Winter’s shimmering, icy landscape is more beautiful when I don’t commute to work in it.
For years, I spent my winters waking up in the dark, commuting to work in the cold, and returning home in the dark. Public transit was often iffy, thanks to ice and snow, and the only time I spent outside was limited to waiting with my kids for their school buses before rushing to the train station for my commute.
I despised winter, but that has changed. I can honestly say that every season is my favorite now.
This is one of the small silver linings of the pandemic for me. Switching to remote work at home allowed me to enjoy daylight and more time outside.
The hours of sunlight are short in the winter, but it’s bright and beautiful. During the day, I take calls while walking, and I walk between Zoom meetings. The practice has produced a path in my backyard.
Acquainting myself with winter’s magic reminds me of my childhood, when I spent hours a day outside, and it reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, one of my favorite books from childhood.
Having been told by Miss Stacy that “they must soon write a composition on ‘A Winter’s Walk in the Woods,” Anne and Diana keep their “eyes and ears alert amid all their chatter,” and Anne declares:
Oh, Diana, look, there’s a rabbit. That’s something to remember for our woods composition. I really think the woods are just as lovely in winter as in summer. They’re so white and still, as if they were asleep and dreaming pretty dreams.L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
There’s so much to observe in winter. Just the other day, while reviewing a piece of legislation, I watched a pileated woodpecker making a hole in a “dreaming” tree.
I love what I have been able to see and do because I’m working remotely. I’ve never worked so much in my life, but it feels like less of a grind.
I am very lucky to have a job that transitioned so easily to remote work during the pandemic, and I am lucky to have access to what I need at home to do it successfully: a computer (office provided), reliable internet, and a quiet place to work.
For my workplace, a public interest law firm, remote work has been so productive that it’s almost hard to believe that we required in-person interaction, five days a week in the past.
Nevertheless, like my path in the backyard, old habits don’t easily disappear. As our COVID case numbers drop, there is talk at my organization about bringing people “back to work,” meaning back to the office.
Calling this transition “back to work” makes it sound as if remote work wasn’t really “working,” downplaying just how productive we have been. We have produced numerous briefs, memos, fact sheets/talking points, and presentations, and we have had countless client interactions while working remotely.
Why would we need to be in the office?
Sometimes, when I hear people talk about the need to go “back to work” (in the office), I think it’s all about control. It’s about supervisors and managers who want to make sure you’re glued to your desk from 9-5, every day, even when it isn’t the most effective way to actually get anything done.
However, there are benefits to in-office work. Some of my co-workers need or enjoy more in-person interaction than I do, some of our clients benefit from it, and creativity flows from the conversations we have while gathered by the coffee maker or while eating lunch in the conference room.
As a supervisor, I have found that remote interactions with new attorneys and interns I have never met in person are challenging. I do not know them as well as I would if we worked together in an office, and they are missing out on the chatter that happens in the hallways and other informal spaces.
These conversations not only help us get to know each other, aiding the development of trust, but they also provide context to our work. Many of the informal conversations we have are actually relevant to the work we do.
For example, while making tea, I will often talk with my colleagues about an article I read that is relevant to our work but not part of a project we’re doing. We talk about the courts, our democratic institutions, and the larger social justice movements that intersect with our work. These spontaneous conversations make us better colleagues and better lawyers.
But is it necessary to have these in-person interactions five days a week?
I don’t know if these interactions will happen as often in person at my office in the future. Not only did the way I work change during the pandemic, shifting from in-office to remote, but the people/organizations I work with changed too. Without being tied to geography for meetings, I am involved in more regional and national coalitions than before, and that isn’t going away now that I am heading back to an office setting.
I fear that I will still have 4-6 hours of Zoom meetings a day plus a commute. Winter will go back to being an annoyance, something that gets in the way of working instead of being an enjoyable part of living, and I won’t see or chat with my co-workers because I’m stuck at my desk.
With these experiences and concerns in mind, I am contributing to the development of a new hybrid policy for my workplace. The goal is to require a certain number of days in the office while permitting (encouraging!) a certain number of days of remote work.
My focus is equity and flexibility. I am advocating for us (the employees) to decide what is best for ourselves and our families. While hybrid work will be the norm in the policy, I hope fully remote work will remain an option for those who need it. It’s a completely reasonable accommodation for our workplace.
We shall see if our practice will match the new policy. There’s a risk that the established attorneys will just revert to the old ways, going in five days a week, potentially sending the message that work only counts when it’s done directly under your supervisor’s nose.
*I live, work, and walk on Lenni Lenape land in southeastern Pennsylvania.