As of early April, over 90% of the U.S. population was under stay-at-home owners. Overnight, the percentage of Americans who were working from home skyrocketed.
Before the pandemic, according to most recent Census data, only 1 in 20 Americans worked from home. I am part of that original 5 percent group. And watching clients, vendors, colleagues – my spouse — and others struggle to work from home, I am feeling incredibly guilty.
I haven’t had to go through the machinations of setting up a home office or expanding my existing one. I haven’t struggled with slow internet speeds, Bluetooth printers not connecting, or having to buy an extra monitor.
As part of the original 5 percent club, I already had all those things – and much more – in place. I just haven’t had to wrestle recently with all of the things that people who have never worked from home have to work their way through.
While I have shared professional office space, I rarely use it, except for conference room meetings and business mail. For the last six years, and the second significant stretch in my career, I have predominantly worked from home.
I feel particularly blessed as we built an addition on our home in 1998 that included a professional office space that houses up to four with a separate entrance. We’ve always had great internet and tech tools. I have been doing online conferences since the early days of WebEx, and currently have both Zoom and GoToMeeting pro accounts.
For many people I know and work with, working from home has been, at a minimum, an adjustment, at a maximum, a real pain. My wife, who is the office manager of a local elementary school, is a great example. She just moved into a brand-new building in the fall with a great new workspace. A few weeks ago, she had to work from home.
Our youngest is living in Boise, just about to graduate with high honors from Boise State with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His bedroom is empty and has a desk. His bedroom became an instant home office for my wife. She had no plans to work in the same office as me. I understand.
Getting her home office setup took some time. There were tech glitches and cultural adjustments. And that’s the biggest thing I am learning, that I had already adjusted to that many people are finding hardest: not being physically “around” people all the time.
For my wife, not being around elementary school students is something she deeply misses. She’s an extrovert who is loved by parents and staff. She misses interactions with those folks even more.
Many of my clients — who I now will jump on a quick Zoom meeting instead of a call — have shared stories about trying to find the work-life balance now that it is all in one place. It’s hard for them. And I feel guilty because those are struggles that I dealt with years ago.
Having to juggle kids at home with online classes, pets wanting attention because their masters are home, and a seemingly exponential increase in the use of electricity and water is tough. With trash cans and recycle bins now running beyond capacity, and toilet paper use spiking with everyone at home, all of this adds stress to one of the most stressful events in our collective history.
We live in the Seattle area, so we have been dealing with a lot of this longer than most. My wife has virtual Happy Hours on Fridays with friends, but regardless, misses the real face-to-face connections that make us who we are.
I miss the conventions. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my first three-day virtual conference – RESO Remote – I also was more exhausted than when I attended a RESO meeting in person. I too long for the return of seeing folks in person at a real conference or convention; have mask, will travel. When it is once again safe, that is.
The bottom line is that working from home for most may be long, but it is still temporary. We are all discovering things we took for granted and skills that will change how we do things in the future.
When we come out the other end of all this, things will change. A new normal will emerge. I would imagine that the 5 percent club could quickly double and grow more rapidly as a result.
The good news is the adjustment of working from home has mostly taken place and will be a very good thing in the future. Hopefully, we will soon be able to reconnect in person.
Many things may change, but discovering you can work from home, be highly functional, and keep your job and career going is something for which we can be thankful.
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