A COBOL Programmer’s Second Month of Social Isolation

The Home Office

Original photo of my first pandemic home office

For the last two months, I have dragged myself out of bed every morning and downstairs to my cold office, still in my pajamas, hair unbrushed, where I sit all day in my home office. There is only a laptop, a corner of the desk, that I share with my husband and a cheap desk chair that was originally purchased for occasional use. Daily, I miss my large monitor and my ergonomic chair with my sizable cubicle space that was all mine.

I fire up my VPN, connect to the work network, and my Mainframe connection. I am all set to go when the VPN unexpectedly disconnects—as it does at random times during the day. I reconnect and let my team know I am available through our chat system. We all say (write) “good morning”, but we have not actually seen each other for weeks. I am lucky I worked with my team members personally before the virus hit and can picture a face to go with a name. The only people I see in person on a daily basis now are my two daughters and my husband who are socially isolating with me. These days, I get all my programming assignments through chat or email. It is definitely more of a challenge to work without being able to talk personally with other people on the team.

The Pre-Pandemic Office

Original photo of my post-pandemic office

In the before time, I would get up early to shower and get dressed in my business casual work clothes. Then I would drive out for my hour-long commute, stopping for a Tim Horton’s coffee and a muffin along the way. In my temperature-controlled office building, I rode elevators with other people in close proximity, brushed up against people in the hallways, attended daily meetings in rooms packed with people, ate in a full cafeteria, and didn’t give any of these activities a second thought. I also enjoyed saying “hello” to people in person and having brief “water cooler” conversations during the day. I especially took for granted being able to go to see coworkers at their desk when I had a specific question or just wanted to bounce an idea off them.

I did not realize at the time how fragile my daily routine really was. One day, I was at work, as usual, the next day, me and all my coworkers, country-wide, were sent home to work in isolation. My building was left deserted, my desk calendar, frozen in time, and my plants unwatered.

A couple of weeks after we started working at home, we got a broadcast from the property maintenance staff saying that a lightbulb in the building parking lot had been changed. We all had a (virtual) laugh at the irony in that, since the parking lot was now almost empty.

The Post-Pandemic workplace

We know we are not going back to the way things were before, but we have no idea what the “after pandemic” world will look like for a programmer. Maybe our current reality is actually the new reality. Perhaps, for a programmer, the new work environment will be remote work.  No more commutes, random socializing during the day, and unnecessary meetings. Ultimately, when all of the uncomfortable bugs are ironed out in the home offices and the new way of work becomes a habit, the result will hopefully be acceptance and increased productivity.

What is your new reality? Are you developing new habits?