Here we go again.
What was going to be two-and-a-half days in lockdown has now grown by another 12 days, and could yet end up stretching closer to the six weeks we endured in March and April.
A new study shows how we can do better with our latest Covid-enforced work from home experience.
Carried out by researchers at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Greenwich, and Phone Free Day, it is billed as the first international empirical study of its kind.
The study's lead author, AUT Business School's Dr Lena Waizenegger, said the research team was surprised at how quickly employees and organisations adapted to new technologies and approaches to work - and how many of them actually improved productivity as employees proved they could be trusted to work remotely.
"We were amazed by the innovation capabilities and creativity of teams and businesses," said Waizenegger. "EWFH [enforced working from home] showed that remote or flexible working is not only feasible, it also has various positive effects that should be maintained even after the pandemic."
The study found positives and negatives almost evenly split.
Negatives included role conflict for remote workers also looking after kids or home-schooling; the blurring of work-life boundaries; and virtual meeting fatigue.
Positives included flatter team structures; staff or contractors who always worked remotely feeling more part of the team.
Video meetings tended to be to the point, helping efficiency. But many missed the zeitgeist moments that can happen when you bump into a colleague for a chat by the water cooler or printer.
I haven’t learned many new skills during the pandemic. But I have gotten pretty good at petting a needy cat just out of webcam view.— Harry McCracken (@harrymccracken) August 13, 2020
"Communication is good but far less frequent," said Sia, one of 29 EWFH workers interviewed for the study.
"Before we would bounce ideas off each other quite a bit. Right now it feels a bit more silo. There is still collaboration but it's very much orchestrated and less spontaneous in a lot of ways."
"Zoom fatigue" comes, in part, from constantly being onscreen, with the feeling that you have to have fixed appropriate expression at all times. One group of employees dealt with the issue by setting their videoconferencing software so all were audio-only, bar the active speaker.
Many staff spoken to for the survey thought virtual check-ins were too frequent, and that video chat was more invasive than voice calling.
"Holding too many virtual meetings can backfire as employees perceive them as too intrusive if they clash with their professional or private schedule," Waizenegger said.
In the office, a manager could easily get the feel of the room, and if most were free and up for an ad-hoc meeting.
"Before, you would check someone's schedule before calling, or put something in the calendar. But that has gone out the window completely. There is no etiquette for a virtual tap on the shoulder."
Junior staff suffer
Senior staff like the ability to focus on projects.
"But junior staff often want to clarify a task or discuss their next step, and often just come over and see if their colleague is busy or not. But because now everyone's working from home, they don't have that transparency anymore," Waizenegger told the Herald.
"They often don't want to send another email with more questions. So that really has an effect on how they learn on the job."
Managers need to allow time for extra coaching.
For many participants, a quick morning catch-up meeting symbolised the start of the workday and was important to feel part of the team.
"In a lot of ways, it's more convenient. The other benefit of it is you're forced to provide better instructions on what you want because you know that the person can't just come back to you easily with a question, so you deliberately provide more detailed answers or instructions," said one study subject, "Barry".
Those who lived alone could be brought down by feelings of loneliness or isolation. All could be pepped up by virtual Friday drinks - but those, too, can be problematic over Zoom. Without the real-life ability to mingle from group to group, an online after-work party can become as rigid and over-taxing as a straight-up business Zoom meeting.
On a meat-and-potatoes level, many staff were logistically more ready for the new lockdown, Waizenegger said.
For Lockdown 1.0, many thought they could get away with their laptop screen, initially. Now, many have a full-size screen, or two, in their home office. The Herald spied one office worker rolling her chair across an intersection as Auckland prepared for the new lockdown; your correspondent took the precaution of ordering a chair on review from newcomer to NZ, Secret Lab - a good quality office or indeed gaming chair is transformative.
"I think people get into their routine, much faster, and now know how to juggle their professional but also private commitments much better," Waizenegger said of lockdown 2.0.
"I think it will have a positive effect on productivity."