Being Home All the Time Is Taking a Toll on Our Work, Families, and Sanity

We’re emotionally exhausted and everything seems stuck. But there are glimmers of hope.

Eric Stine is the Chief Revenue Officer at Qualtrics. Recently, for the first time in his professional life, he became a full-time remote employee because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each week, he’ll share the highs, lows, and learnings of a WFH newbie. You can read all of his diary entries here

Week Six — Shreds of News and Afterthoughts and Complicated Scenes

In case you’re losing track of time, this was the week that several states reopened certain non-essential businesses, including barber shops, nail salons, and spas — though the C.D.C. was recommending that social distancing continue as these businesses resumed.

One can only truly understand the meaning of the word “surreal” by watching a certified medical doctor attempt to explain how you can get a manicure from six feet away. 

Surreal is probably a good word for this week. Everyone’s emotions seem much closer to the surface — we’re home all the time but exhausted. The energy it takes to keep everyone fed, occupied, educated, entertained, working, and connected is becoming exhausting. No one really seems to know if we’re at the end of the beginning or the beginning of the middle, and without any new medical information — progress on the vaccine trials, encouraging studies about the use of remdesivir, clarity about the availability and accuracy of antibody testing (or even if the antibodies protect someone who has had COVID-19 from being re-infected) — everything seems stuck.

Even spring seems stuck here in Connecticut. Every day that manages to crack 60 degrees seems to be followed by one in the 40s. One morning there were snow flurries. We are all eager for Next, because Next is one step closer to After, but Next seems stuck.

It’s taking a toll. 

I’m pulse-checking my team regularly, and engagement is still good, but the question “How have you been feeling this past week?” is only getting lukewarm responses. I worry about how long my team can keep doing this without it taking a toll on their work, their families, their marriages, their sanity. 

That appears to be a prevailing sentiment. The best article I read this week was a piece in the New York Times Magazine by the fabulous chef and restaurateur Gabrielle Hamilton, written about her East Village restaurant, Prune. In it, she questions the relevance of the place she’s given her life and livelihood to for the past 20 years — now closed, like many restaurants — and wonders if she will ever reopen it; if there’s a place for it in whatever New York emerges After.

Chef Hamilton — in the off chance that you read this, please come back. I love Prune, and will forever associate it with the year I moved back to New York: 2004. 

I had been gone for 14 years — and everything about the city had changed from when I left for University in 1990. It was safe, but still exciting — you could see remnants of gritty lower Manhattan, of Soho and the Village and the Lower East Side, a nostalgic and romantic visage of New York peeking through. But it was safe, the threat of receivership long past and the junkies and tent cities gone from Tompkins Square Park.

I moved to New York, single — having just made a little bit of money for the first time in my life — and the city felt like an adventure in a way it never did when I was a child. I got my first summer rental on Fire Island, I made a slew of friends, and — soon — I would meet Neil. 

Everything I did was underscored by the restaurants I ate at that first year back. I didn’t know it at the time, but 2004 would be a watershed year for New York restaurants. The week I moved, New York Magazine published its “Best of New York” issue. I was determined to eat every place they listed — and every week scanned the listings in the back of the magazine for their recommendations. That first year I ate everywhere from Per Se to Shake Shack; from Frankie’s in Brooklyn to Telepan and Cesca on the Upper West Side. I found you could get in anywhere — yes, even the coveted Spice Market — if you were willing to take a 9 p.m. reservation on a Tuesday.

The first time my Mom met Neil, I took them to Barbuto, Jonathan Waxman’s iconic California-Italian restaurant in the West Village that was my go-to for YEARS before it closed last fall. I mourn it.

But Prune was special. I ate at Prune my very, very, very first weekend back. My dad came to see my new apartment and I dragged him to the corner of First and First (that’s 1st St. and First Avenue for non-New Yorkers) and waited — on a wait list kept in pencil — for the table right after Claire Danes (she had to wait, too — and gave her name simply as “Claire”). My dad and I walked — got coffee at Katz’s and bought some stuff at Russ and Daughters — until our table was ready an hour later. We spent hours at our table, the first real time I connected with my father as an adult.

I’ve been back many times since — Neil and I would occasionally go for dinner or the incredible brunch with a Bloody Mary menu as long as your arm. I go because it always reminds me of the New York I love the best; the one that had finally recovered from September 11th, the one that was clean and safe but not too bourgeois, the one that existed right on the precipice of the internet takeover — when people still communed in restaurants and bars, and talked on streets and stoops. It was a New York that was tangible and palpable and real. I miss it and Prune always brings that feeling back. So, Gabrielle, bring back Prune.

Our twins Nicholas and Noelle turned 4 at the end of the week. Do you know what it’s like to cancel a 4-year-old’s birthday party? How about two 4-year-olds?  

But Neil rallied. Because Neil is the best, and Neil makes everything — even quarantine — better. He organized a birthday parade. The twins’ friends’ parents gathered at the Barnes & Noble parking lot two blocks away… they decorated their cars with signs and balloons, blasted music, and honked their horns, and came driving down our cul-de-sac at 11 a.m. 

I was so touched, I cried through the whole darn thing. It was really the best party ever, to see how many people cared enough about our kids to venture out and do this. (Also, it helped that we didn’t have to spend three hours cleaning up.) It was supposed to rain, but by some miracle the rain held off so my kids could have their birthday. It’s making me optimistic that Next might get unstuck.

Working From Home in the New Normal is a data-driven storytelling initiative from SAP and Thrive Global, bringing together insights powered by the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse with actionable Microsteps and stories from Thrive to help you navigate working from home. Visit daily for the latest data and stories to help improve your focus, prioritization, and well-being.

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