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Reimagining how we work

While more and more companies are now reversing their remote work policies — studies show working remotely even once a month increases happiness and productivity. We want to share our own personal stories of how remote work has helped us stress less and enjoy more.

What is something you enjoyed about working from home (WFH) over the last year?

A lazy squirrel hanging out on a tree branch

Birds and squirrels. As my city was in lockdown and the hustle and bustle of urban life came to a screeching halt, I became more mindful of the hustle and bustle of nature happening right outside my home office that happens to look out right into my garden. I began to hear squirrels scampering across my roof, leaping like trapeze artists from tree to tree. They stand on their hind legs on my deck, staring me down as I work. It is on the quietest of days while working away, I hear the most brilliant and beautiful song coming from my Chinese magnolia tree. After doing a bit of research, I identify this sweet birdsong as belonging to the Bewick’s Wren, a tiny bird with a tremendous vocal range. It turns out that the male bird can sing up to 16 different songs and during spring, they spend half their time singing.
Working from home has given me the opportunity to appreciate the rhythms of life happening around me and I think it has made me a better steward of our natural space in this world. Mr. Bewick’s Wren, please sing me another song.

— Kimberly Mattingly

I think the flexibility to address things as they come was something I enjoyed the most about WFH. Although Boldium has always been very flexible about letting us work on our own schedule and address issues as they come, WFH took that a notch over.

— Nirmal Sherchan

What we liked very much were the daily check-ins where we could all see each other together, check in on the status of work, and then devote a moment to other topics, e.g. describing the journey of your dreams, sharing new discoveries, etc. We also had happy hours, meeting virtually over a glass of good wine, discussing the changes that had taken place in our lives during the lockdown period. We talked about our plans, sometimes also about our fears. And about many of the changes that were actually for the better. Like ordinary conversations, they gave us a great sense of normality and community. All these things meant that despite the distance and isolation, we actually got even closer during this period.

— Gosia Studzinska

In what way has WFH improved your productivity?

Being in a creative field, sometimes you run up against a challenge that has you staring blankly at the screen. For me, it’s nice to have the flexibility to step away and then come right back when inspiration strikes. At the office, especially with a decent commute, there’s pressure to figure something out before it’s time to leave. Do I stay longer or accept that it’s tomorrow’s battle? Sure, I can pick it back up when I’m home, but it’s a lot harder to restart the engine once I’ve settled in. I feel more creative freedom and less pressure when I know my “office” is always seconds away. And it doesn’t hurt that I have a puppy and a baby keeping me company!

— Matt Orminski

In what ways has WFH decreased your stress?

This year taught me that I’m a whole person — just because the clock strikes 9am, my personal and family life don’t stop. My dog still gets sick, family emergencies emerge, and doctor’s appointments happen. Knowing I’m not missing anything “at the office” means that I can more effectively achieve work life balance, because my life can happen outside of nights and weekends. This does mean that work happens outside of 9 to 5, that’s a tradeoff that I didn’t know I was okay with before the pandemic, but it feels great.

— Eric Mikkelsen

Working from home was a bit of a routine reset. In the before times, when we were still in the office, I had some routines and habits for maintaining my focus. Little things — caffeine in the morning, or stepping outside and working from the back patio if I needed to focus (working outdoors is shown to increase happiness and working memory, and reduce stress). Making the shift to working from home, I had to re-evaluate and adjust some of those things — in small, but meaningful ways.

For instance: if I needed a pick-me-up before, I might make a cup of tea, or walk to the store to grab a pre-bottled one. Working from home, if I need a pick-me-up, I’ve started making a gourd of yerba mate the traditional way — a somewhat elaborate process involving wooden cups, filtered straws, and loose leaf yerba mate tea. At the office, it’d be a bit too much to juggle. At home, it’s a soothing, multisensory ritual that helps me to reset my mind and move on to the next thing.

If I need to get away from sounds and distractions, I go to my “home office” — which is just a converted corner of a spare room — but it has a window that opens up to my back yard and lets in some natural light. That thing I said earlier, about working outdoors and how it can decrease stress and improve memory? It also applies to having good natural light, or even just looking out a window at nature.

If I really need a good head-clearing, I’ll just — wait for it — go outside. I could crawl through the window if I wanted to, but I use the door like a normal person. It’s still a shorter walk than it would be at the office (no stairs). I’ve even planted some plants with stress-relieving and invigorating scents (sage, lavender, lemon verbena, etc) right outside the back door, so I always have a quick route to some home-brew aromatherapy, in a pinch. There are birds here, instead of the sound of traffic that sometimes pervades Berkeley.

Maybe most importantly, I don’t need to miss or worry about my dog while I’m away. If I’m stressed, I can always go give him a hug. Interacting with pets is shown to reduce stress and improve mood, too, by the way. We have an office-dog, Chai — whom I miss dearly (and will surely see again) — but there’s something special about being around your own pet without having to make sure they behave around the office. Sure, he’s barged into a few meetings to lay at my feet or demand something of me, but who doesn’t forgive a dog? And if you need to change the subject, they’re a great distraction (Whosagoodboy? Who’s got squishy cheeks? You do!)

The gist of it all is, home is where the heart is. For many, it’s where we have the most control over our surroundings, the environment around us. When we’re comfortable in our surroundings, we’re more at ease. When we’re more at ease, it’s easier to find focus, concentration, and flow. I find it easier to set myself up to focus deeply when I am working from home, but I do miss some things about the office, and about in-person interaction.

There’s something to be said for the unexpected, for being a little outside of your comfort zone. Watercooler talk, if you will. The little things that aren’t captured in a rectangle on zoom — the chitter-chatter, the unexpected collisions, the subtleties of body language and the presence of being. Daily lunches with the team. They’re not just niceties, they’re ways of exchanging information. The internet, even at gigabit speeds, is still a limited-bandwidth medium, when compared to the depth and breadth of social interaction in physical space. You probably won’t set up a zoom meeting to talk about something you saw in the news yesterday, but it can spark a conversation. In digital space, it’s sometimes the things we don’t make time for — the small micro-interactions and conversational metadata — that we end up missing the most.

It’s not an either/or scenario — working from home is great for a lot of reasons (deep focus, easier to achieve a state of flow, often less distraction), but so is working together in person. A hybrid model — working from the office some days, working from home the others — could provide the best of both worlds. We’ll have to learn new things, and recalibrate some old ones, but we’ve been doing that in spades for the last year and a half, and even still before that. We can do it again, and invent something new.

— William Lark