We knew it was coming. The news about the development of the Corona pandemic had become increasingly alarming over the last few days. For weeks we had been asked to take our laptops home in the evenings so that we would remain able to work in case of quarantines or curfews. But still, nobody knew how to deal with the new situation. “Dear cronners, we would like cronn to contribute even more to flattening the infection curve. That is why we ask you to work from home for the next two weeks if possible.” Now what?
Of course we can do “remote”. We are used to working with colleagues who are in a different office, city or even country. A single team can comprise members from Bonn, Hamburg and Białystok. Only recently we have found Jitsi as a new solution for virtual cooperative work. Our ability to go on successfully developing software even from home is secured. But what does it feel like when office life suddenly ceases to exist?
At first we joked about it. “Hurray, two weeks without pants!” Then the practical preparations. Computers were packed, monitors and keyboards bagged. The office plants watered one last time. And all the abandoned coffee cups collected. A farewell after work beer. Then it dawned on us. Next Friday we will not have a beer together to toast to the weekend. No lunch together, no foosball match when your head is spinning. No “Could you have a quick look at this for me please?”. Two weeks alone in front of your laptop. At least.
Three weeks are over now, the state of emergency is not. The time of remote work has been extended, daycares, schools, shops and restaurants stay closed and a general contact ban remains in place. Outside, in front of your window, spring is coming and cannot really be enjoyed. The isolation and uncertainty are hard to bear.
But we did not stay that alone with our laptops. When we sit down at our desks in the morning we say hello on the chat. (The only question is: In which channel? Your team? Your office? Or to everybody in the general channel? What does Knigge have to say about that?) For meetings, spontaneous consultations and questions we meet on Jitsi for video chats and screen sharing. We also use it for the quick chats we used to have next to the coffee machine. On the very first day we set up a virtual coffee kitchen: an open video chat room specifically reserved for that purpose. It is also where we have our lunch breaks, a date just as fixed as in the office. At 12 o’clock on the dot, everybody is welcome. Only you can’t try a bite of other people’s food. And please don’t chew so noisily into your microphone.
Before you eat, it is important to wash your hands, now more than ever. But what if there is no soap because the supermarkets have sold out? No problem at all, the colleagues in Białystok have prepared something: Home made hand sanitizer, orange-scented no less.
We have also found technical solutions for our board game nights and watching tv shows together. (And if somebody finds an adequate substitute for foosball we would be really grateful!) Not even our Friday after work drinks had to be cancelled. They turned into a Jitsi stress test and a special highlight simultaneously. Up to 18 participants at once and for the first time spanning all locations: in Bonn, Hamburg and Białystok. It was also more elegant than ever before because we also celebrated the very first #reverseCasualFriday: out of the work-from-home monotony and into suits and party dresses.
After three weeks of isolation we have created many little consolations for cabin fever. And in some way it has brought us closer together. Clinking glasses with the Polish colleagues normally requires several hours of travel. Na zdrowie! Moreover, video chats open small windows into your colleagues’ lives that allow us to get to know more about each other. A self-made painting or photograph on the wall or a musical instrument in the corner of the room reveals a hobby about which we have never talked before. Who knew so many cronners had hidden talents? And sometimes a little kid traipses into view, and we turn the video call into spontaneous puppet theatre. The giggles do us all some good.
Because we are all in an unprecedented state of emergency. And we will probably stay in it for quite some time. Until it ends we will have to stay together at a distance. Up until now it has been working out quite well – we’re in this together.
And we’ve been wearing pants the entire time.