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'Hopefully The Listeners Like Dogs': Working From Home During COVID And Beyond

Last year in mid-March, staff at WNIJ left behind studios and desks at the station for blanket forts and kitchen tables at home. Claire Buchanan brings us this reflection, one year later:

CB: Hi, I’m Claire. I’m the Morning Edition producer here at WNIJ. You’ve probably heard me on the air from time to time, but most of what I do is away from the mics. And for the past year, I’ve been doing that from my house. A full year in, I like to think I’m kind of a work from home expert. But I recently checked in with a veteran of the lifestyle to see if I have anything left to learn.

My dad has been working from home since before I was born. I’ll let him introduce himself.

DB: My name is Dave Buchanan. I'm a vice president at Gartner Incorporated. I've been at Gartner for 20 years. I've been working for a total of 35 years and of those, I guess I've been working from home for 30.

CB: The way we work changes over time. My dad said when he started working from home it was more unusual. Most of his friends and coworkers still worked, well, at work.

DB: 15 years ago or so my mom was still alive. And she had called me during the middle of the work day and said she had fallen and she needed to go to the hospital. So I went over and I took her to the hospital. And it turned out that she broke her arm. And we were driving home, she said, ‘Well, I'm sorry to trouble you, but I didn't want to trouble your brother or your sister. Because they have real jobs. You know, they go into an office.’

Credit Jared Ortega
Claire demonstrates how to create an on-the-go recording space with a blanket and a car. This technique can also be used to make a ghost costume for last-minute Halloween parties.

CB: But over the years it’s become more common, and because of COVID, it’s almost the norm now.  Home offices, Zoom meetings, and canine coworkers are now a routine part of many people’s professional lives. And at WNIJ my colleagues and I have also had ample opportunities to exercise creative problem solving, constructing DIY recording spaces and finding safe ways to keep interacting with sources and community members.

CB: What is your favorite part of working from home?

DB: What I like about it is the flexibility that it gives me to do the things I want to do. I can go to the gym, I can go to the girls’ functions at school. Natalie’s doing volleyball, so I can get her to that and I can see that. I would have a hard time going back and commuting every morning into an office. Coming home from the office is just such a time suck, you know? And I love the idea that I'm not getting in my car every day.

CB: I like that too, especially in the winter. Because my car does not have four-wheel drive and I've gotten stuck trying to get into the parking lot after a snowstorm. So, I get a lot of peace of mind.

DB: Just think how inefficient it is for our economy when people are spending, maybe around here it's not that bad, but half an hour, forty-five minutes every morning, every evening. If you can use that time to work out or if you use the time to read or something like that, or get a little work done. I think it reduces the stress quite a bit. And you're not polluting the environment. You’re doing all kinds of really good things. So to me, one hope I have coming out of this is that.

Credit Claire Buchanan
Assistant purr-ducer Izzy in our home office. She's not very experienced, but she makes up for it in enthusiasm.

My company has a group that focuses on human resources and all the studies talk about how, especially now, how do you keep employees? Because there's such competition for employees. And the more you can do that to show them that balance between the professional and their personal life, it just makes for a happier employee.

I was actually talking with one of my other clients about this study and for them… they've come back actually to the office, but he said they don't think they'll ever go back to how they were before. They realized again that their people were far more productive. And I think for them too is these companies have assets. They have all these office buildings, and they probably don't need nearly the same amount of those office buildings that they had before. So those are some of the big trends that we're seeing. I think the biggest trend, though, is that most companies will go to some sort of hybrid. So I think the studies show that obviously companies are coming back to work, but I don't think we'll ever go back to work like we did before. And I think they'll be hybrid. And I think that will be the common thing… I've got to let the dogs out…

Around this point my parents’ two dogs, Walter and Daisy, interrupted our conversation when they saw some neighbor dogs outside. Then my sister walked by the room singing, so we really got the true work from home experience.

DB: It's hard to do an interview with two dogs. So hopefully the listeners like dogs.

CB: Is there anything you miss about working in an office?

DB: Certainly, there's the camaraderie. You know, you can go out to lunch with somebody, you can do those things.

Claire is a northern Illinois native and a public radio enthusiast. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in communication from Northern Illinois University. She joined WNIJ in 2018 as All Things Considered producer. Now, she is the Morning Edition Producer and Engagement Coordinator.