In the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I'm employed, able to pay my mortgage comfortably and able to get outside to breath in fresh air albeit, within certain guidelines.
Here in Australia, the country has endured the worst bushfire season in living memory and now specifically in Melbourne a second wave has plunged the city back into the longest collective lockdown in Australia. We are tired, and a little bit over the situation we find ourselves in, but we are through the worst of it and our numbers are low enough that we can start to imagine a relatively 'COVID normal' Christmas.
Australia's interaction with COVID-19 initially was a little like through a looking glass – we observed what was happening in China from afar, sympathetically but a little removed. We had the luxury of time to prepare and did so in good faith and our first procession into lockdown was met with relative positivity and community – a collective sense of 'we will get through this together'.
Living in a big city is all-encompassing, as Melburnians our city at its best has a lot to offer – multiple Arts/Music events on each night, sports in every code, a vibrant dining culture, amazing coffee and a social calendar fit to burst.
There was a collective sense of anxiety around the first couple of weeks of lockdown 1 – how would we survive? We'd have so much time on our hands? What about all the things we might miss out on?
Then there was a collective sigh of relief when we realised a quiet weekend/staying indoors was the norm – it was rare prior to lockdown to spend a whole weekend at home, but we felt no guilt. What was this new norm and why did it feel so good? *
Netflix binges, baking sourdough bread, those books we never got around to reading and those odd jobs around the house that always seem to take a backseat to a social outing. The simple things we took for granted seemed so much more, a walk through the park, a run in the sun, a bike ride and a patch of grass in amongst the Eucalyptus trees.
Our respite from lockdown till the second wave hit was short, we entered a far more restrictive lockdown 2 with a sense of foreboding – unsatisfied with our break. Economically the effect of lockdown 2 was felt immediately and continues with businesses being unable to carry on till the eventual economic uplift/opening Melbourne up. Whilst the devastation of the pandemic will be felt for years to come, little bright sparks of hope keep us going.
For instance - just last week in my daily team stand-up a colleague in Sydney (which is several months ahead of Melbourne when it comes to easing restrictions) expressed her excitement at returning to her first day back in the office. She wasn't alone in her excitement. The majority of the team are Melburnians, so we peppered her with questions about the details of her return to the office and we couldn’t help but wonder when we might follow suit, surely not this year.
The simplest things bring smiles in a pandemic.
That little bright spark aside, this does raise a wider question about what COVID Normal will look like and how might we be responding to a new way of existing?
I don’t like working from home… there I said it - and before you think, but why?, hear me out.
I really like to have separation of work from home, it's very important to me because I associate home with my personal space, time and most importantly its where I relax and make music. I ride my bicycle to and from work – that in itself gets me mentally ready for work and home and I get a lot out of my interactions with my colleagues, I like the structure of an office. I will return to work as much as I can when I’m able, but that doesn’t mean I want to work entirely from an office.
It would be remiss of me to think I am unique, the forced transition to workface on mass being at home has given birth to some interesting decisions to be made going forward. Are we going to see the death of the traditional office – probably not. Working from home has its convenience and no doubt productivity was up initially, but what about collaboration? We humans by nature are social creatures and generally do get a lot out of our interactions with one another.
But what might an office environment look like? Satellite offices? A move to shared office spaces in regional locations? There are some interesting discussions to have when we think about the reliance on Central Business Districts and the 'head office' – traffic congestion becomes less of an issue for a start.
I have another confession to make.
I don’t want to live in a city my whole life. This has become apparent in a pandemic, and by no means am I alone. With the birth of working from home on mass, a commute no longer becomes something to solve on a daily basis – it becomes a realistic option to leave the city for a lifestyle focussed on the simple things we’ve started taking more notice of in lockdown.*
The collective statement on our lips is 'I could be doing this job from anywhere right now' – why not be staring at the ocean, the mountains when doing so?
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