Christopherson Column - Pandemic should change the way we work

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    My wife and I are closing in on the three decade mark as a couple. From the first day I met her, she was a sun-worshipping goddess. As our years together have accumulated, I've come to realize that being outside under the sun beaming down from a brilliant blue sky, even if it's in the dead of winter, has a measurable positive impact on her physical and mental well-being.

    At this particular moment, I've never seen her more tan. She's a bronze beauty, for sure. She'd say the same about me. Not the beauty part necessarily, but she'd say she probably hasn't seen me this tan before, either.

    So what did we do? Throw caution to the pandemic wind and spend a week in a far off, exotic locale where we drank out of coconuts and soaked up the rays on a beach? Are we fake-baking in a tanning bed?

    No to both. We're sitting on our patio, working.

    The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a giant monkey wrench into our society and the way we live our lives like no wrench any of us can recall. Things we once did, activities we once enjoyed and took for granted because we were able to take them for granted, it's all different now. Presently, we might once again be doing certain things and partaking in certain activities after months of not being able to, but we're doing them differently, because there's a contagious, new and largely unknown virus lurking about.

    At some point, we’ll embark on the "new" normal everyone keeps talking about, when there are better treatments for COVID-19 or maybe a vaccine, or maybe herd immunity settles in when a certain percentage of the populace has contracted the virus and recovered.

    But how much of that normal will actually be new? Will there be a temptation to revert as much as possible to the old normal? When it comes to how we do our work, let's hope a new way of thinking survives the temptation to return to old, tired routines.

    Among the things this pandemic has forced Americans to learn and modify, chief among them should be how we work. The new normal should feature a working society that is less rigid, less traditional, and more flexible in a way that reflects life in the United States today, not the United States when pro-union warriors fought tooth-and-nail to secure, among many other important workplace measures, a 40-hour work week for the labor force.

    My wife in mid-March was sent home to work. She hasn't worked a single day in her office since. I, too, was sent home around that time, and in the months since have only worked in the Times newsroom on Mondays and Wednesdays, when we produce our print editions. Technology has made this seismic workplace shift for us and countless others possible.

    When we're working from home, our office is often the patio.

    We're not slacking off; on the contrary, we're ultra-productive. Certainly, we are far from alone in our ability to successfully navigate this modified work environment. Americans sent home to work because of COVID-19 have proven that the ancient days of Dolly Parton singing "9 to 5" need to give way to a more free-flowing system of getting work done that doesn't require responsible adults to slog off every day on a depressing commute to a monotone cubicle in a sea of mundane cubicles to work like drone ants for a required number of hours under the watchful eye of management.

    Happy workers accomplish more. And people are happy when they are comfortable and surrounded by things that put smiles on their faces. There's a reason people decorate their work spaces with photos of loved ones or beloved pets or favorite vacation spots. At home, they certainly don't fill walls and shelves with photos of their boss, or the vending machine in the break room, or their favorite filing cabinet.

    Yes, work is called work for a reason. If it was all fun and games, it would be called play. But if you can be a reliable, productive employee while also being able to work from home some and work from the office some and maybe put in 30 hours one week and 50 the next and 35 the week after that, why not embrace this facet of the new normal instead of rushing everyone back to the office so they can covertly watch captioned YouTube videos with their audio muted and babysit their social media pages?

    Let us not blow this opportunity to be a better, happier workforce contributing to, as a result, a better, happier society.