Hello! My name is Angelika Grohnmeier, and I’m a global program director at Acclaro. I oversee a team of project managers and am responsible for handling accounts throughout the U.S. East Coast. Since the start of the pandemic, the Acclaro team has shifted to a remote-first strategy. Workplace meetings are rare, and we continue to evaluate local and national recommendations when considering in-person meetings.
Starting a “Not Normal” Day
I’m going back to the office today. I’m actually going in person, in real life — even if it’s just for a day.
I tried to be organized and woke up extra early. I have to get myself ready, and I have to get my family ready for the day as well. Nothing feels normal, everything takes twice as long, and, strangely, it seems like I have to make a lot of decisions. Should I take my headset or speaker? Do I wear makeup or not? It’s clear that my usual leaving-the-house routine is defunct.
I leave my driveway only to turn around immediately, because I forgot my reading glasses. I’ll need them since I’ll be working on my laptop today with its tiny screen. My large monitor has taken up residence in my home, together with my keyboard and mouse. It’s like reality has flipped, because before the pandemic, I was working more in the office than from home. Now, it’s the opposite!
During my commute, I catch the news on NPR. This is another change to my morning routine. I usually browse the news online, while enjoying my first cup of coffee. But today, I’m listening to the radio and eagerly soaking in the scenery, buildings and people along the way. I have a quick 30-minute drive with no traffic, so it’s all good. I can’t help but laugh at myself. It’s a sad state of affairs when your morning commute makes you feel like you’re traveling.
A Return to the Office
The main reason I’m going into the office today is because Lydia Clarke, one of my colleagues from California, is coming for a meeting. We have been working together for almost two years, but we’ve never met in person. It’s fun to finally meet her! In person, Lydia looks exactly as I envisioned her.
While she looks the same, unfortunately, the office does not. It seems really empty, because most of us have taken our workstations home. Now, it’s a ghost town of bare desks and rolled up cables. It’s so different from the cozy chaos we shared before the pandemic, where a bunch of people worked so closely together.
When I settle in and start to unpack, I get a compliment on my purse. Oops! In my private life, I have a thing for bright, silly bags. Of course, without my usual going-to-work routine, I forgot to switch to a work-appropriate bag. So, my dark red purse with pink apples got some attention (no judging, please!). I laugh it off and realize it feels easier these days to share bits and pieces of our lives outside of work.
As a team, we’ve been through tough stuff together. Our professional and personal lives blurred as we grappled with the “new normal.” The people getting a glimpse of my silly purse are the same people who also saw me walking through my entire house trying to escape the noise of my neighbor mowing the lawn. After months of peeking into our homes with imperfect backgrounds and working through countless interruptions, sharing a more personal side doesn’t seem so bad.
Rare In-Person Meetings and Brainstorming
Even though we’ve never talked face-to-face, Lydia and I quickly fall back into our usual comfortable, open dialogue. After long conference calls and the occasional crises averted together, our meeting feels more like talking to a friend. We are quickly immersed in discussion around capacity, new account allocation and overall planning for the second half of the year.
Because I planned to be in the office, I rescheduled the majority of my calls to make the most of my face time with colleagues. One exception is the training call I have with a new project manager on the team. Acclaro is growing, and ensuring that new team members are onboarded quickly and efficiently is important. Otherwise, I tell my team that I’ll be in meetings most of the day and catch up with them periodically.
The meeting with Lydia isn’t the only one I have planned today. We have pulled together a small team to brainstorm onboarding a new strategic customer and our conference room morphs into a war room. The bare, white walls are soon covered in sticky notes, but the focus pays off. When we emerge late in the afternoon, we have a solid plan.
I love the energy of people coming together. It buzzes around me and makes me feel really good about our accomplishments.
A Watercooler Meeting Wraps Up the Day
The day went by quickly, and I’m almost packed up when I suddenly find myself in a spontaneous discussion with my manager, Rachel, about recent challenges and potential improvements for the project management team.
We hadn’t scheduled this or planned to meet, we just ran into each other … at the watercooler. I kid you not! We stand there, glasses in hand, for 40 minutes. We talk through everything we need to do to roll out a new time-saving module for our operations team, while weaving in bits about our kids’ summer schedules.
Before I know it, I’m on my way home. I spend 30 minutes listening to my favorite radio station, while I decompress and leave work behind. I definitely miss this part. When I work at home, it’s much harder to let work go. But now, it’s time to focus on my family again. Before I head inside to deal with dinner, dance lessons and baseball games, I send Rachel a quick text that says, “Hope we can meet again soon. I miss it.”
As of this article’s publication, Acclaro’s team follows a remote-first strategy. As the global pandemic evolves, we’re closely following local and national recommendations to decide if and how in-person meetings or visits to our offices take place.