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An Engineer Learns to Work Within a COVID-19 World

Posted by Jenn Collins on December 15, 2020

Up until March 2020, most of us were working in an office building with our own office or cubicle. A collaborative team environment with space to focus when needed. It now feels like a dream to think back on times gathered around the water cooler with my colleagues and discuss sports like the “Masters” or the NCAA March Madness. All of that came to an understandable but still screeching halt once the pandemic started. As I’m writing this, the Masters is being played (in November, not April. November!! Forgive me, but is it really the Masters without the azaleas and roaring crowds? I think not) and I’m working from home. 

Working from home isn’t that unusual for some of us in the consulting world. In the past, the occasional work-from-home day typically meant peace, quiet, and productivity. Concentrating on client projects was a cinch in those heady, pre-COVID-19 days. Today, however, the home-front looks bit different for all of us. Many are sharing that same space with kids and spouses—and all the noise and constraints they bring. Parents are balancing the changing needs of remote or hybrid school schedules. Lunch, previously a casual (and somewhat indulgent) work from home experience, has now become fixed and PB&J-centered. 

I’ve chosen to look at 2020 as an opportunity for us all to develop our professional skills in a direction previously untapped: focus amongst extreme chaos and finding humor within the unexpected and frustrating. Without these skills could we survive hourly rollercoaster of internet connectivity? Instead, we smile when we get too see kids and pets popping up in our virtual meetings, grateful for the closer glimpse into each other’s lives.

Despite the struggles, this has overall been a personally productive year. I am now completely proficient in pressing the mute and no video buttons on several software platforms (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GotoMeeting, etc.). The phrase of the year has been “You’re still on mute”. I am much more familiar with my colleagues and clients’ casual looks and have enjoyed seeing them in their home environments. I’ve learned not to take the supply of toilet paper in the office restrooms for granted. And with less laundry and no professional dress requirements, I’m free to apply that extra personal grooming time to work. Sweatpants for me, more time for my projects; it’s a win-win!

2020 has certainly been an unusual year and I dearly miss seeing my clients and spending time with my colleagues in-person. I even long for the days when we’d complain about the last person not refilling the office coffee pot or replacing the water jug. But while it’s taken an adjustment, I can take comfort in the fact that the reason I didn’t win the 2020 March Madness pool was because the tournament was cancelled, and not because of my optimism in Purdue going to the finals!

Have I mentioned that I’m looking forward to the New Year?