As the region nears the six-month mark of working remotely this Labor Day, those who have done their jobs from home say they have adjusted to the change, but miss interacting with people.
Lauren Silva, a social worker for the state from Taunton; Doug Roscoe, a professor of political science at UMass Dartmouth; Brad Bustin, the athletic director at B.M.C. Durfee High School, Fall River; and Liz Isherwood, a public relations specialist who owns Moore and Isherwood Communications in New Bedford, said they have appreciated the benefits of working from home, after an initial period of adjustment.
The pace is more relaxed. If the work doesn’t get done today, it will be done tomorrow. They are able to mix in household chores and take a walk or clean up the kitchen during working hours and still be productive.
But they miss their co-workers, their students. They miss hearing about others’ lives. But they do think working from home is here to stay to some degree and in some professions.
“It has permanently changed in a lot of ways and fundamentally altered our economy for the long-term,” Roscoe said.
Lauren Silva lives in Taunton and is a social worker for the state in a four-person section called the “Waiver Unit” that checks MassHealth eligibility for people in nursing homes and rehab centers. Normally, she would make the one-hour trip to her office in Quincy each day and arrive stressed from fighting Boston traffic.
For the last six months, though, she has not used her car at all for work because her home is her office.
The state provided workers with laptops and phones, but the adjustment was “a little tough” in the spring, she said. However, once the warm weather hit and days became longer she felt “very productive.” Instead of dressing in “business casual” attire for the office, she wore light clothes and shorts at home.
She said working remotely has given her more time to herself because it has eliminated the morning and the afternoon commutes. Normally, “on a good day,” she would get home at 7 p.m. because of the traffic.
“I’m done at 5 o’clock and I’m home. That’s the greatest part, just being home,” Silva said. When she was working from the office, she would miss out on so many things she enjoys because the commute would consume two hours of her day.
“I made sure I went outside and was active. I went on walks and took advantage of the weather,” she said. “You can make it as positive as possible.”
She drives an SUV and when she worked in the office she filled up her tank twice a week. Now she fills it up once a week. “Not even (sometimes),” she said. “I’m very happy. I’m staring at it and it’s in the driveway.”
It appears that the state will allow employees to work from home through the remainder of the year and perhaps into the winter months, she said. “I’m O.K. with it,” Silva said, adding she will not miss driving in the snow.
There were also some big personal moments in Silva’s life that have made working remotely special. Silva became engaged in July to Evan Lavigne, a Taunton police officer. She is also getting her second German Shorthaired Pointer dog later this month.
“Among the chaos, I do feel a lot of people have had a lot of great things happen to them,” she said.
But there is one thing she misses about working from home. Human interaction. She said she misses her co-workers. She misses seeing and hearing about their lives as they eat their lunches or saying hello in mornings and good-bye at the end of the day.
“There’s only so many Zoom calls you can go on and you don’t get the same interaction. It would be nice to hug people once in a while,” she said.
Roscoe said he has been working from his home since UMass Dartmouth sent most students to their homes in March during the second semester of last school year.
He remembers those first few days when professors worked from home and not from the office. “It felt like a snow day. It’s gone now, but it was that kind of feeling,” he said.
Roscoe said he hiked the trails of Freetown State Forest and the Fall River Biosphere Reserve, which were crowded with people, to relieve occasional stress and the anxiety he felt. “It was hard to get away from people,” he said.
He said he can do his non-teaching work — data analysis and research — on his laptop anywhere. He can do it in his office at UMass Dartmouth. He can also do it from his back porch, which he often did this summer.
“It can happen anywhere. It hasn’t changed. It’s not very different,” he said.
But a house is meant to be a home and not an office all the time, he said.
He said being in the same space where he works and recreates has caused him to go “stir crazy” at times. “You get sick of your house and I have a great house,” he said.
While meetings on Zoom went “pretty well,” teaching a large class of students has its challenges, he said.
