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At our university, things look similar. Instead of the classroom atmosphere, we breathe our own, slightly stale office air and teach online. Admittedly, this kind of social intercourse at a distance is not the real McCoy! No small talk any longer, no coffee with colleagues, no bantering with students, no shaking of hands or friendly winking through the open office doors. What we are lacking is the perception of our interlocutors, who are not looking into our eyes but at our image on their screens. Also, we sit on one and the same chair far too long, stare at the screen non-stop but also happen to walk past the fridge far too often, from which an irresistible attraction appears to emanate. But then, that’s what working from home is like!
Yet there is also something else. We do not spend x hours a day travelling from one location to another on shorter or longer journeys. When all interhuman action is reduced to a minimum, meetings become shorter: the number of rhetorical skirmishes and infinite discussion loops decreases, the discourse becomes more disciplined. And all of a sudden, we also have more breathing space. There is even time for a short walk at lunchtime or early in the evening, and we’ve still done a day’s work. Social checks by colleagues, assistants or office staff have largely ceased (“What, he’s already clocking off at seven today!”). We rediscover our homes because we see them as we haven’t seen them for some time: in broad daylight; and instead of talking to students and staff, we talk to our children and partners more often.
Dear colleagues, we should prepare for the time after COVID-19! Let’s try to rescue the modicum of positive experience that we owe to the pandemic for a new normality! It should not be beyond us to combine the advantages of onsite and online work. The office could be a platform for exchange and creativity within the team, meetings at the client’s could be the highlights in a series of Skype meetings, which become the norm. Executive education could either be a “class reunion” and networking event or an opportunity to train one’s own skills, or else an option for the concentrated acquisition of knowledge for me alone, when I like and where I like.
Sorry – I simply had to say all this! In my next blog post, I’ll continue the series of serious discussions of management issues in law firms. That’s a promise!