The year of living remotely: Let’s swap pandemic stories

Saturday marks a rather bittersweet anniversary. On March 13, 2020, I walked out of a local store. I haven’t been inside any building other than my house since then. This has been the Year of COVID, and as an “at risk” individual, I’ve followed the advice of my doctor and stayed away from — everything. 

Also: 2021: Now that disruption is business as usual, we must rise above crisis mode

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Many of you know the feeling, but Ellen Cushing of the Atlantic puts it into words I think many of us can identify with:

I have a job that allows me to work from home, an immune system and a set of neurotransmitters that tend to function pretty well, a support network, a savings account, decent Wi-Fi, plenty of hand sanitizer. I have experienced the pandemic from a position of obscene privilege, and on any given day I’d rank my mental health somewhere north of “fine.” And yet I feel like I have spent the past year being pushed through a pasta extruder.

We have experienced an unprecedented year. The 1918 influenza pandemic probably comes the closest, but those folks didn’t have broadband. We, here in the second decade of the 21st century, have had the odd experience of being both incredibly isolated and incredibly connected.

Also: Grandpa, tell me about the days before the Great Distancing

My wife and I haven’t seen our next-door neighbors, who are good friends, for a whole year. Yet I spend a few hours a week, face-to-face on Zoom, with colleagues I’ve only previously known through email conversations. I’m disconnected from friends 50 feet away, yet looking into the kitchens, living rooms, and home offices of friends across the world.

It’s been surreal.

To mark this anniversary, I reached out to my fellow ZDNet editors and writers. I asked them to share with you, in just a few paragraphs, what the Year of COVID has been like from their perspective. I also asked them to share a photo that reflected on that year.

I’ll kick it off with my little story.

David Gewirtz

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Pixel likes to cuddle and snooze on my shoulder. It does get in the way of work, but in the nicest of all possible ways.

It blows my mind that I haven’t been inside another building since March 13, 2020. As a working couple who have mostly lived off restaurants and delivery for the past 20 years, needing to make our own food has been a challenge. I’ve learned to cook a few things, including an epic grilled cheese. I miss restaurants, visits with friends, and going to Home Depot and Harbor Freight.

But this work style isn’t all that new to me. I’ve worked from home, on and off, for the past 20 years or so. As someone who lived in Florida (and couldn’t stand the heat) for 15 years before moving here to Oregon, I tended to spend the brutally hot summer seasons inside. I like time with close friends, but I’m not a fan of crowds. So the isolation, while difficult, hasn’t been as hard on me as it has on other folks.

I have all my gear (3D printers, workshop tools, gadgets galore), my wonderful wife, and my cuddly little dog for company. The incredible, intrepid Instacart shoppers bring us food each week. Amazon Prime fills in around the edges. I’m undoubtedly stir crazy and have been struggling with some cabin fever, but I’ve closed my rings every day for the past year by exercising for 30 minutes a day, and that’s helped burn off excess energy. 

Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to explain the pandemic to our little dog. He doesn’t understand why he can’t run around the dog park, why he can’t see his friends, and why, when he’s outside, he can’t greet the neighbors. But his Mom and Dad shower him with love and affection, and that seems to help (as does the occasional treat and game of lunge and spaz).

So that’s it for me. Here’s everyone else, presented in the order they sent me their stories.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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Me in my temporary office space with my late lamented editorial assistant Twiggy between selling my one place and building another.

For me, my day-to-day life has been about the same as ever. I was working from home long before it was #workingfromhome. But, I also used to do a lot of business travel. I went from about 100,000 miles to less than 100. That was different. I also had to both sell a house and build a new one during the pandemic. Both jobs went far slower thanks to coronavirus.

Looking ahead, though, if all goes well, I’ll be back in the air again come September, and my new house should be done… well sometime soon!

Also: What’s inside SJVN’s home office after 30 years of working from home?

Tonya Hall

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Tonya Hall

I moved to another state during the first week of lockdown. (I wish I would have packed food, water, and bath tissue.) 

Life-threatening health issues with family introduced me to my first real experience with telemedicine. Family members had surgery and advocates were denied access to the patient and to be present in the hospital at all. I immersed myself in learning more about digital health, cooking holistically, and off-earth exploration. 

Zoom enabled me to stay in touch with family, make great friendships and professional relationships whether my colleagues were a few miles away or in low earth orbit. I lived my life to its fullest while wearing a mask and social distancing.

Chris Matyszczyk

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Here’s a picture that symbolizes my, er, intensified culinary efforts. I cooked this Jacques Pépin thing and no one died eating it.

I work out more, because I quickly bought a stationary bike that knows how to make me feel guilty. I miss restaurants, but not as much as I thought. The ones I miss, I really miss. With many, I miss the people not the food. I cook a lot more and occasionally it’s edible. Hey, I never thought I’d do a Jacques Pépin recipe and those who ate it would survive. 

I see more of my wife, which is a huge bonus. But I miss the casual encounters, the hugs, the handshakes, the conversations about nothing and everything, the spontaneity of life. The pandemic has tried to make me virtual and I fight that every day. And I almost forgot. I miss traveling most of all. There’s nothing like the fresh air of a foreign land.

Beth Mauder

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Beth, fiance, and pup

Like most, 2020 brought a ton of change, although most wasn’t bad. I moved states to be back home at the start of the pandemic to avoid being totally alone during lockdown. I went from working in an office to being remote, living with my parents and siblings again, and feeling incredibly overwhelmed. 

