able to reframe a problem or challenge so
We talk a lot about ‘making it easy to do the right thing’. And of course, making things easy paradoxically takes lots of hard work to strip out needless complexity. So perhaps there’s an element of abstraction in everything we do? We might frame this as ‘leaning’ a process. Higher levels of abstraction may be really going back to first principles and figuring out what the irreducable core looks like.
Mid-week I listened to a comittee hearing from Welsh Gov on the impact of remote work. Opinion still seems very divided on whether knowledge workers are ever coming back full time to office spaces, with talk about local hubs being offered as potentially less isolated spaces where people can come to work AND (bonus) support local business.