Friday miscellany: Much driving around

During the early days of the pandemic, I spent very little time in the car. I think I was running on a single tank of gas for a few months in my vehicle (we’d take the minivan for our weekend hikes).

This week on the other hand…wow. Our new nanny is on vacation (a trip she’d planned a long time ago, before she was hired). We have a wonderful back-up option for the toddler, but that involves driving him. The other four kids are in three different camps, one of which is a half-day. Long time readers know that I create a camp spreadsheet every winter to map out the summer and coordinate the logistics of where everyone will go. This week’s schedule — with staggered drop-offs, and a noon pick-up right as a toddler would be heading home for nap — was brilliant with a full-time, driving caregiver. In the absence of that, my husband and I are both doing a morning run and an afternoon run, and I’m doing the mid-day pick-up. Plus there are the activities as usual, including belt-testing at karate this week and a new round of rock climbing lessons. So! A lot of time in the car.

It’s been fine. Everyone has gotten where they’ve needed to go. I listened to some podcasts, including Michelle Singletary’s interview on How to Money. And as for us, we just aim to be efficient. With my driving schedule, I work from 8:45-11:45. I’m usually back working by 12:45, going to 3:45. I might take a 30 minute break in there to “move by 3 p.m.” as a certain Tranquility by Tuesday rule goes. Home 4:15 from whatever camp run and I’ve done. I’ve generally been able to get another 60 minutes of work in somewhere after that, whether it’s at an activity, or in the evening (I’ve been doing the split shift some nights). So that’s 6.5-7 hours of work per day, though there are exceptions (I took the toddler to a pediatrician appointment one day this week). Hopefully next week will be less logistically complex.

This would not have worked quite so well if my husband hadn’t been working from home this week. He is still mostly here, 15 months after Covid. Pre-pandemic, far fewer organizations had experimented with remote work. I was interested to see Claire Cain Miller’s piece in the New York Times this week about serendipitous innovation, which had been a reason organizations gave for not allowing people to work from home. The idea is that proximity, and the random interactions it enables, leads to new ideas. You bump into someone from another department in the ladies room and the two of you generate a billion dollar product idea.

I jest, but that is the basic concept. It’s not crazy. There are certainly tales in the literature of highly productive research facilities where labs and experts cross-pollinated, as it were. But I think it’s also quite possible that 40 hours a week in an office is over-kill for much information work. Would you really be unable to innovate with your colleagues if you were in the office 2-3 days per week? There are also plenty of people who can’t easily work in the traditional way. Innovation requires smart, hard-working people. It seems unlikely that all the smart, hard-working people live within an hour of your headquarters, or have lives that allow them to commute in, and then work in a facility for 8 hours a day with no interruptions. I am hoping that, coming out of all this, that the hybrid model — allowing for a lot of flexibility — will become the norm.

This weekend we will visit my little brother for the first time since the pandemic began. He moved out of New York City once his employer began allowing remote work. It will be fascinating to see how that change will reshape cities, housing markets, etc.

If you worked in an office before the pandemic, what is your work schedule looking like now? Will remote work be a bigger part of the picture?

In other news: If you’re interested in my musings on remote work, I published an ebook called The New Corner Office last summer. I also hosted a podcast of the same name from April to December of 2020. You can check out those episodes here.

I will be starting my new planner this week! Anyone with a July start (academic year) planner will likely also be experiencing this as these planners tend to start with whatever week contains July 1st. Which, this year, is the week starting June 28! We shall see how I do with my Whitney English planner SHU bought me.

Photos: Hydrangeas! They’re everywhere now, along with the tiger lilies.

13 thoughts on “Friday miscellany: Much driving around

  1. Post pandemic my company will be moving from 5days a week in the office to a hybrid model of 3 days office and 2 home. This is a great step for a traditional enviroment (finance department of petrochemical company) although, as a mom of a 2.5 years old, i would have preferred 2 days office/3home or even just 1 day office a week.
    I am now thinking what would be, strategically speaking, the best 2 days to stay at home? I would like to pick up my kid from kindergarten as often as possible (which i will be able to do on home office days) plus maybe Fridays if I go to the office as Fridays it is accepted to leave earlier. Any recommendations/experiences from anyone?

    1. @Alba – I think you are wise not to choose Friday, since, as you noted, you can probably leave earlier then anyway. How long is your commute? If it’s long, maybe work from home Tuesdays and Thursdays so you’re never facing down two long commuting days in a row. If it’s not so bad, my personal choice would be Wednesdays and Thursdays to work from home. When you schedule your meetings, you can concentrate them on Monday and Tuesday, and then view Wed and Thurs as deep work time.

      1. Thanks Laura.
        I really like this advice and since my conmute is acceptable (30 min by underground) i will take Wednesdsys and Thursdays as my days to work from home.

  2. Hey Laura. A question on transitions. How do you maximize jumping back into work. I don’t always agree with everything Cal Newport suggests (mostly I just can’t swing it with me being the primary care giver for two school-age, but young, children), but I do find that I need a minimum time to get into the deep work flow state he preaches.

    As I head into summer with the kids home more than usual due to COVID restrictions (and some potentially huge, exciting, but time-consuming, developments in the works for the business I manage), I know I’m going to have to be productive in shorter chunks of time than I’d like/is ideal.