Wednesday was the first day of classes at UMass Dartmouth, which only has 25 percent of its residential students on campus and is not having in-person lectures for the fall semester. The school decided to have video lectures because of public health concerns.
As a result, Roscoe taught a class of 75 students Wednesday on Zoom. He has taught online for 10 years, but “a big class” like that was new to him.
In part to get out of the house and clear his head, but mostly for the benefit of his students, he gave the lecture from a classroom on campus. “I broadcast from a classroom so they would feel like they were all in a classroom,” he said.
But still to him it was not the same as teaching in front of students.
Invariably when he does, he hears students talking and laughing among themselves when he enters a classroom. After a class, students approach him with questions about his lectures or talk with him as they walk down the hall.
That didn’t happen Wednesday.
“Those are the things you can’t duplicate online,” he said. “It’s not as good when you can’t interact with people.”
“I miss the side discussions that are interesting for my work,” he said.
Before the pandemic, Brad Bustin, who is starting his fifth year as athletic director at B.M.C. Durfee High School, didn’t know anything about Zoom.
But after six months of working remotely, he is well-versed with the computer app, he said.
When the sports season was cancelled back in March, there was a thought they might go back in a couple of weeks. There was a lot of uncertainty and many safety concerns to discuss, if they did resume playing sports.
Bustin got his information from Zoom meetings with his colleagues.
He said he attended the online meetings with athletic directors from across the state and gained a wealth of information. He said he learned things he didn’t know and the experience was “very supportive” to him as Durfee’s AD.
“It was good to meet and listen to the other athletic directors,” he said.
He said for the most part he has worked from home the last six months. His children are older teens — 19 and 17 — so it has been easier for him. His wife is also a school teacher and they have worked from different rooms in different areas of the house.
Working remotely has sometimes messed up schedules and daily routines. He has occasionally gone to bed later and gotten up later than he would if he was working in the office. They bought a Peloton exercise machine to stay in shape.
“For me, it has worked out. It has worked out well,” he said. “Sometimes the dog is barking. It was crazy at times, but not too bad.”
But all things considered, he would rather be working from his office, he said.
Isherwood, who owns her public relations firm which includes clients such as Seastreak, the fast ferry service that runs from New Bedford to Martha’s Vineyard, and Potentia Manufacturing Group, said she has been in the office sparingly the last six months and has been primarily working from home.
“I’ve kind of enjoyed it,” she said, although she, too, misses personal conversations with associates, colleagues and friends.
She went out on a photo shoot for a client and said, “it was probably the most fun I’ve had all summer.”
She has followed a routine where she responds to work emails in the mornings, takes the dog for a walk and does some household chores. “They are always there,” she said.
She said she hasn’t had any trouble with motivation or productivity, working from home. “If I don’t do it, I don’t get paid,” she said.
“If you can’t meet face-to-face with people in my business, it doesn’t matter,” she said.
There have been times when she couldn’t reach people because everyone has to work harder during the pandemic, but she has told herself she will get the work done when she can. “I’ve gotten used to it and I like it,” she said.
“If you don’t do it today, you can do it tomorrow,” she said.
Instead of meeting people in person, her focus has switched to Zoom meetings. “They were great at first. They were productive,” she said. However, she has grown tired of them without personal interaction. “It would be great to talk to people,” she said.
“Zoom is probably here to stay,” she said. “Everyone says, ‘let’s have a Zoom meeting.'”
She even invested in Zoom stock and said she has “more than doubled” her investment.
She said she thinks some large office buildings in Boston might have to downsize because of the popularity and success of working remotely. “It might be the wave of the future,” she said.
But working from home and Zoom meetings are a poor substitute for across-the-table, personal meetings with people, she added.
“I’ll be glad when things get back to normal because I miss interacting with people. Those happenstance meetings where you stop and talk to someone in downtown (New Bedford). That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Follow Curt Brown on Twitter @CurtBrown_SCT