After a couple of months, I moved out and into a house with my then-boyfriend and welcomed home an 8-week-old German Shepherd to accompany our cat. Flash forward a bit and we got engaged and now have an 85-pound, 8-month-old pup who acts as my co-worker, workout partner, and mental health savior. 

Since last March, my dumbbells, kettlebell, and running shoes have carried me through. I miss my CrossFit gym and seeing friends the most. Now, a year into the pandemic, ordering takeout and looking up future vacation destinations has practically become a hobby. As soon as I safely can, I’ll be on a beach somewhere speaking to everyone who will allow it just to make up for lost time.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year… subtle changes/holidays always hammered the idea home but is still tough to swallow. I know everyone grows up, but not seeing my parents Christmas morning for the first time in my short 23 years of life was weird and sad. Getting engaged and ordering takeout just to FaceTime family to celebrate wasn’t how I envisioned the moment. 2020 was kind to me in many ways, especially compared to so many, but has taken its toll. Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2021.

Teena Maddox

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Teena Maddox getting takeout with her son Nate, 13, who noted, “I was shorter than you when the pandemic began, Mom.”

On March 11, 2020, I walked out of work after saying “bye” to my colleagues. I haven’t seen them again. At least not in person. We are all working remotely and Zoom meetings are our new normal. 

That’s been a huge adjustment, as has my son’s school going online, and offline, and online, and offline. It’s like a cat deciding which side of a closed door is best. Answer: Neither. Cats believe all doors should be open.

The things I’ve learned to appreciate during the pandemic are grocery delivery services and more quality time with my family. We’ve loaded up on the streaming services and we watch TV together at least once a week, which is something since one of the crew is a teenager, and they always know everything. The stress of worrying about the virus and how to keep my elderly parents safe has been by far the worst part. 

Robin Harris

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Robin Harris

The pandemic didn’t change my life much. I got the virus back in March and was sick for a few days. Some of the places I like to hang out closed for a while. But last spring was very nice because no one was traveling and did not clog up Sedona’s roads and trails.

I’ve worked remotely for over 15 years. I did miss some of my favorite events such as NAB and the FAST conference. I socially distanced with a convivial group of friends and continued to hike the 10-20 miles a week on local trails. 

Larry Dignan

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Larry Dignan

There have been a wide range of things during the COVID-19 pandemic and not all of them bad. 

On the positive side, I was fortunate to have and be on a remote team before the pandemic. My normal became everyone else’s new normal. Remote school is a bear, but I’ve seen my kids more than I would have normally. And I was lucky that exercise has gotten me through every wacky thing in my life and this time was no different. 

The negatives is that I haven’t seen my close friends beyond Zoom for a year. I miss pubs, but not sure I’d even want to go into a crowded one at this point. I just kinda see germs now. I also miss concerts even though the same crowd PTSD would likely be there. Ditto for travel.

Aimee Chanthadavong

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Nothing like a fresh loaf of bread.

The pandemic taught me how to be a homebody and enjoy it. It gave me the chance to cook again (and yes, that included getting on the bread baking bandwagon and whipping coffee), appreciate how much free time I had from not commuting to and from the office, so that I could enjoy sleep-ins, hot breakfasts, and exercise before tuning into work; and live comfortably in activewear — you know the whole work-life balance stuff. 

The pandemic also made me realise I needed a bigger place because frankly, working from my dining table after a year, just isn’t functional. While there have been many positives, the pandemic did kind of ruin my wedding and honeymoon plans. I also miss seeing the team regularly, but we make up for it with lunch meetups, home visits, and constant Slack banter.

Asha Barbaschow

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This is Boston. He accidentally hit publish on a story last year, typos galore, was great! Hhaahaha.

The last year has given me a certain patriotism I didn’t know I had, as basically all Australians respected science and played their part to essentially prevent mass transmission. 

ZDNet Australia team catchups have been a morale boost and in person tech events are also returning. Not travelling has been hard, but being in my hometown meant spending a lot of time with my parents and my friends — with pubs, restaurants, gyms, and sporting events all back to basically normal here. 

I also rescued a cat and turned into a crazy plant lady. I barely killed any of them so far.

Campbell Kwan

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In a region called the Southern Highlands, two hours south of Sydney

Living relatively far from family and friends during the pandemic forced me to slow things down. it forced me to acknowledge that it’s not always the proverbial “summer”, which is what our world pushes, but in fact, there are times where we should rest and preserve energy as if it were “winter.” 

 Accepting that it was more or less “winter” for all of last year, this meant I was reading more, forcing myself to find time to sit with my thoughts, and leaning on nature rather than urban areas for fun. This flowed into my work, where I prioritised patience when work was slow and when communication was not as easy when compared to doing it face to face.

But with Australia almost back to normal, and it being the proverbial summer once more, rather than diving into the rapid currents of the hustle and bustle, I hope to keep the foresight of using the energy I have stored with more intention, such as approaching work with a more tangible gratefulness of how it serves readers and how it provides for me. 

Now it’s your turn

Now it’s your turn to share with us and the rest of the ZDNet community. In the comments below, please share your year-of-pandemic experiences. Please share a paragraph or so that touches on how you’ve experienced the pandemic, things you learned, things you changed, high points, low points, and more. All I ask is that you keep it friendly.

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You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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