Reporting from the Home Front (II)

Reporting from the Home Front (II)

At the end of March, I published my first report from the home office here in this blog. Back then, everything was still new and unfamiliar regarding the Coronavirus, lockdown and WFH (working from home). In the meanwhile, this year of the pandemic is now nearing its end – a good opportunity to look back over the year and take stock.

Since my initial report, I think I have spent seven or eight days at the company office. One time to fetch a new computer, once for hardware support which for a change could not be done remotely, a few times on the 1st of the month when new colleagues and our apprentice were joining the Marketing team. And last, but not least, on several Friday afternoons to stay out of my cleaning lady’s way.

Working from home has long become an established routine. It certainly has its pros and cons. For instance, I save a good hour’s worth of commuting time (door to door) every day, not to mention the risk of getting infected on the subway, and I am better able to concentrate on a large part of my text work with fewer interruptions. Sharing information and interacting with the team works well, thanks to video conferencing – in the meanwhile, we have reduced the frequency of meetings for the whole team somewhat, with an agenda in confluence providing us with the necessary structure – and we use the phone intensively.

What’s missing, of course, is the atmosphere, the office grapevine, all of the little eye contacts, waves, the social interaction with other colleagues at the company, who may chance to pass by the desk or might be sitting at the neighboring table at lunch, standing at the printer or playing table soccer. The chats and conversations at the summer and Christmas parties. A zoom session with over 400 people can’t really replace those interactions completely.

All in all, the last three-quarters of this year has certainly shown that our company was fortunately well prepared from a technical perspective for working from home and even though we are still forced to work remotely, it continues to function excellently. Naturally, there are all kinds of smaller and larger challenges and constraints (consider childcare, for instance), but on balance it works out very well.

Beyond this, I find it especially great that we consciously view the crisis as an opportunity, and since March we have hired over 100 new “Retarians” and onboarded them virtually to a large extent. For all these new colleagues, the new start at Retarus must have been anything but easy under these special circumstances. Hats off to all those who have nevertheless bravely worked their way into our complex product lines and have come to grips with our official and unofficial structures and hierarchies.

As far as the technology is concerned, I am very pleased that I have a conveniently fast and (mostly) stable internet connection, and that our VPN and all essential workplace systems are dependable and can be scaled without difficulty. A huge note of thanks to our support in this regard, who have given it their all and then some. Which was, of course, sometimes twice as complicated to do remotely.

For my home office desk I have, by now, treated myself to a better monitor (27 inch, 2560 x 1440 px) and a superior webcam, while I am still grateful that the company already had the foresight to purchase really good headsets for the staff when Skype for Business was first introduced for telephony.

What, no Teams? Some might be wondering why that is. And yes, no Teams: due to compliance requirements (Retarus is currently completing a significantly expanded SOC-2 audit through KPMG), we run our own internal systems in our very own data center. Teams is only available from the cloud. For the same reason we’re now in the process of switching over from Slack, which we introduced as a team chat platform for Retarus Marketing in a cloak-and-dagger operation, to an instance of Rocket Chat which we will host ourselves.   

In the medium term, I will probably get myself an electric, height-adjustable desk to replace the Eiermann desk I have been using, and an ergonomic desk chair with a backrest and armrests instead of the Swopper I have been using. And I have resolved to take short breaks more systematically (one takes them regularly at the company too), stand up more often to briefly stretch the legs and walk a couple of steps (another thing I regularly do in the company office) and leave the office for a short while to get some fresh air during the lunch break.

All things considered, I’m really looking forward to a time when the lockdown and pandemic are safely behind us – as I’m sure most of us are. And longing for the days when we can shake hands, hug and be close without any fear. I’m hoping and wishing for culture and concerts to return. For the “new normal” of working a few days a week at the company office and continuing to work a couple of days at home, depending on my mood and the tasks that I have. And I’m already excited to see how the redesign and restructuring of our office space is going to turn out. Renovations were already imminent prior to the pandemic and have now been modified in line with the new circumstances. So, I’m looking forward to the surprise of finding out which design we have ultimately chosen.

Until we can get to that point, however, we’ve all still got a few difficult months ahead of us. Let’s remain upbeat and cautious, empathetic and sensible. And, of course, let’s hopefully all stay healthy!

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