I’ve worked for the county for nearly 44 years. I always said as long as it is still fun, I would continue to work. Unfortunately with the pandemic, it’s not as fun for me. I miss seeing 130 people every day. I miss trying to build a culture of customer service, trust, and teamwork. I miss problem-solving and brainstorming in a live setting with the particular energy in the room. I am finding it very isolating for an extrovert like me to be working from home remotely.
The people that work for PDS are some of the smartest, most hardworking people I know. As a planning department, we are made up of a diverse set of specialists. There are civil and traffic engineers, fire investigators, GIS (mapping) analysts, accountants, IT programmers, planners, technicians, biologists, and demographers. They are all brilliant people who are very analytical and in a few cases quite introverted.
I’ve had a new insight into the differences between how we prefer to interact with the world. I have noticed that some of our introverts are knocking it out of the park. During this time of stay at home executive orders, they are so productive. My observation is that they are getting so much more done because they are in a quiet workspace at home. I see that the work they are producing and the analysis they are performing is amazing. I think they’re actually working harder than they were before because they don’t have a commute that saps their energy. They are bringing even more energy and passion for their work.
I’m observing the extroverts, on the other hand, are not faring as well. I’ve experienced some signs of depression on my own and witnessed it in conversations with colleagues. While I can’t be sure, I think that there could be the possibility of previous substance abuse or marital strife and now having to work from home hasn’t been helpful. People are craving time together, community, and informal conversation.
The greatest empathy I have is for working parents, both men, and women. When our governor shut down the state, the schools ended abruptly and people had to quickly transition from working in an office with structure and child care to working from home. Now their babies and their children are right there with them throughout their workday. I know how terribly difficult it has been for them. As a former working mom and now a grandmother, I have huge respect and compassion for my employees with kids. While working from home has allowed them flexibility, as a government agency that is fully online, it really means that we are never closed. With our online services offered 24 hours a day it has eliminated the boundary between home and the office, everything has become a bit blurred.
I know that they are getting their hours each day but I’ve noticed that some of them are working from about 5 am in the morning until 8 am when their children awaken. Then it is likely that childcare duties overtake them. Then when friends, grandparents, or spouses are available they are working late into the evening. I don’t think this is sustainable for the long term. The availability of affordable, consistently high-quality childcare will be so important to working families in the future. My commitment to them is to do my best to try to find ways to help them balance their workload by providing flexibility in what our expectations are as an employer.
No matter what the situation with the pandemic, as a department, we have to fulfill our purpose; which is to get land use and building applications into the process, get the projects reviewed, and permits out the door so that the required inspections can be completed. If we don’t, there is an entire industry that gets delayed or shut down. In Washington state, especially in the Puget Sound area, there’s a critical housing shortage, so anything we can do as local government to assure that our customers have access to high-quality services in a reasonable timeframe helps not only our overall economy but could serve to help to keep housing prices lower.
Whether an introvert, extrovert or working parent, finding a way to survive and get through this unprecedented time is something worth working on. Between now and my last day, I’m fully committed to seeking to find ways to make this situation better for our staff because as it is right now in August, we will not be able to return to our office at least until after January 8th.
Barbara is the new star of the Rock Your Retirement show! For one year, she'll let Kathe Kline tag along as she goes through her retirement journey.