A 4 year Covid retrospective

It was March, a Friday the 13th in 2020 to be exact, an auspicious day to start a 4 year lockdown.

That was the day the country shut down and we took shelter to curb the spread of Covid. At the time, I wasn’t even aware of what Covid was. I’m not known for keeping up on current events.

It was like an orderly evacuation. I left everything at work, including this Mac Pro, figuring I’d be back in a week. Oh the naivety.

While everything has reopened, I’m still taking shelter, just to be safe. And quite frankly, I prefer it this way.

After 4 years, I’m entrenched in the remote working lifestyle. I work from home 100% of the time. It took a hot minute to adjust, but I have the pieces to be my most productive self while steering clear of contagion.

Those first couple of months were a little unsettling. Obviously there was pandemic uncertainty. Matters got worse with government incompetence, especially at the presidential level. It was a slew of contradictory information that added more panic. Was Covid really bad? Was it a false alarm? Was this a solid decision or a knee jerk reaction? In my mind, it was an epic fail of a response.

But, I got my machines set up, attended meetings over Slack, worked with my teammates over Slack, and connected to the websites in the same way I did in the office.

The worst meeting gaffs were people forgetting to mute while cooking something in the microwave. It has a distinctive beep when setting the timer.

That’s in the past (sort of) and things have calmed down (sort of), but Covid lurking in the shadows is part of life. It’s there, and it will continue to be there. We need to live our lives with that understanding.

Now that working remotely is the norm, I’ve got my work life, my home life, my exercise routine, and a variety of entertainment.

It’s not difficult to stay out of harm’s way, you just have to be a little cautious and plan ahead. Seems like we should all do a bit more of that regardless…

  • First order of business, work remotely.

Today marks 4 years of working from my home office. I left that Friday and only went back on two occasions. The first was to get my Mac Pro that I abandoned in the confusion. The second was to turn in a MacBook Pro when I left the company.

As I mentioned before, I switched companies a year in to the pandemic, which was pretty harrowing. I applied and interviewed remotely. I went into their office for 2 hours for the final interview. I wanted the job, so I accepted the risk. I took the precaution of a 2 week quarantine afterward just to be safe. But, I got the job and still work there, so it was a win.

Covid aside, there are so many benefits to not being in the office.

I don’t miss the drive into work or the nightmare trek home. That’s two hours of my life I get back every day.

I don’t miss the interruptions. I don’t miss the coughing, which would terrorize me now. I don’t miss the noise or the dings from phones and chat apps. I never realized how annoying those were until they were gone.

There’s also the freedom to take breaks and walk on a treadmill without bothering anyone. Apple, Fitibt, and Whoop tell you to get up and move around every hour, which is great, except when you’re in the middle of an office with other people.

My current company is fine with us being remote. At least I hope so, they’ve let me do it for 3 years.

We’re required in the office when “necessary,” which is the occasional team event or company VIP coming to town. I skip the team events and visit with that VIP over Teams. I’m a test engineer, what insight can I possibly offer them? And how is that insight different in person versus through Teams?

Speaking of Teams, there is no issue with keeping in touch and working with my team. We chat with each other the entire day. We have meetings, sprints, and sprint planning through Teams. In fact, I just attended some interviews for new team members over Teams.

Teams isn’t my favorite, but we make it work. Is there a difference between looking at a dev’s monitor versus sharing a screen in Teams? I previously did the same thing with Slack.

We also use Teams to chat, discuss issues and get technical help when something goes wrong. I find this more productive since it doesn’t derail everyone. Worst case, I bring up the issue in standup.

I find it interesting that so many companies buy laptops versus desktop systems, but expect people to be in the office. What message are you sending?

  • Be Remote, Be Organized

Not being in the office means being more self-reliant and forward thinking. Staying on track takes planning and routine. Because of that, I’m more organized and productive than ever. I have plenty of tools to help with work and keep me on the right course. I have lists, organizers and note takers. I write everything down for reference.

As an example, I use RightNote and AllMyNotes for handling Jira tickets. I use text expansion for common commands, phrases, and templates. I have task managers for tracking what I’ve done and what’s next. I make sure my calendar is up to date on meetings so I’m where I’m supposed to be at the right time.

