Kaleb M. Roedel: Nothing normal about working during the new normal
It’s flirting with midnight and I’m writing this from my makeshift quarantine bunker in the nursery of my nearly 6-month-old son, River.
There’s a Disney-like wilderness scene on the wall to my right: a doe-eyed deer, fox and bunny have been looking at me inquisitively for weeks.
These are my coworkers now.
Sweatpants on, midnight snacking my way through my emergency rations, I’m at the tail end of patchworking together a full day of work. This has been the norm since I started exclusively working from home in mid-March.
With a wife, a teething baby boy and two stepkids, Annika (15) and Evan (12), cooped up in the house with me, the thought of getting work done for long uninterrupted hours has simply stayed that — a nice thought.
Sometimes I’ll find myself writing story paragraphs in my head while changing River’s diaper. I fire off emails in rapid bursts. I squeeze phone interviews in-between daddy duties, which includes keeping my stepkids on top of their homework, away from digital distractions, and routinely out of the house for some fresh air and Vitamin D.
For the record (and in case she reads this): my wife, Rachel, is the backbone/mayor/leader of our quarantine ecosystem.
And, thankfully, she knows how to cut hair.
Truth is, among the coronavirus pandemic’s many impacts is an explosion in people like me: white-collar workers, shooed away from the office, trying to acclimate to a work-from-home lifestyle.
To be clear: I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to be able to work from home during these challenging and uncertain times, unlike millions of people across the country (including hundreds of thousands of Nevadans) who are stuck at home, unemployed.
I’m especially sympathetic to Northern Nevada’s small business owners, hospitality workers and frontline workers who don’t have the option of working from home.
While the outbreak has created inconveniences and unimaginable hardships for a growing number of people, there are also a growing number of people who see remote work as a welcome change. Some are reacting on social media like kids rejoicing snow days: No commute! Home-cooked lunch! Meetings in PJs! Early happy hour!
I started out in that camp (who didn’t?). But it wasn’t long before the walls started closing in and remote work lost its luster. Like many, it’s been weeks since I interacted face to face with a human who is not related to me or isn’t one of the unsung heroes loading my car with groceries.
That’s what I miss the most about working in an office: face-to-face interactions — truly connecting — with colleagues, peers and sources, whether we’re talking shop or bonding over the highs and lows of parenting. Did I mention River is teething?
When you’re stuck working at home, you miss out on the harder-to-measure benefits like the creativity, innovation and problem-solving that is stirred up when people are working together in the same office.
Plus, being near people can bring out our most human qualities, like compassion and collaboration. On that note, it been heartwarming to see a swell of empathy and care from people in our community — and all over the world, really — throughout the past couple months.
You know who was a big opponent of remote work? Steve Jobs. According to the biography “Steve Jobs” by Walter Issacson, the late Apple CEO felt employees’ best work came from bumping into each other, not from sitting at home shooting off emails.
“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy,” Jobs said. “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘wow’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”
Doe-eyed deer, fox and bunny (who I haven’t named; not yet, at least) are not bringing any ideas to the table — only blank stares.
I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait to run into someone again — even if we have to stay 6 feet apart.
Northern Nevada Business Weekly reporter Kaleb Roedel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.