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How COVID Made Us More Flexible

Posted By Mark Rosenthal | Mar 29, 2021 9:00 AM
How COVID Made Us More Flexible

My father has an incredible work ethic. He put himself through college and dental school (with some help from my mom) by working several jobs, including as a taxi driver and making pizza at a nearby pizza shop. 

Growing up, I watched my father build his dental practice from the ground up. It took a lot of work to do it. On a typical day, he was out of the house by 6:30am so he could make his 20-minute commute and arrive at work before 7:00am. Most days he arrived home by 6:30pm for a quick dinner, and then the administrative paperwork that was required. He worked late (until 9:00pm) every Wednesday and half-days (from 7:00am-1:00pm) every Saturday.

He wasn’t around all that much. He didn’t coach my youth sports teams or attend my games or school events. When we were on family vacations, he was frequently checking in with the office, sometimes even heading back to the office for emergencies. 

Recently, he retired. Even now, he can’t sit still. He is constantly working on projects around the house, like power washing the furniture (again), repainting the wicker table, and so on. He is learning new hobbies — right now it’s playing pool. Last year it was canasta, which he still plays daily. He is a voracious reader. 

I’m cut from the same cloth. I’ve been working since I was 12 years old. When I work, I put everything I have into it. My typical days have always started around 5:30am or 6:00am. I would go to the gym, and then be at my desk between 7:15am and 7:30am. Then, I’d stay at the office until 6:00pm or 6:30pm, head home for a quick dinner, and get back to work. 

Things changed a little bit when I had kids. Things changed a little bit more when my oldest child was diagnosed with and treated for cancer — but overall, nothing changed that much. I value the importance of time with my kids. I’ve always focused on having a little more balance than my dad did. I’ve coached lacrosse and soccer and baseball and softball. I make it to every one of the theater performances, gymnastics showcases, games, and “back to school” parent nights. But, I still work a ton and don’t always stay present when I’m not working. 

COVID-19 changed everything for me — and I think for many others as well. In the initial months, I was home all the time. It gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my family. We had family dinner together almost every night. My kids and I sat on our patio in the evenings and listened to music and talked. I was able to put in more hours of work, more hours at home, and still get more hours of sleep. 

In September 2020, I started coming back to the office. I missed the separation of work and home, the transition times, and the collaboration that comes with being in the office around my peers. Innovation happens through collaboration and chance encounters. But my return to the office came with some major changes. 

My attitude about office time has completely changed. I don’t believe that all of my work needs to be done in the office. I’ve come to realize the value of community space, collaboration space, and concentration space. I’ve blocked time in my calendar for concentration work that I can do mostly at home and collaboration work that is more productive in the office. 

My new schedule is much more flexible. I’m in the office four days per week. Rather than push myself to get there by 7:30am — maybe sacrificing sleep or a good workout — I’ve turned it all upside down. Today, I am at my desk in my home office by 6:30am each day (which is an hour more of sleep than before). I work for about an hour. I clean out my inbox, set up for the day, and get some of my concentration work done while my brain is fresh. I workout at home after that, before showering and driving into the office. 

My office time now is usually 9:00am-5:00pm. I have a 35-minute commute home (no traffic yet, but it’s starting to build back). When I get home, it’s “devices down” for at least an hour. I help my kids with homework, have family dinner, talk to my wife about her day. I do get back on and work at night, but it doesn’t come at the expense of the family as much. I find time at the margins — usually during nights and early morning on weekends — to get additional work done. Most importantly, I give myself the permission to adapt to a new normal.

As the world starts to return to many pre-COVID norms, like going into an office for work, I expect flexibility to take many different shapes. Some will work specific days in office and at home (or elsewhere). For others, scheduling within days with staggered arrival and departure times will work better. This trend was happening before the pandemic, and I don’t think we’re going back — I know I’m not.