COVID-19

Settling into a new normal

It surprises me, but I think we’re already adapting to our new normal here. We’re even enjoying some aspects of it.

It helps a lot that Margaret and I remain employed at our pre-pandemic rates of pay. Unlike many, we have no money concerns right now. I’ve thought Margaret’s company would furlough everyone, and indeed they’ve told many that they should stay home. But they’re still paying everyone, and they appear to want to do that for the duration if they can.

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I have always wondered whether I could tolerate working from home every day. Before this I did it at most a few times a month, when I needed quiet and privacy such as to write employee reviews, or when I had a plumber here to fix the sink. It was a nice break, but I was always ready to return to the office. I like being in the office.

A couple years ago while I was unemployed, one of the job opportunities I pursued was with WordPress.com for a Happiness Engineer (support) position. I love WordPress and I was excited to possibly join the team. But I wasn’t sure if I’d take well to working from home every day.

I had made it to the interview stage when I accepted an offer from a local software company to manage engineers. I think I would have loved the Happiness Engineer role, but it would have meant a healthy pay cut. Margaret was encouraging and enthusiastic, telling me we’d adjust our budget for a job that made me happy. But I just wasn’t sure I could handle working from home for the long haul. When the engineering manager offer meant a return to office life and keeping my former salary, the decision was easy.

But now I know I can do this, and I believe I can sustain it. It helps a lot that we’re all working from home. I’m not missing out on any hallway conversations, or struggling to hear or be heard on a meeting I’m taking online with a bunch of people in a conference room.

There is a downside. As a manager I’m used to having a lot of meetings every day. But now my calendar is packed — I go from one Zoom room to another all day. I think this compensates for the lack of organic conversations that happen naturally at the office. There has to be a better way, but we haven’t found it yet as an organization. By the time I shut off Zoom at day’s end, I’m drained.

To give myself a break, I’ve blocked my calendar 30 minutes in the morning and afternoon so I can catch up on messages and go to the bathroom. I tell my colleagues that if God Himself sends me a meeting request for those times, I’m declining it.

I’m also blocking 90 minutes at lunch. I eat something in the first 30 minutes while I again catch up on messages, but then I step away from the computer the rest of that time. If it’s not raining and my old hip injury isn’t bothering me, I take a walk around the neighborhood.

I bring a camera on those walks. I’m shooting more film now that I’m stuck at home. At first, it was a distraction that helped me cope with all the changes. Now I see it as an opportunity to finally burn through my queue of new-to-me old cameras, and shoot the last few of my collection in Operation Thin the Herd. Soon you’ll see the fruits of this labor here on the blog. It’ll be a nice break from the road-trip posts I’ve been bringing over from my old site.

At home, it’s been lovely to see and talk more with Margaret’s children, the three that live with us. They’re hardly children anymore at 19, 23, and 28. They were seldom home as they worked and spent time with friends and partners. I like them, and I think they like me, but we’ve not been close. It doesn’t help that the orderly way of life I’m used to doesn’t line up very well with the bohemian way of life they’re used to. Thia more carefree approach to living appealed to me when I met Margaret, and I’ve adapted to it some. But I still need order and routine. I’m sure Margaret’s kids see me as rigid, and even irritable when order breaks down too much.

They’re just as stuck at home as I am now, and that provides more chances to interact. Where we used to eat dinner together maybe once a week, it’s now five or more times a week. Now that I have blocked downtime on my work calendar we even have random chats about everyday life as they pass through the kitchen, ten feet from my desk and the hub of our home. It lets us all see different sides of each other, and I hope will let us all feel closer and more connected.

One of the best times we’ve ever had as a family was a couple Saturdays ago when neither Margaret nor I could face making one more big dinner. I called the Mexican place around the corner and brought in a feast. We all sat around the table and bantered and laughed. Laughter is such the thread that stitches families together.

Other isolation reports from Christopher May, brandib, Simon, and Dan James.

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11 thoughts on “Settling into a new normal

  1. I tend to work better at the office, and this time at home has taken a toll on my productivity. I find myself too easily distracted in an environment where there is no supervision (or even the possibility of it) and where I do not see and hear others around me being productive.

    It has just been my Mrs and me at home, which has been nice. Some adult kids here would have brought some fun, but then again it would have surely brought more stress and disagreements, so I guess it evens out. I feel sorriest for those who live alone – this must be a most difficult time for them.

    • We’ve had some moments here at home because it does present challenges to have 5 living in a home more comfortably built for 4. But overall it’s been good.

  2. We have a couple of restaurants that we order out from. All of our Asian restaurants have closed. Sad that they felt so threatened.

    Otherwise adjusting to working at home because I’d mostly been doing that anyway. And I agree that it would be hardest if one lived alone.

  3. Roger Meade says:

    My wife and I are very lucky during this time. We have a big old house with plenty of room to spread out if we get on each other’s nerves. Being retired, we do not have money concerns. I do feel for those holed up alone. And especially for those who were already struggling financially before this thing hit us. I think we need to do a major reevaluation of how our economy works and who it works for.

    • My brother, my mother, and three of our children live alone. We do try to check in with them from time to time to make sure they’re okay.

      Room to spread out! That sounds like a luxury! We’re 5 people in 1900 sf.

      • Roger Meade says:

        Jim, we are also five adults, but with 4300 sf on two floors. The house was built in the 19th century, maybe as a boarding house. Not a lot of population pressure in far northern Michigan, so housing is cheap. We got 20″ of fresh snow over the weekend, which is not really unusual, so that discourages emigration.

  4. Christopher May says:

    I’m kind of surprised how easily I’ve adapted to this new normal, too. While I do miss aspects of what used to be normal, there have been some parts that I find I’ll be missing quite a bit if I was to go back to pre-Covid life 100%. I think I reflect on that a little bit every day and look forward to incorporating the surprising positives of this experience into whatever comes after it.

  5. tbm3fan says:

    Had a patient come in Friday who was having issues with her contact lenses so I could call it an emergency. I saw on her address card that it was 128th Street in Manhattan. I asked how are you out here and she said her boyfriend is from this town.

    They left a month ago and are working from the boyfriend’s parents home. She said she was glad to get out of New York City and to California for her first time. Her #1 comment about Northern California was you don’t see many people while in NYC they are on top of you even though Danville is 30 miles from San Francisco. She said it was a very nice change of pace…

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