‘Get back to work Stewart!’

‘Are you back in the office yet?’ is now pretty much the follow up question to ‘So… what do you do?’
The world has gone through a seismic shift in how and where we work…and the push is now on to get things back to how they used to be. But I’m not going to be leading the charge back in to the office five days a week, in fact I think this is a once in a generation chance to tilt the balance back in favour of workers. So I’m no expert…but here are my thoughts on returning to the office.

A bit of history

The Industrial Revolution saw work move away from the home and farm, and into factories and cities. Employers needed people to work in their offices and factories, and workers needed money…so the happy relationship between employers and employees began. The employers would say ‘How about you work 7 days a week and we’ll let your children work alongside you for free?!’ and the employees would say ‘How about we go for 8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of play and we celebrate with a public holiday?!’ This happy game of tug-of-war has been waging ever since.
I think that over my career the balance has been gradually heading in the employer’s favour. Where it was once expected that people would do their best Dolly Parton and work from 9-5, that eventually became ‘look we’re not going to say that you can’t leave at 5pm, but we ARE going to create a culture that makes it frowned upon’…and then eventually, ‘of course you can leave at 6pm…but we WILL expect you to respond to emails at 10pm’.
The trade-off for this has been impressive wages growth…Bwah ha ha! Just kidding! Wages growth has been falling spectactularly over the last 10 years. In fact, unless you’re someone like a CEO or a politician who can vote on their own payrise, you’ve probably been working longer hours for little or no extra money.
Now of course these extra hours also come at the expense of time doing things you actually want to do, like spending time with your family, or doing exercise, or catching up with friends.
So are we doing all of this extra work out of the kindness of our hearts? Nah. We just have mind-blowing levels of personal debt (an average of $250K per household), and you know what’s a real-great motivator for doing whatever is asked of you so that you don’t lose your job? Knowing that you’re only just keeping your head above water with that full-time job…and that losing that job would probably see you lose where you live.

Enter the Pandemic

Suddenly the working world headed home. After years of being told that ‘we can’t have people working from home regularly as we don’t have the IT systems to support it…and besides we don’t REALLY trust you to work if we can’t see you!’, we miraculously discovered that in fact we could.
We also discovered, that just as in Industrial Revolution times, it was a terrible idea to have your kids with you at work, as they drain your broadband signal and ruin your Zoom meetings.

But a lot of people also discovered that not having to commute to and from work every day gave them a couple of extra hours in the day. For me this meant that I could get out for a good run or bike-trainer session, have a shower and still be ready for work at 9am.
When the kids returned to school, it meant I could do pickups and drop-offs and have those great conversations that only happen in the neutral territory between school and home.
It also meant that instead of only cooking decent meals on the weekend when I had the time, I could now cook a healthy meal from scratch every night!

As a human

So as a human, despite the existential dread that comes with a pandemic, I can’t remember feeling more fulfilled than over the past 15 months. The concept of work/life balance, has become more of a reality, with work having to sit alongside the little things that make you a good person, rather than dictating what little time you have to devote to them.

Now I totally realise that this is 100% my experience and is in no way reflective of other people. But outside of people with corner offices and a PA to do their photocopying, I haven’t heard a whole lot of people saying ‘I can’t wait to get back in the office 5 days a week!’
So I’m really hoping that we don’t just blindly go back to what we were doing before COVID-19, as I feel that we have been given an incredible opportunity to take stock of what works for us as people, not just employees.

*On the off-chance that there is any confusion…clearly these are my opinions and not in any way those of my employer. I am speaking purely on my own behalf.

The best camera is the phone you have with you.

There’s an old photography adage that ‘the best camera you have, is the camera you have with you’. In other words, it’s no use bemoaning the fact that you don’t have your $5,000 camera as a Yeti rides past on a Segway…you need to use whatever you have at your disposal to capture this moment!
For the last 10 years this ‘camera you have with you’ has been a phone camera, and over the last 10 years the phone camera has evolved from ‘if you squint you can kinda see what I was trying to capture’ to ‘this is only half as bad as I would have done with my proper camera’. But last weekend I went for an overnight hike with my family at Wilson’s Prom, and my iPhone got promoted to ‘this is the only camera I need!’
So I thought I’d write a quick blog post about how it felt to take my proper camera gear with me…and never take it out of its case.

‘So I just push this button?’

There is a very specific feeling of dread that happens when someone offers to take a photo with your camera. Invariably this will be when you’re taking a group shot, and someone will say ‘Hey, do you want me to take the photo?’ Sadly, societal norms mean that you can’t respond by saying ‘That depends…are you going to f*&# this up?’ So instead you will switch all your settings to ‘auto’ and say ‘Just press this button. No, not that button…this button’. Then they will hold the camera at arm’s length as if it’s a feral cat that’s trying to maul them to death…will press a button other than the one that you told them to…will frame the photo so that it’s only your upper-bodies and 3kms of sky above you…and when you look at the photo, while everyone else is smiling, you have a look of ‘WTAF are you doing?!’ on your face.
But put a phone in their hands, and people will happily snap a series of in focus, nicely framed images where you are actually smiling…like this one!

About to embark on our first family overnight hike

‘OK guys…just hang on a second, Dad’s just going to take a photo’

You had best believe that any time this sentence is uttered…the response is a series of groans.
Worst of all, these groans are 100% justified. Because the translation of the sentence is actually ‘Hang on for five minutes while Dad breaks any momentum that we’d generated so that he can unpack his camera, then decide he needs to change lenses, then get increasinly angry as no-one is able to re-create the happy scene that had inspired him to take out his camera five minutes ago’. But with a phone, you can simply take out the camera as you walk and get the shot.

On the way to Sealer’s Cove
On the boardwalk pt 1
On the boardwalk pt 2
Bowl of porridge…and a bowl of coffee. Camping done right!
Zero fear of wading through water to take the shot.

Yes, but Chris, I’m an artist!!

Of course you are! And you will not be able to take epic landscape shots that you can blow up and print for your wall…or take tack-sharp portraits…but DAMN you can get pretty close!!!

Wide-angled black and white. Would I have loved to have had a dancer creating a similar shadow next to this branch? Yes…but dancers were very thin on the ground at Sealer’s Cove
Pano mode in the morning
Crystal clear reflections
Trees and reflections of trees
More early morning shots. Pano mode with the wide-angle
The old ‘get them to stand inside a burnt-out log and look towards the sky’ shot.
The morning sun was breaking through the foliage in this one spot, so exposing the shot for that bright light made everything else fall off into darkness…or I carried a softbox and strobe for the entire hike in the hope of getting this shot. You decide.

Photos on the run

There may be times when I decide that it’s worth carrying the extra weight of my proper camera on a hike or bike ride…but there is NO chance I’m carrying a camera when I’m out for a run. Because I simply don’t need to make that any harder than it already is. But at the same time, I tend to do most of my running in the early morning as the sun comes up, and there have been many times that I’d wished I had a decent camera with me. Now I’ve got the best of both worlds. Now I can carry my phone, listen to podcasts, and if hypothetically speaking, there were an incredible sunrise…or a wallaby…or I see that the rest of family are about to paddle of up a river…I can take a shot!

Up the creek…with paddles
Pretty sure I’m being watched
Sunrise over Tidal River
Never pass up an opportunity to get a photo of a wombat

So there you go. I don’t intend this to be an advertorial for any phone in particular…nor am I about to sell my Fuji gear. But what a time to be alive when I can get these sorts of photos out of the same device that I can also ignore your phone calls on!