The Anatomy of WFH
It seems futile to re-explain the concept of WFH, a concept that is now so familiar to most. This essay is not meant to be an exposé on WFH; rather, a documentative recount of my personal journey and my evolving opinions on working remotely during these times.
Before I worked for an architecture firm exclusively from my new tiny “home” in Los Angeles, I was finishing my studies in Ithaca, NY. As my class’s thesis semester was drawing to a close, it was more than unfortunate to lose access to many of the facilities we were hoping to use to produce final physical models, mockups, and presentation materials. Switching a semester’s worth of work to the digital format was not entirely novel but was certainly an unforeseen challenge. Without alternatives, learning how to present our thesis through a letter-sized screen became necessary, an adaptation that became ever so helpful in the upcoming year. There were definitely limits. But while presenting a physical model was no longer a possibility, walking through a 3D digital model was. Sketching over drawings may not have been as smooth as before, but having multiple participants point specifically to an element with their mouse led to comparably concise communication. And the visual presentation could be enhanced to at least one more sense by the use of audio, creating acoustic simulations bringing the imagined spaces to life just a bit more.
The job market awaiting the recent graduates (myself included) was drastically different from the one a year prior (especially so in the architectural industry). Some employers withdrew offers, while others pushed back starting dates hoping to keep applicants’ interest while waiting for things to turn around. Coming into thesis semester, I wasn’t too worried about employment after graduation as I have developed a friendly relation with my employer from the summer prior and was hoping to rejoin my previous team as a full-time architectural designer. But with COVID-19, the firm was not able to take me in.
As stressful as it may be, I love working under immense pressure. Why? It allows me to prioritize like nothing else. Every decision and minute of energy spent needs to get to the point, be concise and effective all at the same time. The pressure to get a job wasn’t just coming from a desire to advance my life and career as soon as possible, but also to secure my chance of staying in the US as an international graduate through employment. While born in Prague, I was raised in various cities due to my father’s diplomatic work. But nowhere else have I felt so welcomed and at home as in the US, and after having now spent a total of 10 years here, leaving was not an option. The adrenaline fueling my persistence began to kick in, I made a google sheet to keep track of my progress, and I spent every day for nearly three months sending and re-sending emails to over 400 firms across the US in both the architectural and design industry as a whole. I have never learned more about the application process (and people), and talking about that experience deserves a space of its own. To summarize: I found a job.
By the time I started working remotely, the US began talking about vaccinations, and the concept of WFH seemed only temporary. From where I was standing at the time, all I could think of was going back to the office. How else was I supposed to make new connections? Engage in conversations with my co-workers? Or be surrounded by like-minded people that could point me in the right direction and vice-versa?
But after some nine months of WFH, I started slowly developing a new routine. A quick hike or job after hitting the alarm replaced the commute. Breakfast could be thought about, and by the time I sat back at my desk, I’d feel ready to tackle the morning. It certainly felt healthier than the hectic NYC commute to my previous summer’s internship. And it was.
Due to a variety of external factors, I had the priceless opportunity to work on a multitude of teams right from the start. To a recent graduate, exposure to so many different teams with different leadership styles, communication habits, structures, consultants and more, within such a short period of time was irreplaceable. And as communication became instantaneous and ever so convenient, reaching out to anyone, anywhere in the country, across the entire firm became an incredible benefit. Our teams could be staffed according to the availability of its employees across the country instead of a single office in LA. Even the time-zone difference contributed to productivity by passing on tasks throughout the day as if we were in a relay race, cutting down completion times. And when I did finally make my way to the office for the first time, everything felt novel once again. The commute, getting lunch, even taking the elevator up to the office felt like wasted time. Remote work simply seemed more efficient and productive.
What struck me most is the amount and the pace at which new solutions have started populating people’s homes, offices, and computer desktops, replacing or adding onto tools that seemed so crucial and irreplaceable previously. Re-discovering my childhood ability to quickly adapt to a new environment became ever so important and valuable. And having interned at many firms before graduating gave me enough confidence and experience to tackle new challenges in novel contexts. In many ways, I’ve never been more ready and comfortable addressing so many uncertainties. Keep them coming.