Dawn Prunty, Commscope
May 1, 2020
My first opportunity to work from home as a freelance writer occurred years ago. At the time, a local publication had a list of suggestions for anyone new to working at home. The writer provided different scenarios and circumstances at-home workers could face and suggested anticipating your needs (supplies, technology) and establishing boundaries for family and friends. You were to inform family and friends that you were working at home and not to be disturbed unless it was a real emergency. “You are not available to run errands — you are at work.” There was also a sort of BOLO (Be On the Look Out) list that warned about distractions (like house chores, tv, and again non-urgent calls from friends and family).
That article lived on my fridge, and I re-read it often. I spent the time leading up to the big day preparing my home office. After finding the perfect spot in the 400ish square foot apartment I shared with the Residential Ambassador (aka, Bradley, my then five-year-old Shih Tzu), I equipped it with everything I thought I would need: new computer, an all-in-one printer (this is in the years before the internet was the IoT), new office phone, favorite pens and pads, lamp, and office chair. I was ready!
When the big day arrived, I sat down and got to work. I sent out messages to clients, arranged meetings, talked with artists and suppliers — I did stuff! Bradley sat down beside me as I worked. Occasionally, I would notice him step away, followed by the sound of his snacking in the kitchen (really tiny apartment), or the blinds moving as he surveyed his domain (all that the light touches). When the deep sighing commenced during one quick call, I got a toy from Bradley’s basket and played tug with him before going back to my keyboard.
The day was in full swing, I had only one check-in call from a friend, and one more call to a client before I could spend the remaining hours writing. This last call was big — it was with a state agency for their annual report. At my computer, I pulled up the ideas I developed and began the conference call: “Hello, everyone, thank you for taking time to join…(loud doggy sigh followed by a squeak)”.
Eyeing the new phone desperately, I tried to locate the mute button. Before I could mute the call, there was another squeak followed by a nudge on my leg. I made my apologies, muted the phone, and glared down. Toys surrounded me – the basket was empty. Nudge — squeak. Nudge — squeak, squeak, squeak. I had 11 pounds of pissed off Shih Tzu, chomping on his stuffed bunny and hitting me with it over and over on the calf. Each time he pushed the drool-covered bunny against my leg, there was a squeak. And there it was, the dreaded unanticipated distraction. I failed to anticipate that Bradley would see my being at home all day as PLAYTIME! Big sad puppy eyes looked back at me.
Forget BOLOs; I had a full DRIA (Distraction Requiring Immediate Attention)!! With my angry pooch in one hand (still holding onto his bunny and grumbling), surrounded by the toys he had tried unsuccessfully to share with me, I took a deep breath, unmuted the call, and explained the sighs and squeaks. Fortunately, there were several dog lovers in the group. The ideas were well received, and the annual report was a success.
It took a few days to develop a pace that worked for both of us. I learned to carve out Bradley-time during the workday. If I noticed more than one toy near my feet, I took it as an early warning and moved away from the keyboard for a short break. He accepted a new stuffed toy without the squeak. We figured it out.
Today, COVID-19 means many of us are experiencing our own Bradley moments. Kids are barging in on video calls, howling sessions from the neighbor’s dog, and family members interrupting live interviews are daily viral moments. I love my colleagues’ stories about cats that insist on sleeping on their keyboards (while they are using them), and teenagers trying to adjust to not being able to go outside versus parents not being able to get them outside.
All those years ago, I worked to keep my “I’m-at-work-do-not-disturb” boundaries in place – continually trying to anticipate and avoid distractions. Now, I use that energy to remind myself to be on the lookout for those unique moments.
The moments that make our new “normal” feel more familiar and comforting — like the moment when my brilliant partner imitated the Pink Panther (with the actual sound playing) and tippy-toed by my ongoing meeting. Watching news reporters working cameras from their homes and trying to ignore pets grooming in the background. Reading about a US Senator who did not mute her call (with other US Senators) before starting negotiations with her preschooler to “go potty.”
Those family and friend check-in calls that were once a big no-no are now a recommendation, not something to avoid for fear of losing momentum. When colleagues ask about each other during calls, we’ve become active listeners, and I’ve noticed the same in different settings.
The question, “How are you doing?” is no longer a casual line tossed out in greeting and answered with an equally casual “fine and you?” From six feet or more apart, I check on my neighbors, and they ask how we’re holding up. “Do you need anything? How’s work going?” We have check-in calls at work to make sure that everyone can have a few moments of levity. Sharing pet stories, recipes, and stories about getting groceries from the car to the house – we’re working and allowing for some distractions to keep us going.
A new article for people working at home would read very differently today than it did all those years ago. In 2020, the recommendations would include having a support team, working a set number of hours, taking breaks (Bradley was ahead of his time), and checking on your friends and family. I would suggest being on the lookout for the joy of the unexpected. Enjoy those moments that will make you laugh years from now, sometimes it’s hard to recognize those moments when you are in the middle of them. Today, my BOLO list reads: Accept that chaos is bound to happen. Distractions are all around you, develop tactics to keep the peace and peace of mind. Offer help whenever you can and accept help from others.