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Pandemic produced challenges and perks for those working from home

In workplaces across the country — and in The Day’s newsroom — time seems to have frozen in place in March 2020. Calendars remain flipped to last winter and planners sit open on desks with pages left blank by employees who left to work from home and never returned. 

This time last year, the coronavirus pandemic struck Connecticut and workers in hundreds of different industries powered off their computers, hung up their aprons and closed the doors to their offices, thinking they’d be back in two weeks.

A year later, many still are working from home. 

At The Day, we grappled with the question of how to do our work remotely. In a job that requires you to approach strangers, knock on unfamiliar doors and embed yourself in the community you cover, reporting from our own living rooms seemed impossible at first. But just like the millions of people sentenced to working remotely across the globe, we adapted and learned how to cope with our “new normal.”

For some, it’s a tolerable change, even comfortable. For others, the return to the newsroom can’t come quickly enough. 

Arts and music reporter Rick Koster said that he’s found it harder and harder to stay in a routine. While working from home, he’s less disciplined in his daily tasks, like making the bed and working on independent writing projects. 

Fear of contracting the virus has kept him from some things, like haircuts. His hair, he said, “has become unspeakable” without trips to the barber.

Other things just seem harder. “Everything that’s a chore seems magnified — and we think the reason is that there’s nothing fun to do or anywhere to go to counterbalance the ritual duties,” he said.

But on the positive side, the rare fun outings seem even more fun, and overall, he enjoys working from home. 

“Even the simple pleasure of going to breakfast or to browse in a bookstore become huge taken-for-granted pleasures now that they’ve mostly been deprived,” he said. And he and his wife, who have gotten to spend more time together this year, have had more time to discover things they enjoy at home, like listening to their large CD collection, reading and obsessing over shows on the Food Network. 

John Ruddy, copy desk chief, said that working from home has been “a mixed blessing” — his productivity levels have soared with fewer distractions at home, but his “work and nonwork lives are now hopelessly blurred.” 

Editor Jacinta Meyers keeps tabs on her non-work-related needs by setting timers throughout the day. When they go off, ask yourself what you might need, like water, a meal or a minute to clear your mind. 

“Also, be kind to yourself; these are crazy times,” she said. “If you just want to stay in your pajamas now and then, do it and don’t be hard on yourself for it.” 

Scott Ritter, production manager, said he misses the inspiration and company his colleagues provided, but has found that working from home works for him. Being able to listen to his indie rock playlists on Spotify and being steps away from unlimited coffee in his home office have boosted his creativity, he said. 

“I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I feel less constrained when I’m not in the office and way more likely to take design risks and try new things,” he said. 

Assistant Sports Editor Mike DiMauro said that while working from home, he’s learned to multitask. “Work on a column, pot of sauce on the stove, laundry in the machine. Who knew?” he said.

Time saved not traveling

We also asked members of our community who are working from home how they feel a year into it, what challenges they’ve faced and what they’ve learned to like about working from their homes. 

For Nancy Butler of Waterford, working from home has allowed her to cut down on travel time, but still reach clients in all corners of the world. 

Prior to the pandemic, Butler, a speaker and author, traveled every month to engagements around the globe, spending hours in airports and on planes. “Now I speak around the world virtually without ever leaving home,” she said. “What used to take 2-3 days, now takes about 90 minutes.” 

Robin Kelleher, president and CEO of the nonprofit veterans' service organization Hope for The Warriors, also spent a lot of her pre-pandemic work hours on airplanes, traveling to states all across the country. Now she spends her days in her home in Mystic, gazing out at a breathtaking view of Enders Island and Long Island Sound. 

“I couldn’t be happier working from home,” she said Tuesday. Without all the travel, she’s said she’s at a “more peaceful place” in her life. 

“The travel was becoming too much and now I get to look out at the beautiful landscape that we have here and really focus on my kids and what really matters,” she said. 

She's also learned to adapt as a leader. As she oversees a staff of more than 60 spread out across the country, the Zoom meetings can sometimes feel endless for Kelleher and her staff, but they have taken steps to make sure employees aren’t feeling too much screen fatigue. They’ve scheduled shorter meetings, 40 minutes instead of an hour, and they spend the first five minutes of every meeting checking in on everyone. They’ve implemented mandatory walking meetings — employees are required to go for a walk during the meeting or walk around their house if the weather is bad, to get them up and moving. 

Ledyard native Donna Blackman, who moved to Windsor during the pandemic, said that the hardest thing to get used to about working from home was the quiet. But she quickly filled the void by adopting a new pet: a blind and deaf Shih Tzu named Milo. Now the best part of working from home is that "every day is bring your dog to work day." 

She's also learned to embrace that every day is pajama day. 

"I don’t get dressed. Every day is casual Friday," said Blackman, who works in finance. 

Investing in myself

For me, working from home started has a challenge, but has become quite comfortable. I, too, work in my pajamas most days.

As I'm a breaking news reporter, staying home instead of rushing to the scene of the biggest news story each day was jolting at first. I felt stuck and unproductive for months. But as the pandemic wore on, I found opportunities to report on issues I may not have normally covered — like health care, especially the COVID-19 virus itself. 

The time I have spent with friends and family, whether virtually or at a safe distance, has felt more genuine. I've hiked mountains with friends from college, had game nights over Zoom on Friday nights, done DIY projects with my mom and spent hours catching up with friends from the places I used to live, like Washington, D.C., and Chicago. 

I also learned to — well, was forced to — invest more time in myself. Living alone while working from home can be isolating at times, but it gave me an opportunity to learn what I like to do for myself, like tearing through novels that sat unopened on my bookshelves for years, practicing yoga in my living room and trying to complete jigsaw puzzles before my cat, Ginny, steals the pieces. 

t.hartz@theday.com

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