I went to the office today, and that was fine, but the drive home was horrible.
During the pandemic, we've shifted how we work. I started this blog 710 days ago when my company, and most office-based companies in my state (or at least city), decided to work from home for the next few months to try to hold the impact of the pandemic at bay. The hope of "months" has now turned into many months over the course of the last two years. And with it, some new "normals."
I lead a team of software engineers. This is a perfect group for remote work, in theory, as so much of the work can be done individually and isolation can suit many efforts. There is need for collaboration, whether simply sharing information and making plans, or helping to understand problems and design solutions. We've bridged that gap with video conferencing and instant messaging.
But many of us still miss people.
My job isn't developing software anymore; it's developing software makers. I have input into project load and direction, sure, but most of the time it's guardrails and speed-checks, with occasional course correction or confirmation. With the autonomy I help develop, end the empowerment my engineers should feel, the project part of my job could largely be done without me. I'm there to review, judge, and provide feedback, to make sure that the engineers are doing well, growing, and the littlest bit staying on task. I really am more of a shepherd, keeping the flock together, moving and eating the right things, staying away from pitfalls and worse dangers; but I don't tell them to walk or eat or drink or sleep...not that my engineers are sheep, but it's a close analogy.
With the shifts in the pandemic, as I'm sure I've called out before, our office is now "available," and people can return as they see it fit in their workday. We've decided to show up at-will on Thursday, if nothing else pushes a day. For example, we had a Demo Day on Tuesday, which would have been a great excuse to go to the office, but it's all virtual these days, instead of the science-fair feel it used to be.
The ride in was pretty normal. There was sparse pandemic traffic, cruising along at posted speed limits, plenty of space between vehicles, polite merging and so on. I offered to drive for a not-too-far-away teammate, who would otherwise spend an hour or more on the bus. I stopped for gas and still made good time. Traffic was just a little tentative with the cold, and we made it to the office just a couple minutes late for that first meeting, really because my Jeep needed gas.
The day in the office was pretty normal. Five of us showed up, and I ran into another friend from a former team. I usually offer to bring donuts, but someone else did (and then didn't), so I sprung for pizza for the team. I haven't yet rearranged my meetings to be more in-person when I'm in person, mostly because I don't plan to go sometimes until the afternoon before. Plus not everyone I meet with is in the office. So I spent most of my day in-person off to the side in Zoom meetings; only once with anyone in the office, though, and if anyone is in Zoom, everyone is in Zoom.
At the end of the day, my laptop and company network started disagreeing, and some last-minute bits I needed to get done took an hour instead of some minutes, but that got sorted, and I was able to unplug and head home not too much later than I'd hoped.
The snow had started an hour or so earlier though. Not a lot or thick snow, but a lot of wind, and terribly cold temperatures. We could see the bad traffic on the highway out the window, so we cut around on side streets for a while. We didn't go any faster, but the ride was more enjoyable, and turned into an unplanned tour of all of the places I lived on that side of town. Ultimately, the detours added about 10 minutes to the original estimate from Waze if we had taken the packed highway, and there hadn't been any changes along the way. It seemed reasonable to believe that a 10 minute sway was pretty reasonable given the shifting weather and traffic skills of pandemic drivers.
I dropped my teammate at home and turned to fetch the kids. The Waze estimate was "just in time" to beat the 6PM deadline. Then it wasn't. I peeked at the first highway entrance, and the alternate route had a similar estimate, so I drove around the jam. Same thing at the next, and the one after that. But, the closer I got, the longer it seemed to be taking. Of course, more people, more snow, and other impacts started slowing traffic along the route. Accidents started appearing, reports of heavy and slow traffic, and police started to add time. Soon I was estimated to be ten minutes late, about thirty minutes in the future. I texted the wife, who said she'd try to get there before the deadline, too. I kept pressing forward.
Eventually we got a text from a friend also late to pick up her kiddo. Traffic was horrible for everyone, of course, and being the first worst day, the after school program seemed forgiving of the unexpected delays. She offered to check out our kids, but the wife beat me with an "I'm two minutes out" message, as I sent my "I'm eight minutes away." Our delays were passed along, and I kept pressing forward.
I pulled into the lot just as my phone announced "got em!" from the wife. No other cars were in the lot, and the lights were all dimmed (they're never completely off at the school), so I figured there was latency in sending or delivering the message. I made my way back home to make dinner and settle in for the night.
I don't miss traffic. I do miss the people. The tens of minutes I got to spend with people did make the adventure worthwhile, but I do think I'm going to plan for an early exit, at least while the weather is still so drastic.