December 17, 2020 · 5 min read

I don't want to give up deep, focused work just to go back to the office

When I got word that the FDA had approved and were starting to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine, I should have been a little happier about it - people are dying, struggling to pay their bills, and/or dealing with mental health.

I hope this vaccine will help prevent the deaths of more people and will get businesses (especially small ones) back up and running. I do.

But, selfishly, I was a bit disappointed that I have to think about transitioning back into a routine that includes going back into an office every day (or more than I am now). I love my coworkers and I love the work that we do, but I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how remote work has complexly changed the way we work and interact with each other - and it has been almost all for the better.

I’m not going to go fully into the details here, but there are several things that I’m going to have a hard time adjusting to when going back into the office.

The amount of distractions

A time-lapsed photo of several dozen people walking up and down stairs. Its a bit blurry.

This is mentally how it feels working in an open office.

I work in an open office environment, which means that most days that I’m not sitting through meetings I will sit at my desk with headphones on trying to block out all the disruptions that happen during the day. Sometimes I do it to myself - I’ll hear a coworker talking about a project and want to chime in. Other times, people will ignore the fact that I have headphones on and walk up to my desk and knock on it like it’s a front door. I’m guilty of doing the same thing to people.

I’m much less distracted at home.

The ability to facilitate workshops

A close up of a large sheet of paper board with markers.

Ahh. Sticky notes, markers, and oversized sheets of paper. That’s how you know ideas are being created.

Quickly into transitioning to remote work I adopted Mural - an amazing app for holding remote facilitation sessions. Helping teams collaborate more efficiently and pull out new ideas is one of my favorite parts of what I do for a living.

Facilitation complexly online has had some benefits that I didn’t see during in-person sessions. For instance, I was doing a workshop on goals and asked the participants to start writing out their goals onto sticky notes. One of the participants was coming up with some that were a little too broad.

In an in-person session, even though I would have walked around to help coach ideas out of everyone, I may not have noticed the need to step in until after we had started sharing the ideas with the larger group - not great if we’re trying to generate as many ideas as possible.

In the remote facilitation session, I was able to see each idea as they were created and was able to chime in quickly to help get that participant generating more detailed goals - adding more value to the workshop.

Facilitating remotely gives you a gods-eye-view that you just can’t match in-person.

Keeping up with documentation

Two very large stacks of papers side by side.

The last set of functional requirements that I had to make.

I loathe documentation. Or, at least, I thought I did. I never made meeting notes and assumed (because we are all grown-ups) that anyone that was given something to take away and work on, would do that without prompt (and they usually do).

Out of necessity with this new environment and the fact that I could type notes while attending meetings (I used to just bring a notebook and rarely ever revisited those notes in details), I’m consistently sending notes, keeping better track of my tasks, and thanks to our sessions now being on Mural, we have more of a written record of our collaboration than we’ve ever had before.

When I do go back in, I’m going to need to bring my laptop everywhere I go.

Diving into deep work

Looking down a cylindrical pit made of glass with offices on the other side.

You thought I was going to put a picture of someone diving here, didn’t you?

It is so important to have the time and space to think deeply about problems and to research new ideas, methods, and processes. During the last 9 months, I have been able to adopt a better system for managing my knowledge and to turn off the distractions that I would normally receive in the office.

I feel more productive than ever. I am doing my best work and I’m more inspired about the work that I’m doing than I ever have been.

Going back into the office, although armed with new techniques for managing chaos, will bring my levels of deep work back to nearly non-existent if I’m not careful. I’m not looking forward to that.

Dreading the transition back

Several magazines, a phone, and a coffee cup sitting on a couch cushion

This isn’t a bad setup for a remote work environment. Coffee, magazines and a hipster pillow — what else would you need?

I’m pretty sure I can convince my higher-ups to let me stay remote indefinitely, but I’m certain, as a team, we will never be as productive as we are right now. I think back to those meetings where just a couple of people are dialing in on a phone and how difficult it is collaborating when some part of the team is at home and some are in the office. The people at home often missed out on conversations whether that was because of the noise in conference rooms or missing out on impromptu meetings.

It just doesn’t work. That will leave us having to adopt remote-first collaboration even when in the office - connecting to video calls when another participant is sitting just 6 feet away.

I’m not sure how well that will go over culturally.

It’s hard not to see the value that this experience has brought. It looks like we’ll just have to look closer at how we can adapt what has worked for us once we go back in.

I can’t speak for the rest of my coworkers, but I can’t wait to do that from the comfort of my couch.

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