By now, most people have been working from home for a year or more. It seems like a lifetime ago since we left our offices and shifted to a remote environment. Masks are now an everyday part of our wardrobe. Zoom calls have overtaken our calendars. Home internet speed has become one of our top spending priorities.
The phrase “new normal” has taken on a whole new meaning. To explore that, I reached out to people in various roles in the e-discovery industry to see how they are handling these changes—and what we can learn from each other.
Profiles in Working During a Pandemic
Debbie Beeler, manager of litigation operations at T-Mobile, found this to be an easy transition. Her biggest challenge has been finding a room in her house with reduced traffic for video meetings. Her desk is on the main floor of her house, which is an open concept. That means there is lots of activity around her when the kids are home. But, she was used to working in a cube environment already, which was very similar. When she was in the physical office, she would do the same thing: find an available huddle room so she could focus on the meeting.
Susan James, senior practice support analyst at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, loves working remotely. Before the pandemic, she worked 60 percent remote and 40 percent in the office. The hardest thing for her now that she is working 100 percent remote is not being able to talk to colleagues face-to-face. She really enjoys being able to pull up a chair next to someone to go over a new procedure or share a software shortcut.
Alejandra Perez, discovery attorney at McGuireWoods LLP, found that the hardest thing about working from home was balancing kids and work. She worked from home in a previous position, so that part of the transition was easy. Her home office was all set up with everything she needed. However, this time, both of her young kids are at home all day without childcare. The kids struggled having both parents home, but technically unavailable, for much of the workday. In the first few weeks of working from home, she and her husband relied on iPads, new toys, and Disney+ to get through the days, hour by hour. She tried various schedules, such as starting work before the kids were awake, but that meant they started their day with breakfast and screen time and quickly became little zombies. What ended up working best was giving them a couple hours of dedicated attention first thing in the morning and then taking a short break with them in the afternoon. Although not ideal, they are doing the best they can under the circumstances, and it finally seems to be working.
Matthew Stillwell, data analytics at Consilio, echoed Alejandra’s sentiments regarding setting boundaries and finding a balance between work and home. When he was working in the office, it was a little easier to set work aside when he left for the day, whereas working from home can sometimes feel like he’s always at the office. Finding that balance is important, and it starts with setting a routine. For example, he tries to stop working at a certain time to spend time with family, make dinner, and put his kids to bed, even if it means he needs to finish a few things for work afterwards.
The hardest parts for me were the logistics—we don’t have a dedicated office in our house (although now we are adding an extra room to serve as an office; one positive thing about COVID is that it has prompted lots of home updates), so my husband, both my kids, and I were all set up in the dining room together. There were times when all four of us were on different conference calls or Zoom calls at the same time, which was pandemonium. I am already a multitasker, but working from home really put that skill to the test. There were times when I needed to help one of my kids with a math problem while I was on a conference call, and simultaneously someone was sending me an instant message with an issue to resolve.
As soon as we were allowed to come back into the office, I jumped at the chance. I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere, and the much faster internet connection! However, one thing I have learned during this pandemic is that is it good to be flexible and able to pivot at a moment’s notice. I recently joined Relativity, where I will be working 100 percent remotely. Everything at home was set up already, so I was able to just dive right in.
The Pros’ Best Tips for Adapting to the Here and Now
After such a long time at home, everyone has come up with their own tips/tricks to help them get through the day.
Debbie shared this tip: “Know when to shut it down! Admittedly, there are times when things are on fire and it is more difficult to get to a stopping point. For the more typical days, I close my laptop at a time near what I would have done to make the drive home and go for a walk. This acts as a physical and mental signal to myself that my work day is done.”
Susan had this to say: “I wasn’t crazy about it at first, but I have come to love Zoom and having ‘face-to-face’ video meetings. Even if it is something that could easily be handled over Skype, I find that taking the time to start a video conversation provides a much better human-to-human connection. I’ve also enjoyed our team’s bi-weekly happy hours. It has been fun sharing time together, even if it is remotely.”
Matt recommends taking a short walk and getting some fresh air to help break up the day and clear his head. A comfortable chair is also key; he spent the first several months of quarantine sitting on a chair that was well past its prime, and getting a new one made a world of difference.
I also started taking walks around the neighborhood during conference calls—the wireless headphones I ordered the first week I was home were priceless. Exercise, fresh air, and human connection seems to be a recurring theme. I know they have been instrumental in getting me through the pandemic.
Our e-discovery community is very resilient, and everyone has really come together to lift each other up in these unprecedented times. Hopefully we will all get to interact in real life very soon and share stories of how far we’ve come!