    With constant interruption and chopped-up working hours, any tips you’d recommend for easing in and out of those working hours? Or how much is just changed expectations about the type of work you can accomplish on these sorts of days? I know I’ll work more in the fringe hours (early morning, late evening), but want to make the time I DO have during the day as effective as possible…

    1. @Elisabeth – I try not to worry too much about transitions. If you are accustomed to getting stuff done in limited amounts of time, you probably don’t need a whole lot of throat-clearing at the beginning. As for deep work time, (if I remember correctly) Cal notes in his recent book that many people only get about an hour of uninterrupted time per day (or less) with their inboxes and meetings. So if you can hit that, you’re getting the same amount as many normal office workers — and probably you can arrange more if you try.

  3. I came back to the office for a full day today for the first time in 15 months…and within about 2 hours, had already had a ‘water cooler’ conversation with my boss that led to him saying, “That’s how I’m going to end the grant renewal!” and scribbling down my comment on a piece of paper AND a great discussion about where to take a project.

    I have reveled in working full-time from home for the past 15 months but whole-heartedly agree that – at least in academic research – the random interactions at work really do lead to some great collaborations and ideas. Zoom does not reproduce this.

    That being said, there is no part of me that wants/needs to come back 5 days a week, and my supervisor luckily agrees. I am now slated for ‘hybrid flex,’ which means that I can come in some days a week and flex which days I choose. I’m going to aim for 1-2 days a week in-office unless we are in the midst of a grant or finalizing a manuscript. I totally agree with an earlier comment of not doing those days back-to-back since my commute is long (shorter in pandemic traffic, though!). I have also decided to try to work at home on Mondays as much as possible, as I find that the extra time I get back from not commuting is valuable for getting our house/family re-set after the weekend. My kids are 5 and 2, so presumably can start doing more to help with this as they get older but for now, I like having Monday at home to get everything back in order.

    Though the pandemic was (is) long/hard/awful for a lot of people for a lot of reasons, I will always be grateful for the perspective that it gave me on how anxious and overwhelmed I was prior to March 2020. Once I got more time back in my day (no commute) and my boss saw that I could be productive working from home, it became clear that I never want to go back to an office 5 days a week. I honestly feel like I have re-claimed some mental health that I didn’t realize was gone.

  4. My company just developed a Flexible Work Policy. Some positions are eligible to work from some to 100% from home, while others will be required to be in the office 100%. We just have to have our flexible work arrangement documented with our boss and HR. I’m hoping for a hybrid situation personally 🙂

  5. I worked very much always in person for over 10 years as an inpatient nurse, but now for the last 5 years have worked full time from home as a non-patient care RN data analyst…so I’ve sort of seen both ends of the gamut over the years. The hospital I work for recently released new guidelines stating that ALL non-patient care roles will basically have “home” as their primary location, with some exceptions as needed. This is a huge change from pre-covid policies! Like I said, my role already was from home anyway pre-covd, but many admin roles, coordinators, etc definitely worked full time in office even though they don’t see patients.

    I am certainly no economist, but I have so many questions about what the world will look like if ‘everyone” works from home full time! Like you mentioned about your brother, I feel like so many people will move out of big cities…which is maybe good on one hand, but I also wonder what will happen to all of those office buildings, all the downtown shops, restaurants, businesses, even other markets like the clothing industry (less business attire being bought), transport services not being used, the housing market, etc. It seems like it would be awfully sad to see our amazing cities in this country all sort of disappear/ crumble or be full of just empty buildings with “for lease” signs in the windows….but I also definitely understand the convenience of people wanting to work remotely! I personally really like it, for sure!

    1. My understanding is that many suburban cafes and shops are busier during normal office hours now – the desire for coffee, a new shirt, a haircut, etc doesn’t go away completely, just some of these desires get fulfilled away from the CBD. Cities have been changing since people started creating them, and seems like they will keep changing. Better in some ways, not in others, presumably.

      1. Yes, I live in a commuter village and several new shops have opened in recent months – a zero waste coop, a sushi restaurant, a cafe, and others have expanded. WFH folks want to have a coffee meeting and a nice lunch as well. And perhaps people have more money to spend in their local economies if they aren’t spending as much on fuel, corporate attire, etc. So it is about an economic restructuring.

  6. My company was completely opposed to WFH pre-covid. Now you are either FT in office, FT at home, or a hybrid. 90% of the company will be hybrid. I’ve been told we need to be in the office days/week. I wish it was 2, but 2 days at home is better than 0 so I will take what I can get. We had an amazing year last year despite everyone WFH so clearly it doesn’t hurt the organization and our ability to grow/gain assets. I’m glad I don’t have to go back to the office until January, though. I’ll be done pumping by then! It’s been great to pump at home. I just pump while working instead of having to go down to the pumping room and losing 1-1.5 hours of my day!

  7. My office is still 100 percent remote and has not given guidelines about what the return will look like. Pre pandemic I was WAH 2 days a week which was great. I think 3 would be ideal since I would some what frequently go in for an important face to face on one of them but depending on my boss they would sometimes let me swap. I am REALLY tired of being 100 percent remote despite it being hugely helpful to have both me and my husband home with less than adequate childcare. We have been talking a lot about how relationships are almost completely lost at this point and I’m really missing a few people I did not work with directly but really enjoyed. I hope we do eventually go back at least a couple days a week but maybe with more flexibility than before.

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