Dispatches from a Distance: The New Normal is Not Normal

by Emily Higgs

This post is part of Dispatches from a Distance, a series of short posts o provide a forum for those of us facing disruption in our professional lives, whether that’s working from home or something else, to stay engaged with the community. Now that so many of us are returning to full- or part-time on-site work, we’d like to extend this series to include reflections on reopening, returning to work, and other anxieties facing the profession due to COVID-19. There is no specific topic or theme for submissions–rather, this is a space to share your thoughts on current projects or ideas you’d like to share with other readers of the Electronic Records Section blog. Dispatches should be between 200-500 words and can be submitted here.

I feel extremely lucky to work at an institution that takes the pandemic seriously enough to have me stay home. It is much, much better than the alternatives. Still, I wouldn’t say I “work from home.” I have friends who work from home in non-pandemic times. They have the proper hardware, infrastructures, support networks, and communication channels to be able to do their work effectively from their personal dwelling.

As for me, I’m just doing the best with what I have. Back when the weather was warming up for the summer months, for example, I quickly realized that I was not equipped to appropriately control the climate of my “office” with my single window-unit A/C; why would it? I am usually at work for the hottest part of the day. Since then, I have moved apartments, which has done wonders for my productivity (I finally have room for a desk AND a chair). But still, this is an apartment set up for interim pandemic work and not a “real” home office. My internet connection frequently drops. My VPN kicks me off the network every 10 hours, often in the middle of a process I’m running. I have to log back in to systems every hour or so and 2FA-authenticate every time, which means I have to go run and find wherever I left my phone the last time I went downstairs. I’m constantly competing with my partner, who spends 9+ hours teaching on Zoom every day, for precious bandwidth.

We’re running “work from home” scenarios on infrastructures that were never designed to be persistent or long-term. Our IT systems aren’t set up for this, among other structures that typically support our work on-site. If this really is “the new normal,” we’re going to have to do some serious retooling with that in mind.

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