Ask the grumpies: What do you want to keep from pandemic-life?

Lisa asks:

One thing I am particularly interested in right now is what people want things to look like “post-COVID”. For example, you talk about probably not being back in the office full time in the fall, but why should we ever go back to the office full time if there are some things we can do more productively from another space? I’m trying to think outside the box beyond having “home” days and “office” days (which is what I’m doing now while two kids are still in remote school) and imaging a mix of things, like coming home when my kids come home from school or perhaps working from home sometimes while the kids are at school and working in the office in the evenings. In a flexible work environment, there’s no reason (in my opinion) to go back to the way things “have always been”. I am trying to grant myself permission to work the schedule that works best for me. I do have the great privilege of tenure to back me up, but am passing this permission and flexibility on to the trainees who work in my lab as well. I hope we will continue to livestream seminars – of course I’d rather be there in person to get a cookie and socialize a bit (remember cookies and socializing?), but it’s SOOO convenient to be able to tune in wherever I am and listen to the speaker. I love the grocery pickup service offered by my favorite local store and will stick with that for sure. I’d love to hear what others are planning to keep from this past year, or ways they’ll modify “normal” going forward.

I asked my students a similar question– what do they want to keep in terms of teaching.  Do they want zoom office hours or the ability to stream in to class when they’re sick etc.

The livestream seminars have been a wonderful democratizing thing– all year NBER has been livestreaming a lot of its conferences and that means you don’t have to be a member of the “club” to see what some of the top economists are talking about and doing.  I’ve also been able to attend two conferences at the same time, picking and choosing talks to go to even if they normally would have been on opposite coasts of the country, which is nice for me.  I do miss talking with my conference buddies though, even if I don’t miss planes and airports.  :/

I like zoom faculty meetings much more than in-person, though most of my colleagues disagree– they miss small-talk.  I do not miss small-talk.

I’m not sure if we’ll stick with grocery pickup or if we’ll go back to shopping in person at our regular grocery store.  Instacart has been pretty terrible, so we have only been doing that about once a month or so (basically when I run out of Spindrift grapefruit fizzy water or when we need a fennel or gochujung etc.).  Curbside pickup is nice, but today we got some brown lettuce and pico de gallo that had gone bad and a personal size watermelon when they charged us for a full size, and the week before last our bag of pepperidge farm whole wheat bread was moldy.  And this is the good curbside pickup with dedicated store employees– instacart at the other store is way worse.  So we will probably go back to regular shopping most weeks.

I do think I will keep zooming RA meetings so they don’t have to come across campus.

I’m not sure what else.

What about you, Grumpy Nation?

23 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: What do you want to keep from pandemic-life?”

  1. Steph Says:

    I’m so torn on Zoom faculty meetings, because on the one hand it’s so much easier to pay attention to the content when I can lay on the couch with the cats or crochet or something. But I definitely feel like I’m missing out on networking with senior faculty, since apparently there’s refreshments/milling about time during in-person faculty meetings.

    I’ll definitely keep my remote skype/board game meet-ups with far away friends. Obviously plenty of people did that pre-pandemic, but I’ve always been terrible at keeping up with long-distance friends. Having that routine with them now means I’m hoping I can keep up with them better. Plus, online board games have gotten way better in the last year! No more semi-legal alternatives, the $4/month has been totally worth the quality of games.

    I’ll probably keep curbside pickup for busy times, or times when I’m getting produce from the farmer’s market. Curbside produce has been better recently, but it’s still nice to shop for myself and see what’s good, etc.

    • Debbie M Says:

      One of my friends can pay attention better at meetings while knitting and occasionally she can talk people into letter her do this in person without them feeling ignored. But it’s quite rare.

      What online board games are your favorite? And what is your platform?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I know you were asking Steph, but DH uses Tabletop Simulator.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Cool. One of my friends is still trying to figure out how to work that before inviting us. Last I heard.

      • Leah Says:

        My friends and I use board game arena. As long as one member is premium, you have access to their games. We like carcasone, sushi go, etc. we also play a game called hanabi on It’s a cooperative fireworks building game.

