A Single Moment

Mike Whalen

I recently traveled to speak at a conference. It was the first business-travel I’ve done since the pandemic, and I was excited to connect with three-dimensional people. I joined a keynote and listened as two titans of industry discussed the merits and defects of remote work. One stated that with the pandemic all but over, we should return to offices and get back to work. The other added that remote workers are inferior to their in-person counterparts, and would suffer a long-term loss in both experience and opportunities.

Who were these overpaid executives? What made them experts in this field? If they had traveled for this conference, wasn’t their presentation, by extension, remote work? The hypocrisy was too much, and I quietly left as they prattled on about the need for corporate offices.

A few overpriced cocktails later, I reflected on my own experiences. By no means had my transition to remote work been without its challenges. Balancing a newborn, home responsibilities and countless other distractions while sharing an office with my wife required some practice and patience.

Learning to prioritize several demands became a constant challenge. Does your boss with the urgent question get your attention? Or your son, who just discovered the cat’s litter box? Brutal honesty was also important. People don’t need all the details when you’re late, don’t begin your apology with “I’m sorry, but there was a situation with a diaper…” Even through these challenges, there was a single moment when I realized remote work is the work for me. 

In the early days of the pandemic, before the world was awake, my kid and I shared a special routine. We’d wake up, eat breakfast and take a walk. In those few magical hours before my workday began, our routine served as a basis for the father-son bond that everyone deserves. Like so many moments in life the time was too short. But, it’s a moment in life I am lucky to have had. 

The more time I spend working out of my home office is time I don’t spend in rush hour traffic. It means not being constrained by fluorescent lighting, a cubicle or pants with unforgiving fabric. It also means I’ve been able to spend time with my son – time that dads so rarely get.

On the last day of the conference, in a serendipitous moment, I found myself sitting next to one of the titans of industry. I explained that I disagreed with his assessment, and that I believed the new normal is the remote worker. We swapped some stories and shared a few laughs. In the end, we were able to agree that hybrid, remote or in person is a very personal choice, and the employee, the employer and organization need to be in harmony to make it sustainable.

Going Solo is a new advice column by Michael Whalen, MBA, for entrepreneurs or corporate employees working remotely out of their homes.

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