For my day to day testing, I’ve defined and refined my process for 4 years. I have automation for more than just websites. With RoboTask and Macro Toolworks, I test more in less time.

Further, I’m not micromanaged. No one can see, nor do they care what’s on my screens. I’m free to experiment with new software or watch training videos. The number of tickets I resolve per week speaks for my work, not how I spend each minute of the day. I always have a list of tickets I’ve worked on for our stand-up meetings.

As an example, I’m working with JMeter and watching tutorials. We’re going to need performance testing in another month or two for our API. It’s not part of a ticket, but I’m planning ahead. The team and management sees the results and they’re happy.

Even though the team isn’t in the office, we’ve gelled and work just as if we’d all been sitting next to each other.

  • Avoid the open spaces

I use the same techniques and planning for my personal life. I have groceries delivered and shop online with Amazon. I choose delivery over going into the store.

I stay out of public spaces unless I have to, such as the dentist, or booster shots at CVS. Even at the dentist, I’m the only one in the office.

I’d like to, but I don’t go out to eat, or go to events, or movies. I rarely went to movies in the first place, so no loss there. I’ve just started going to the drive-thru again, so that’s not too bad. It’s my first pizza and burger in years.

It’s the price I pay for staying safe. It’s a small risk to go into a building, but it’s zero risk to stay home.

It’s far from terrible though as I have books, movies, games, and more content that I can consume. Seriously, what isn’t available through Netflix, Amazon, and Steam? From that standpoint, something new is near instantaneous, which is amazing.

It’s not quite the same, but you can virtually visit just about every corner of the globe.

I can’t comprehend the idea or comment that there’s nothing to do.

  • Create an exercise routine

Physical health is important, especially now, and I’m not lacking for exercise. I have my own little “gym,” with a road bike in a trainer, rowing machine, assault bike, treadmill, and weights. There’s also a 1.5 mile walking trail that starts a few hundred yards away for when the weather is nice. I make sure to exercise every day and even multiple times per day in small intervals.

For example, I recently added a treadmill so I walk for 10 minutes every hour. It gives me the opportunity to stand, exercise, and clear my head all at the same time. I may be at home, but I still walk over 6 miles per day.

I started with the road bike years ago. I’ve been a cycling fan for years. By luck, I added the assault bike and rower 4 months before things turned serious with Covid. From there, I’ve added more variety as things became available. The kettle bells and weights are relatively new.

  • Shop online

Along with physical health is dealing with physical spaces. To avoid them, I shop online. When you only shop online, you have to live without, or accept substitutes. If something goes out of stock, it’s not a simple matter of grabbing something else off the shelf. I don’t go to the store if I run out of something, I’ll have to wait. Some would say that’s called planning.

Shopping online means planning. You never know when a company will “claim” supply chain issues to get a few more coins for their product.

  • Priorities

My personal priorities have also changed since the pandemic started. Despite working remotely, the line between home time and work time is quite clear.

I don’t work on things in the off hours. I don’t take work home with me. I don’t keep working until 8 or 9pm simply because the company laptop is here. Work is over at the end of the day. Except for the very rare case, it can wait until tomorrow during normal business hours.

Despite what people say, this isn’t the “new” normal, it’s been 4 years. It’s normal. It’s time to come to terms with the world.

People keep resisting that fact and Covid keeps flaring up. Huge scores of people keep getting infected. It’s not “merely the flu” either, but that’s a rant for another day.

People can get together for parties and event, like the Super Bowl, but that’s risky business. That leads to spikes in Covid cases, which isn’t for me. I’m not fighting against or mocking Covid; I stay out of its way, and it leaves me alone.

I accept the current situation for what it is. I’ve changed my life because Covid has changed my life and the world. It’s not to be trifled with, and it’s not over.

I wish things were different, but they aren’t, and here we are. I’ve chosen to adapt and overcome. This is the new reality, and I’ve learned to handle it.

I’m very happy working remotely. I enjoy the ability to focus for hours on end on a single task. I enjoy my short exercise routines. It’s fantastic there are so many books and movies. There are so many tutorials and documentaries on YouTube. How many new craft projects are available on YouTube?

There’s been a lockdown, but the world has opened up. I’m in awe of the communication abilities, the instant video, the content creation, the digital delivery. People are writing books, making games, making documentaries, exploring ideas like never before.

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