  2. mnitabach Says:

    I wish I could keep my sleep wake cycle on Amsterdam time zone where it drifted to in the first few months of the pandemic. But with increasing social activity in the evenings, I fear this isn’t gonna be possible…

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Zoom office hours part of the time. Walmart grocery pickup (which is surprisingly good here). Wearing masks on planes. Caring less about unimportant stuff and saying yes to my kids more of the time. That’s basically it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My students came down heavily on the idea of half office hours in person and half online, and I think I will implement that.

      • gwinne Says:

        I like this idea. It makes me more willing to have office hrs on ‘non campus’ days if I can zoom in the late afternoon, when my major work is done. But only by appointment, not as a regular thing.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think I’m going to make my 8am office hours zoom only and my Friday afternoon office hours in-person.

  4. CG Says:

    I’ve realized over the past two years (one of sabbatical and one of pandemic) that one of the things I hate the most about my job is my commute. I don’t think I’ll want to teach fully online in the future because I don’t get to know my students as well and I think it’s harder for them to pay attention, but I sure would like to teach partially online. For example, if we have a guest speaker who’s not local, we could just do that class on zoom. Or this year I had writing conferences and I think I’ll always do those on zoom so people don’t have to drive in to meet with me for ten minutes. I’ll probably also do office hours on zoom from now on as well. I’d prefer to never attend another in-person meeting but we’ll have to see what my department chair wants to do. I worry a little that this is going to make me even more checked out than I already am. I’m not checked out with my students or with my research, but I definitely am in terms of feeling a connection with the university as a whole. Perhaps if they maintained our building or stopped cutting our budget every year I would feel more invested.

    In my personal life, I don’t miss the scramble to get kids to activities all weekend that we used to do, but I think some of that is coming back because there are things they want to do and we want them to be able to do those things. When oldest starts high school in the fall there will be a new set of logistics to contend with, but I’m hoping some of it will be simplified because some of his activities will now be absorbed by school (like sports). And now all three kids are old enough to be left on their own for a bit so we don’t have to get a babysitter so I can drive an older child somewhere or drag everyone along with me.

    The biggest unknown for us is DH’s travel schedule, which used to be 2-3 nights away every week. I’ve had a whole year of not being a single parent and, as I suspected, I MUCH prefer it to scrambling around by myself. I hope they come to some happy medium of expectations about face time. And I hope that some combination of that and the above comment about kids being older makes things feel less intense than they used to.

  5. Debbie M Says:

    I’ve got masks now! I will start using them whenever I feel sick but insist on going out in public. Oh, and I do like Jenny F. Scientist’s idea of wearing them on planes. They aren’t as protective for us as for other people, but surely that could still be a good idea.

    We’re in discussions now on keeping some of our craft nights virtual, so our friend from California can come. (We used to have one in-person craft night per month, from 6-ish to midnight-ish. Now we have one online craft night per week, 6 to 8-ish. I have proposed one in-person meeting on first Fridays and one online meeting on third Fridays.)

    I would have hated working from home where basically every distraction except cleaning is more fun than my job duties. Also, there were certain people who would only respond if I visited them in person (they were in a remote part of campus and probably felt guilty that I walked a mile there in the heat of summer just to see them)–if those guys were working from home, it wouldn’t work. But I’m a weirdo in this way–it’s clear that most people prefer working from home, especially if their kids are away at school during that time. Also, most (but not all) of their pets prefer to have their humans working from home.

    I fear that the system won’t make the big changes we want, but I agree that the coming months are the time to demand them. (I mean, MADD actually got people to have designated drinkers! And it’s actually illegal to smoke tobacco cigarettes in some places. And gay weddings are legal in Texas! So some things I think are impossible aren’t!)

    • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

      At some point in the reasonably near future, normal humans will be able to buy N95s again! And if you can adjust Kn95 straps right enough and actually get a seal, they work too! But even a surgical mask does decrease your own risk significantly.

  6. SP Says:

    Hmmm. Not a lot. WFH is meh for me, and my commute is so small. I prefer to work in my office. It will probably be an adjustment to get back into all of us to being ready to get out the door in the mornings at the same time (we share a car). We’ll have to start paying for parking again too. Booo.

