Unexpected Benefit of Working Remotely

By Susan B. Hansell, State Chapter Director at Maryland Children’s Alliance

Like everyone else I know, I’ve been physically isolated from work colleagues since March, when our offices closed and we began working remotely in response to the Covid pandemic.

At first, it was strange for everyone I knew and worked with to be stuck at home. My high heels collect dust like unappreciated objets d’art on an étagère. My navy pinstripe suit hangs lifeless in the closet like a ghost of my past self. My soft flip flops and favorite work-out pants have become my new norm and my comfort.

“Remotely” might be sharing the kitchen or dining room table, maybe the patio or porch on a nice day. But I happily balance that with how short the commute is and that finding a parking space is no problem.

We are all experiencing the downsides and frustrations of this new norm: for some it’s juggling homeschooling while keeping up with work; or the way the internet freezes at a critical moment during a virtual meeting; or working way too many hours because you don’t know how to really leave the office as you used to at 5 PM.

And then there’s the reported lack of human connection. Or so we’ve been told. Yet that has not been my experience. In fact, much to my surprise, I’ve discovered that rather than creating separation, this new remote world has helped me connect more deeply to my colleagues.

As the executive director of a state non-profit organization, I’m one of 50 state directors all working to protect child sexual victims. We belong to a national network designed to help us strategize and learn from each other. But as an introvert, I have found myself overwhelmed at our conferences and meetings, reluctant to reach out in-person to my colleagues and break the ice to get to know them.

But now, in the world of virtual meetings, I have the opportunity to see behind the professional façade we all wear when we meet in person.

Now that we’re all working from home, I have been invited into, or at least gained access to, intimate aspects of their lives: like my colleague’s cat, who feels free to walk across the computer keyboard during a meeting; the children who are happy to ignore us until we get into a web meeting; learning that another colleague is spending lots of time in her garden and that’s where flowers on and around her work space come from. Or to answer a colleague’s question, via chat box, about my mother’s hand-made quilts that can be seen behind me.

I find myself using the chat box like I did way-back-when I passed notes in school to friends; enabling me to ask a new friend what she thinks about what we’re hearing on the call. Or I take a chance and private chat the fellow wearing the Texas Aggies t-shirt to say that my Dad was an Aggie. Or another friend texts me something during a meeting and we share a laugh even while appearing serious in the meeting.

Each communication, each smile, each chat message makes me feel part of something outside of my daily remote singular office experience. And none of those conversations would have happened without the quarantine. In short, these video calls from home have made my co-workers more accessible, more multi-faceted—more human– to me. Somehow over the Internet, especially because I know everyone’s struggling, I’m a little more daring, sometimes cheekier, and more willing to reach out.

I wish that Covid 19 had never plagued our lives but I like what the Covid crisis has revealed about my colleagues, and I’m grateful for the relationships it has helped me build.