When I worked as an industry scientist, there were times when I wished I could work from home. If a blizzard hit or a power outage made lab work impossible—or, say, when my children were born and my workplace didn’t offer paternity leave—I would have loved to skip my 40-minute commute and accomplish science on my own schedule within my own walls.
I had visions of waking up without an alarm clock, throwing on flannel pants, making French press coffee, and plowing through piles of work—distraction free—next to a window at my dining room table. I’d cook lunch on my own stove instead of microwaving frozen tamales, call in to meetings from a chaise lounge in the back yard instead of languishing in a conference room, and knock off around 4 p.m., basking in the satisfaction of a productive day.
I should have been careful what I wished for.
As I write this, I’m balancing my laptop on a pile of unopened mail, declining increasingly intense hourly requests from my 8-year-old to play Catan, and trying but failing to keep the cats from walking on my keyboard. Yesterday morning, I helped my son participate in a Zoom meeting with 22 kindergartners. It worked exactly as well as you’d think.
As you may have already discovered, science doesn’t always easily make the transition to a home environment. If you’re a scientist who suddenly finds yourself moved from the workplace to the homestead for a while, an occasion you’ve marked by finally removing the Post-it flag from your webcam, here are some things to keep in mind when working from home:
- When working from home, it can be hard to escape a work mindset. So remember to take a break! You’ve earned it! Now get back to work. Now take another break! You’ve earned it! Now take a break from your break! Now take a break from that break! Now watch Season one ofon Netflix! OMG Jessica’s dog is drinking wine! Now it’s tomorrow!
For me and many others, teleworking used to be a largely voluntary activity, more of an occasional deviation than a stress-inducing mandate. I’ve never actually luxuriated in a chaise lounge (nor have I owned one), but in the past, my occasional work-at-home days still felt quiet and industrious. Now I’m cowering in a corner with my laptop, contemplating what else might eventually work as toilet paper, while my children are raised by streaming clips of Mo Willems.
And yet, for all that some of us complain about this admittedly significant roadblock in our scientific productivity, I’m constantly reminded that things could be worse. Not all scientists have the luxury of even attempting to telework, and many are carrying on with lab work that’s essential, such as COVID-19 clinical trials. That research is made all the more difficult because of shortages, supply chain disruptions, and risks to the researchers’ personal health and safety. And many people, of course, have lost their jobs outright.
To all of those scientists and doctors still performing important research without adequate resources, and especially to those risking their safety to help all of us, thank you. You’re the ones putting out the real grease fires.
Someday things will return to normal. On that day, we will happily commute to work, resume complaining about who left their dishes in the lab sink, and maybe indulge in the occasional high-five.
Until then, we need to do whatever we can to keep ourselves and our communities safe and healthy. Or, to quote Jerry Springer: “Take care of yourselves, and each other.”