Changing homes when working from home

In January I made the long-awaited decision I’ve been thinking about for months. I (well, we) decided to move to another apartment. Close to the city center, bright and clean, spacious and well-designed. Everything just seemed perfect!

Except for one thing. Turned out it’s nearly impossible to handle the move and work from home at the same time. Even worse – these two weeks I had to work on the reviewer’s comments for my paper which needed significant rewriting.

But first things first.

I had to move quite many times in my life, and as a future academic, I for sure will have to move more. I changed my homes twice during my Masters (moved to Japan and then to Finland). I then changed homes in Helsinki at least two times already during my PhD. Don’t judge me, but it’s hard to find what you like and where you like to live when it’s a completely new city you don’t know anything about. In all cases, it was before 2020, so I did not stress out much about the moving procedures.

What do I remember from changing houses before the pandemic? You find a house you like. You visit the house and fall in love with it. You sign an agreement. You pack your stuff in the evenings when coming back from work. Your home is now a mess, but it’s temporary. Soon you’re moving to a new house and do the same thing: unpacking slowly, enjoying every bit of it, until it’s finally a cosy and homey space of yours.

What do I remember from my pandemic move? Chaos, complete chaos of boxes, things, sticky tape and scissors, among which I am trying to proceed with my PhD. It’s nearly impossible to focus on anything when I raise my eyes from the computer and I see more and more… stuff. Especially considering that working on a manuscript requires mental effort, attention and determination.

My working space for about two weeks looked like this

I feel like this is something that is not talked about often. Academic career differs from industry in many ways, but one big part of it is readiness for relocation at every step. You move when you decide to do a PhD, then you move as a postdoc (probably several times), then you try to land a tenure somewhere else. During this path, you most often have family and children that you bring along. Can I even imagine the number of things that have to be packed and unpacked along the way?

What I see when I take my eyes off computer screen

Before the pandemic, the academic relocation was mitigated by university premises. Okay, your house looks like a minefield. But you know that tomorrow from 8 to 4 you’ll be sitting in your comfortable chair looking at the big screen, talking to your colleagues over a coffee. This feeling brought some sanity to the whole process.

Now after the pandemic, what’s it going to be like? Everybody’s talking about the new normal, and it is scary. If the move of a family with a child does not include a safe space like the office, how can you be required to work from day 1?

I think the universities should take into account the time academics need to settle down. When you hire an academic during the pandemic time, think about whether the office is available to visit or not yet. In the latter case, do let them have a two-week paid time to organise the home and to get rid of the visual noise (boxes, things everywhere). In my opinion, this way you’ll get a more energised and more motivated employee after two weeks, instead of a tired, messed up and unfocused employee on the first Monday.

This matter, of course, could be decided project by project, or PI by PI. But it’s important that the universities and funding agencies do not impose the necessity of work right after the move if they can’t provide a working space. Let’s not pretend that this kind of new normal is okay and let’s respect employee’s right for a space to work and a space to rest. Otherwise, when both spaces merge into one, this does not bring any profit to neither of the parties.

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