I left work on March 13, 2020, with a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. My laptop, keyboard and cables were in my backpack. Several project files, my favorite pens, my spiral-bound notebook for meeting notes, and an assortment of other things filled a white cardboard box I’d snagged from our department’s work room.
We had been told to begin working from home “until further notice” because of COVID-19 (which at that time we still referred to as “the novel coronavirus”). We had no idea how long “until further notice” might mean, but I’d be willing to bet none of us imagined it would stretch beyond a few months.
But now it’s a year later (or tomorrow will be) and I’ve only been back to our building once, to pick up a few more things in mid-July. It’s been a year of fear and faith, of happiness and sorrow, of adjustments and learning.
Here are five of the many things I’ve learned (or relearned) since working from home during COVID-19.
- The little things really do matter. Two years ago, I never would have imagined being happy to walk into a store and see an aisle with fully-stocked shelves of paper towels, toilet paper, and Clorox wipes. But I’m pretty sure I sent a picture to our kids when I saw it for the first time in months after all this started (give thanks for all things … Ephesians 5:20).
- Time together is great, but time alone is still important. Our kids both came home from college at Thanksgiving and finished the semester online. They were home for about eight weeks before returning to their campuses for spring semester. I will always cherish those weeks with them because our days together at home are dwindling. But I’m also wired to need time alone to regroup and recharge, which can be hard to find when you’re all under the same roof 24/7 with very different schedules. Early in the morning, Jesus went to a solitary place to pray … (Mark 1:35). I have a fuller appreciation for that now and found that getting up earlier for my quiet time really does make a difference in my day.
- Boundaries between work and home are a must. I worked from home for 17 years while our kids were growing up, so being home all the time wasn’t as difficult for me to adjust to as it was for some people. My current job can have some long days and unpredictable hours. It can be hard to turn the workday off and for a few months it seemed like some of us rarely did, just because of the nature of our jobs. But we have to step away from the deadlines and demands. We have to rejuvenate ourselves – physically, mentally, spiritually – so we’re better at our jobs and better for our families. Even God took time to rest (Genesis 2:2), so why should I feel guilty about doing the same?
- A great team is a great team, whether you’re in the office together or only meeting over Zoom. In some ways, I think we collaborate and rely on each other more now than when we were face-to-face. I miss the spontaneous interactions and breakroom conversations but you feel like you know someone better when you see their home environment, whether it’s the cat waltzing across the table behind them, the cool artwork in the background, or the suit-wearing VP who now seems to live in wrinkled t-shirts.
- Life goes on – so enjoy what you can. Within our department we’ve had illness and death and grieving, and I would never undermine the importance of those things. But we’ve also had many causes for celebration: a pregnancy and birth, new homes purchased and settled into, graduations, an engagement for one co-worker and a wedding for another, and more. I think those things have been made sweeter against the backdrop of COVID-19.
Through it all, God is God and nothing about all of this has surprised Him. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve been reminded of again and again.
Life will never go back to the same “normal” we knew in 2019. In many ways that makes me sad, but there are lessons and experiences I hope to keep with me – many more than the five I’ve shared here.
What about you? What kinds of things have you learned during COVID-19 that have impacted you positively? I’m not asking because I’m trying to downplay any sadness or grief, but because holding to something positive – even if it’s the smallest of things – can help get us through those tough times. Maybe your positive lesson can help someone else.