Reflections on Our Two-Week Year-Long WFH
My phone does that thing where it reminds you of photos you took during the same week in previous years. It’s usually a happy reminder of a moment in the past that I thought was important enough to document (though to be honest, it’s usually pictures of my cats).
A crucial moment that demanded to be documented for posterity last year
Last week, one of those notifications from last year popped up. We’d been in North Georgia for the weekend. There we were on the screen: smiling in a windowless basement dive bar sitting right next to several strangers. Not a mask in sight.
Seeing this, I felt, as we have all felt so many times this year, a pang of grief for our past lives. For the ease with which we moved around in the world, making breezy decisions about where to go and what to do, without a constant underlying sense of dread.
By that weekend, we knew things were about to change, but we were extremely naive. I remember drinks were being served in plastic cups. We talked to strangers about what they thought was about to happen. We washed our hands a lot. We joked about toilet paper.
By March 12th, we’d made the decision to enforce a mandatory WFH policy effective on March 16th.
So here we are, one year into our “two week” quarantine, with over 2.5 million deaths recorded and our entire world changed.
The Longest Shortest Year
Truthfully, there are some things I don’t miss about the pre-covid business world: Atlanta traffic, waking up at 5:45 to try to go to the gym before work, having to give myself an extra 20 mins to figure out how to park and get into a client’s office, wearing heels, trying to catch someone’s eye because they are in your conference room that you booked and you have a call and why aren’t they acknowledging you, and, of course, handshakes (did we really used to go around and shake everyone’s hand before and after meetings?).
However, those are all outweighed by what I miss. I miss those moments throughout the day where we’d gather to watch something silly like a dog doing tricks. I miss grabbing coffee with someone between meetings. I miss being able to tell my husband some crazy thing I saw that day. I miss going to lunch. I miss spontaneous brainstorming sessions. I miss fun business trips and new-to-me sights. I miss the inside jokes and camaraderie that come from being physically near a group of the same people for much of the week. I miss being fully immersed in a conversation without also staring at my own face.
Most of all, I miss the people.
As I reflect on the past year, people are what gave us purpose. In March and April, when everything felt wildly out of our own control, we made a promise to the team that we would do everything in our power to get through the crisis with as minimal of an impact on them as possible.
It wasn’t easy. There were stressful periods and tough decisions. But I am extremely proud that we can look back at 2020 and say that we continued our 17-year streak of year-to-year growth without ever laying off a single employee.
We didn’t do it alone. The Nebo team not only adapted to our new environment, but went above and beyond for their teams and our clients. I am consistently in awe of everything they do, and so thankful for their hard work. While dealing with their own stresses and well-being, they made sure that we not only maintained the quality of our work, but continuously elevated it and drove some incredible results.
I also realize we’re incredibly fortunate that our business can function remotely and we have clients in many industries that weren’t as impacted by the pandemic. My heart breaks for the businesses that did everything right and didn’t make it, and for people who lost their jobs or their security. It breaks even more for those who are sick or have lost a loved one.
2020 brought further heartbreak as it shined a bright light on the sheer scale of the racial injustice and inequality that plagues our country. These stories were painful and necessary to hear. The shame of identifying as an unbiased, inclusive person and realizing, like me, that you were blind to certain issues because you didn’t actively put in the work to educate yourself is deserved.
We have to do better. As a nation, there is much work to do. As a business, we need to recognize our shortcomings and execute a plan to help eradicate the racism that is embedded in our industry.
If 2020 had any positive outcome, it’s that we’ve learned a lot and we’ll be better for it. We educated ourselves. We recognized our weaknesses. We learned how to operate without any form of playbook. We learned to be kinder to people. We learned that Zoom happy hours are actually the worst. Mostly, we learned how strong we can be.
I’ve never found the phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn” to be very comforting. I suppose it’s technically true, but, like, when is the dawn? Are we at midnight or 4am? How much darker is it going to get before the dawn?
I think the best thing we can do for ourselves is to just acknowledge when it’s dark for us at all. We should try to keep perspective and know that it may be a lot darker for many other people, but accept that it’s okay to feel the confusion and anxiety that can come from our own form of darkness.
We should aim to bring some light to others whenever and however we’re able to.
As we get closer to what we used to consider routine life, my hope for society, and myself, is that we won’t forget what this year taught us. We’ll understand the impermanence of our lives and we won’t take tomorrow for granted. We’ll fight for everyone to be treated as they deserve to be treated. We’ll protect each other.
Above all, I hope we’ll recognize just how important our relationships and the people in our life are, and we’ll appreciate them that much more.