One year ago, time suddenly stopped, and our day-to-day lives ground to a halt. To say that life as we knew it has irrevocably changed due to Covid-19, would be the grand understatement of the past year and the powerful impact it has had on us — both collectively and as individuals. And yet the paradox is that Covid changed everything — and nothing at all.
While a great many people have experienced hardship and loss, and many others have experienced terrifying illness and even the death of someone dear, for the vast majority of us, what we have experienced is nothingness: Isolation, loneliness, the inability to socialize or even safely take care of family members or friends who need us. And on top of that, all while staring at the same four walls. In other words, nowhere to go and no one to see.
The workaday life we once knew seemingly vanished without a trace. In its place a new kind of mundane reality set in. Yet the cycle of eat, work, sleep continued. Only now, in a form that would have seemed alien to us one year ago. At first, the days were a blur of work and worry. Time became abstract. No more commuting. Just waking and working, followed by eating, sleeping and fretting about what would become of us. No future, no past, just now. All that remained was the monotony of one Zoom call after another, and whatever snacks or bathroom breaks could be taken in between.
Yet the irony of all ironies isn’t that this new mundane way of living left us craving what we’d lost, it’s that specifically what it left us craving was everything we once considered mundane — and now cherished as special.
The in between moments… All those hours stuck in traffic and lost in our thoughts. Standing in line at the coffee shop. Walking to the train station or the parking lot. Overheard conversations of people we don’t know... And the random thoughts they triggered. Not to mention all the serendipitously generic interactions with humanity.
In reflecting on this, we asked a handful of our colleagues to share some insights, observations and reflections of their own on how living and working apart from one another has impacted them over the course of the past year. And it’s clear that it has affected different people differently.
“Because I live alone it was challenging – I’m an extrovert.”
“Being with your partner 24/7 is really hard.”
“I was going through postpartum when the world was falling apart — rocking a newborn to sleep and reading the news on my phone.”
Singles have had a different experience than those with partners and small children. Similarly, with extroverts and introverts. Yet there have been areas that most everyone holds in common.
“At first it felt like a snow-day mentality — We had no routine. The days were just blending together.”
The biggest adjustments came early on. The early days were fraught with fear, anxiety and stress, both personal and professional.
“When we had day-to-day routines — showing up to work, talking to people — all that felt like the act of work. Now, you don’t really have that. Other people don’t see it.”
Key to this observation is the insight that perception really does shape our experience of reality. What we can see — or not — has great power in affecting how we view and approach our work and ourselves.
“It was crazy for me because I was on maternity leave – and disconnected from what the agency was going through. By the time I came back, you guys had a groove, but I did not. So, I had to scramble to catch up.”
“I still wonder ‘am I doing enough?’ Time just feels different. There’s no more separation between home life and work life — it’s a weird blend of the two.”
A New Way of Living and Working
Eventually though, everyone did settle into a groove. And armed with new insights about life, rocked it.
“I never believed I could work at home. I valued the distinction between the two. That has been completely blown up.”
“Now a year later, I have my new routines. I can make lunch at home, do yoga. My health has gotten better because I can make time for it.”
For many, this new groove helped to create space for all those things that our old work-life structures and routines did not. It allowed us to see with greater clarity the things that really matter to us.
“It taught me to have more grace. I’m high strung, so it taught me to be a little more patient.”
“When you don’t have distractions like going out and meeting with friends, it’s a good time to work on yourself. It’s been a year of personal work and growth.”
“I have found comfort in time with myself.”
A New Home for Professional Growth
In fact, for some folks, being forced to work from home has allowed them to improve in their roles in ways that they didn’t expect. The combination of fewer distractions and more time alone fueled a new impetus toward professional development and self-improvement.
“It’s made me better at presenting. Because I’m home, everything is quiet, I’m by myself and I can practice. In the office, there’s constant noise and I couldn’t focus the way I can at home.”
“I’m producing more things than I normally would have. Maybe it’s just that we’re not commuting, getting dressed. Our work is just our work. If we need to do more, we just do, then go down for dinner.”
“If it wasn’t for Covid I wouldn’t be the Art Director I am today.”
“It’s made me better at time management. I’ve had to manage my own time responsibly by myself. At first it was hard. When you’re in the office, you overhear things that keep you informed and on top of things. I’m at home, I don’t have anyone to remind me.”
Possibly our biggest collective insight came from remembering, recognizing — and honoring — who we are as a group, and how we click. We’re a highly social organization. Much more so than many others. And recognizing that allowed us to lean into tech solutions that emphasized our ability to connect in a more social, more personal, and more human way.
“We totally changed the way we work, but we still communicate “face-to-face.”
“I’ve gotten a lot more face time with clients than I would have before, through Slack video, GoToMeeting and the like. I hope that when we do go back — rather than just having a call with a client, we do have video calls.”
“The way I talk to and present to clients has completely changed.”
A Whole New Outlook on Life
But after a year of living and working during a pandemic, it’s clear that much more has changed than simply adapting to a new way of working. Our outlooks on life have changed as well.
“It’s helped me learn the value of personal relationships. As a social introvert, I don’t spend time seeking people, just being with people is enough. Social media is not going to do that. We still need relationship interaction with people and just realizing the value of that and how important other people are.”
“Before I was running around so much, that I didn’t take a lot of down time. Now I can be in the present and acknowledge it for what it is.”
“Covid has made me more aware of my boundaries — what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not.”
“I’ve always had a lot of anxiety and fear about the unknown – This has taught me to embrace that there’s only so much you can control.”
“I have so much more appreciation for the small things — popping into little stores, going out for a happy hour cocktail, sitting on the stoop with neighbors. I used to think everything was routine until you went on a big vacation. I don’t think that anymore.”
Universally, everyone seems to agree on one tiny but mighty piece of wisdom they would share with their pre-Covid selves:
“Relish in the little things.”
After a year of life altering experiences, we are as a group, getting there. We have found a new way of living, a new way of working and a new way of relating. And for as isolated as we have become out of necessity, we are certainly not alone. Or to put it another way:
“Let’s all cut ourselves some slack and be nice to ourselves — We’re all getting through it however we can.”