    The elimination of work travel was good, but mostly in that I was slated for a TON of on site support in Colorado last summer/fall, and it was going to be a pain in the butt. The whole project went remote, so that was awesome for me. But I expect some level of work travel will return. I find real value of face to face meetings, at least occasionally. My work is very collaborative.

    Grocery delivery and (occasional) prepared weekly meal delivery are staying for sure.

    Outdoor haircuts organized by one of my neighbors. I honestly just hate going to the hair salon. These probably will cease eventually, but I love it.

    Regular family FaceTime calls with my siblings and parents. I’ve always talked to my parents a lot on the phone, but not as often my sisters, so it is nice to have a bit more connection.

    • Debbie M Says:

      Outdoor haircuts? What a fascinating idea! Worst-case scenario, maybe you can set something up directly with a hair cutter, perhaps switching between your yard and your hair cutter’s yard.

      • SP Says:

        To be honest, my main motivation for outdoor haircuts at this point in time is that they are in my neighborhood and I don’t have to drive anywhere or get a full salon “experience”. Haha

  7. RH Says:

    Also don’t love WFH. My job involves lab work and I’ve been back onsite at least 2-3 days/week since August. I’ve found that the parts of my job that I can do at home are the not fun parts. So I’d much rather be onsite, interacting and collaborating with others. We have eliminated many meetings though and rely on more quick chats which is much better!

    Never did grocery delivery.

    Really hope my kids school continues to do virtual parent-teacher conferences. Usually crazy logistics to get both husband and I there in the middle of a weekday…for a 15 min meeting.

    Have enjoyed not attending kids birthday parties where the whole class gets invited (does this make me a horrible person?!). Small talk with parents I don’t know for 2-3 hours on a Sat afternoon is not great. We haven’t had annual birthday parties for our kid and usually just invite a friend along to do an activity.

    Husband works at a hospital and has been showering every single day immediately after he gets home from work, after stripping down in the garage. Thinking he can stop doing this now!

  8. Lisa Says:

    Thanks for picking my question! One thing I’ve learned from this past year is that we don’t have to keep doing everything the same way. Another thing I’ve learned is that it is really hard to think outside the box and imagine a new way of doing things. So, while I’m hoping for some big epiphany on how to live my life going forward, letting someone else pick my groceries for me may be the revelation I end up with. (I hope not!)

    Having learned that my kids’ schooling is more flexible than I realized has strengthened my desire to do a sabbatical abroad. We can easily homeschool the elementary kid and the older kids could do our public online school if they don’t want to try out an international school.

    I agree that masks are here to stay, I’ll certainly wear them if I have a little something but am not sick enough to stay home. And on planes! And public transportation!

    I feel like the past year has brought my research group closer together – the necessity of working together on scheduling and keeping tabs on one another so that no one ends up sick at home alone helped us see one another as people we care about and look out for. I know that not every group had this outcome, so I’m grateful that my people were so supportive and inclusive. Going forward, I might try to expand some of this to the departmental level. My departmental colleagues are great, but we all tend to get caught up in trying to get our own work done and survive and don’t look outward or work as a cohesive team. I have a platform I can use for this, I just have to be careful not to get too touchy-feely about it. Scientists (generally) hate that stuff!

  9. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I didn’t know off the top of my head when I read this earlier but I had to go in for a dental appointment and I’m SO tired after that. I want to keep curbside pickup for lots of stores and restaurants. I wish I had thought to tip the nice person who brought us our dinner order at curbside yesterday.

    I wish that we could eliminate the commute issue for PiC without having to be in each other’s space all the time. I hated that morning scramble to get everyone out the door.

  10. First Gen American Says:

    I actually really like the online canvas setup to track grades and assignments. I hope that sticks post Covid. We had a parent portal before the pandemic but some teachers used it and others didn’t which made it useless but once it became a system of record for everyone, it was super handy. I also don’t miss underwire bras.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We use a different program, but you’re absolutely right that having only one of these systems (technically 2, but the other is just for grades) makes everything so much easier to keep track of!

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