I’ve warmed up to working remotely, but still miss the old-school newsroom

I didn’t think I had it in me. Turns out, I do. I have gotten used to working from home. Yet, I still yearn to be working in a fully operational newsroom again where my colleagues and I can collaborate and gossip face to face.

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The author’s work station in her Rogers Park condo.

The author’s work station in her Rogers Park condo.

Rummana Hussain/Sun-Times

My legs feel like they are encased in rhinoceros skin when I throw on a pair of jeans these days, so the much more formal slacks I purchased for 50% off during the height of the pandemic are out of the question.

I love make-up but all I do is slather a pea-sized drop of sunscreen on my face before my morning meetings.

The kitchen table doubles as my cubicle and I’ve made peace with this uninspiring set up.

I never thought this would happen to my extroverted self. I didn’t think I had it in me. Turns out, I do. I have gotten used to working from home.

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Yet, there are times I yearn to be back in a fully operational newsroom again, where my colleagues and I can collaborate and gossip face to face. But when plans for a mandatory two-day in-person week were shelved for the Sun-Times last month, I felt a wave of relief.

A few days later, though, I felt sad, demonstrative of the fickle tug-of-war between my preference for the new normal and the longing for the pre-COVID era where I went into the office trying to look like a professional print journalist — which let’s face it, isn’t too difficult of a feat.

“Don’t kid yourself,” my husband, Mick, assured me, knowing all too well that I’m not a morning person. “You’d be the first one complaining about waking up earlier.” Very true.

I have enjoyed being able to multi-task — throwing some daal on the stove, helping babysit my nephews and nieces, getting an oil change — while putting together a daily newspaper.

But I miss running into my closest work friends on my way to the restroom to dish on the Kardashians and movie award shows. While I adore Mick — my only at-home co-worker on most days — discussions on the intricacies of Northwestern football, the superiority of fruit grown in Michigan and his exhaustive vinyl collection haven’t been as fun. Meanwhile, he’s told me he wishes he could talk to someone about the Wu-Tang Clan. Touché.

To mix it up, once a week, I make a trip to my mom’s where my younger sister, a state investigator, works a few feet away. Having a parent in the background feels like having a live boss, although I’ve never had a supervisor demand that I talk to my overseas relatives on WhatsApp while I’m in the middle of an edit.

This extra time with loved ones is ultimately what’s led most of my family, friends and colleagues to conclude that working remotely is the way to go if they are afforded the option. Mutiny is what would happen if companies required a full-time return to the office, I’ve joked. That isn’t a stretch. When news outlets last week cited recent surveys that found many young adults hate working from home, some Gen Zers fired back on social media, accusing less tech-savvy boomers of penning the articles.

Truth be told, I — a Gen Xer — have felt for younger reporters and interns who have only met their editors virtually and are partially navigating their careers online in a profession where interpersonal skills can’t be honed in emails or a tweet.

It doesn’t help that psychologists have warned that staring at images of yourself on a laptop during Zoom meetings can do a number on your mental health, especially for women who have more pressures than men to look a certain way.

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Turning off the camera on a video call, which I do occasionally, is also an option, but then conversations can be even harder to follow without facial cues. I just count my blessings that I no longer have to attend too many Zoom parties, which can be depressing, watching participants force themselves to look excited when they aren’t. At least with work meetings, employees don’t have to pretend or sound as though they are having a good time.

Soon, Sun-Times staffers will be able to reserve a desk at either the Old Post Office or Navy Pier, where our partner, WBEZ, has offices and studios.

I’m not sure how popular that will be for veterans used to having their own work stations or rookies who could just Uber it back to their apartments instead of making sure there’s freed-up space available before their assignment is due. Time will tell.

For now, this woman’s place is in the home.

Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.

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