Yesterday marked two weeks of fully remote work; my first day at home was Thursday, March 12th. This post reflects on my experience.

I am, first of all, thankful that I am able to hole up and stay home during this pandemic. My sense of normalcy will be very different from that of a healthcare worker or even a grocery store employee, who likely have none. I am grateful for this. I do understand how privileged I am to even be able to write this, in the evening after being done with work.

How I feel

Day to day, I’m in this weird twilight zone where life is happening in the absence of all the things that make it normal. Spring will hit Chicago soon, but some of the best parts of being outside are closed. All the restaurants I wanted to try are closed indefinitely. The people I wanted to see are self-isolating (thankfully, but still).

It feels like (what I imagine to be) some kind of war, where those of us who are lucky enough to stay in our homes do so, avoiding whatever it is that awaits us outside.

It feels like there’s so little to look forward to: because of how bleak the outlook is, how incompetent US leadership is, how halfhearted our containment strategies are, and far more. Staying positive in the face of news that gets worse every day is challenging.

It feels like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. A lifetime of remote work couldn’t have prepared me for remote work during a global pandemic. Years of (jokingly) self-isolating don’t help when you’re staring down potential months of it.

Working remotely

Nielsen has always been remote-friendly. I’ve worked from home every Friday for months, and sporadically whenever I wanted prior to that. We have hundreds of employees who work from home over 90% of the time. I haven’t had a team member in my office for over a year. In many ways, the mechanics of my day-to-day are the same as they’ve always been.

And yet it couldn’t feel more different. Staying at my desk all day is mentally and physically draining. The lack of unstructured social interaction means that there’s less to break up the monotony of work. Unplugging my work computer and plugging in my Chromebook doesn’t have quite the same effect as leaving my computer at the office.

That’s not all, though: it feels like work should be the last thing on our minds, because who cares about TV ratings when millions of people are going to be infected by this virus? How does advertising money matter at all when, well, coronavirus? I’ve already heard the line of Nielsen being more relevant because more people are self-isolating and consuming media. They’re not wrong—but also when the news is 24/7 coronavirus, who actually gives a damn about anything we do?

In some ways, it feels irresponsible to care about anything media measurement-related when there are far bigger problems facing all of us right now. It’s impossible to not be affected by coronavirus; the stark departure from normalcy for the entire world is something I’m going to think about for a long time.

Practical changes

And yet life goes on. Again, I’m lucky to be able to say that; for many, it will not.

What have I done to help myself adjust to this remote life?

  • I have a company mug that I’ve started using during work hours only. As a side effect, I’m drinking a lot more tea that I’ve kept at home for a while!
  • I’ve put my own spin on the advice to wear work clothes: I have a pair of “work sweatpants,” which I only wear during work hours. At the end of the day, I change into … a different pair of sweatpants.
  • My team has scheduled 30 minute daily calls—we usually do 15 minutes of updates and work discussion, and 15 minutes of casual chatting.
  • Many of my coworkers have started having more impromptu video calls to catch up.
  • I’m still showering and doing my hair in the mornings like usual.
  • I put my laptop into my backpack at the end of the day.

I think the most significant changes, however, came from investing in my remote setup. I now have two monitors (one purchased, one that I walked home from my office), a docking station, and a wireless mouse and keyboard. The docking station works flawlessly with my USB-C Chromebook (for personal use) and Macbook Pro (for work), where it’s one cable that gives me both displays, power, and peripherals. For my older personal laptop, I have to plug the monitor and USB peripherals into the laptop directly, but I’m hoping to replace that when the rumored 14in Macbook Pro comes out.

Spending time

The distribution of how I’m spending my time is also dramatically different. I’m finding it difficult to focus on work for a full 8ish-hour day; today I worked from 10 to 4 because I stopped having any sort of creative output. I think I’m okay with this, though, as I’m sensing it’ll be easy to burn out while at home indefinitely.

After work, there’s … nothing to do. I wish I could see my friends, or got to margarita Mondays with my girlfriend, but of course I can’t. I’m calling and texting friends more, but of course it’s not the same.

I’m playing Pokemon GO less, for the obvious reason of not going outside as much. This is also partially because Niantic appears to have made the March event slate abnormally frustrating in an attempt to see how far they can push their playerbase, and I’m one of the players who feels squeezed out. (I’m quite happy that their experiment has been ruined.) I’ve noticed my phone screen time go down dramatically to between 1 and 2 hours daily now.

This does give me more time, though, and I’m doing my best to fill this in productive ways. More concretely, this means reading: I’m trying to do one or two papers a week, to finally finish Network Propaganda, and to get through some stuff on my reading list. I can also do more volunteer work for Tech for Campaigns.

My Switch is getting a lot of attention, too; it’s not all productive (nor should it be). Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, the most treasured video game from my childhood, was remade a couple weeks ago, and it’s largely responsible for my lack of activity here at the start of March. Animal Crossing came out a week ago, so I’m working on paying off debt to a strange, but adorable, raccoon.

Closing thoughts

On one hand, things are fine. I’m lucky to be able to hole up and write this. I’m lucky to be an introvert who is fine without seeing people for a couple of days (not to say that introverts are fine right now, but talking to my very sociable girlfriend shows me that it could be worse). I’m lucky to not have to care for kids or other family members. I’m already noticing a lot more time for reading.

On the other, nothing is fine: we’re in an unprecedented global pandemic and our constant, predictable leadership failures are only making it worse. Millions of people are going to die, and millions more will get sick, lose family members, be out of work, or have their lives turned upside down by this virus.

I try to end posts optimistically, but I don’t think I can here. Lean on your social support, thank our selfless healthcare workers, and hope for the best.