Embracing weirdness: a photo essay of a year of working from home

Embracing weirdness: a photo essay of a year of working from home

Embracing weirdness: a photo essay of year working from home

Like so many people, TWRI staff started working from home about a year ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, new employees have started but never met in person. Babies — human, cattle, cat and otherwise — have been born. Workshops have shifted online, and Monday morning coffee pot conversations moved to the digital realm.

For TWRI Director John Tracy, carrying on through the past pandemic year has been made possible by leaning into the weirdness.

“I think I gave up on trying to retain normalcy, but rather moved in the other direction of embracing weirdness,” he said.

“Rather than waking up and worrying about how I needed to adjust my work activities and approaches to the ever-changing set of challenges presented by working remotely and living in a pandemic, I would start the day by thinking about all the new things I would learn today, even though I had no idea what they were.”

John was inspired by a line from the movie “Stranger than Fiction,” in which a professor asks, “Are you in a story that is a tragedy or a comedy?”

Across the world, there’s been no shortage of tragedy, hardship and uncertainty in the past year. But it has also been a year of growth, innovation and coming together to make the world a little better. So John decided that as much as he could choose, he wanted to be in a comedy.

“The best comedies are always ones where the protagonist has no idea what is coming but is able to roll with the punches. So, moving away from dreading the uncertainty, I decided to anticipate the uncertainty. At a day-to-day level of existence, embracing learning what the next punch line will be has helped a lot in handling the non-normalcy of the situation.”

One year and many video calls later, embracing the uncertainty has been a success. No TWRI staff members have gotten stuck as a kitten in Zoom meeting, and only one (four-legged) home office mate has tried to chew their way out. Everyone has learned their own ways to find balance, retain some normalcy and keep on moving even when things are uncertain.

With new circumstances come new routines. TWRI Research Specialist Clare Escamilla’s dog Duncan now understands the command “Let’s go to work!” and will jump off the couch and run over to her desk to start the work day.
With new circumstances come new routines. TWRI Research Specialist Clare Escamilla’s dog Duncan now understands the command “Let’s go to work!” and will jump off the couch and run over to her desk to start the work day.
Working at the home office sometimes come with unexpected treats, like TWRI Intern Ava English’s surprise bagel sandwich. Lunch breaks have turned into runs for TWRI Extension Program Specialist Nathan Glavy, and harvest time for TWRI Extension Associate Jaclyn Robertson.
Working at the home office sometimes come with unexpected treats, like TWRI Intern Ava English’s surprise bagel sandwich. Lunch breaks have turned into runs for TWRI Extension Program Specialist Nathan Glavy, and harvest time for TWRI Extension Associate Jaclyn Robertson.
Working from home requires finding space where there's space to be found. TWRI Program Specialist Ali Ajaz works from his wife’s study table, and TWRI Communications Specialist Chantal Cough-Schulze works from her dining room table. When Chantal occasionally needs to record audio for narrating videos, she sits on a stool at the foot of the bed, where ducking under blankets muffles background noise.
Working from home requires finding space where there's space to be found. TWRI Program Specialist Ali Ajaz works from his wife’s study table, and TWRI Communications Specialist Chantal Cough-Schulze works from her dining room table. When Chantal occasionally needs to record audio for narrating videos, she sits on a stool at the foot of the bed, where ducking under blankets muffles background noise.
Sometimes work calls have fun extra participants, like TWRI Grant Administrator Danielle Kalisek’s children. Other times, family and housemates are tiptoeing around, trying to go unnoticed. “It has been funny watching my family accommodate my many Zoom/Teams sessions, as they try to duck out of the way of the laptop camera,” said TWRI Program Specialist Ward Ling. “It oftentimes results in an entertaining game of charades as they try to tell me a story while being silent off camera.”
Sometimes work calls have fun extra participants, like TWRI Grant Administrator Danielle Kalisek’s children. Other times, family and housemates are tiptoeing around, trying to go unnoticed. “It has been funny watching my family accommodate my many Zoom/Teams sessions, as they try to duck out of the way of the laptop camera,” said TWRI Program Specialist Ward Ling. “It oftentimes results in an entertaining game of charades as they try to tell me a story while being silent off camera.”
Some TWRI staff members tested out a Microsoft Teams video feature to make them look like they’re — sort of — in the same place. Video calls have been vital for reaching stakeholders during the pandemic. “It’s all just a couple of clicks away and you’re meeting with people from all over the state,” said TWRI Extension Associate Victor Gutierrez.
Some TWRI staff members tested out a Microsoft Teams video feature to make them look like they’re — sort of — in the same place. Video calls have been vital for reaching stakeholders during the pandemic. “It’s all just a couple of clicks away and you’re meeting with people from all over the state,” said TWRI Extension Associate Victor Gutierrez.
Many have been baking more this year, as with Ava’s tri-berry muffins, Chantal’s very purple cake, and Clare’s tahini cookies. TWRI Research Specialist Anna Gitter has replaced her morning commute with baking muffins. “A warm muffin with some butter and a cup of coffee helps to set the day on a positive note.” Ward, however, discovered a rare downside of pandemic baking: “For some weird reason running the mixer bumps the wifi, so no cake making during a Zoom call! I learned that the hard way.”
Many have been baking more this year, as with Ava’s tri-berry muffins, Chantal’s very purple cake, and Clare’s tahini cookies. TWRI Research Specialist Anna Gitter has replaced her morning commute with baking muffins. “A warm muffin with some butter and a cup of coffee helps to set the day on a positive note.” Ward, however, discovered a rare downside of pandemic baking: “For some weird reason running the mixer bumps the wifi, so no cake making during a Zoom call! I learned that the hard way.”
More time at home has also meant more time around the animals, like the kittens Anna Gitter fostered in summer that “made sure each work day was full of surprises.” Anna has fostered one puppy, two cats, and 16 kittens during the pandemic. TWRI Communications Manager Kerry Halladay’s pet snake, Patrick, also made a good officemate.
More time at home has also meant more time around the animals, like the kittens Anna Gitter fostered in summer that “made sure each work day was full of surprises.” Anna has fostered one puppy, two cats, and 16 kittens during the pandemic. TWRI Communications Manager Kerry Halladay’s pet snake, Patrick, also made a good officemate.
TWRI staff also welcomed other new animals into their lives. Jaclyn and TWRI Research Associate Ed Rhodes each raised calves, and TWRI Assistant Director Allen Berthold raised numerous broiler chicks.
TWRI staff also welcomed other new animals into their lives. Jaclyn and TWRI Research Associate Ed Rhodes each raised calves, and TWRI Assistant Director Allen Berthold raised numerous broiler chicks.
Working from home has allowed for more time for hobbies in the evenings and on the weekend. Ward is frame-swapping a 1947 International truck, and Ava has picked up piano again for the first time in years. She’s adopted her brother’s keyboard during the pandemic, which sits next to her work desk, ready to be played.
Working from home has allowed for more time for hobbies in the evenings and on the weekend. Ward is frame-swapping a 1947 International truck, and Ava has picked up piano again for the first time in years. She’s adopted her brother’s keyboard during the pandemic, which sits next to her work desk, ready to be played.
Many staff members have also been able to grow and harvest more food this year. At Jaclyn’s house, her nephew sometimes shows up to help with the garden harvest.
Many staff members have also been able to grow and harvest more food this year. At Jaclyn’s house, her nephew sometimes shows up to help with the garden harvest.
Ed usually isn’t home when the field behind his house is crop dusted, but because he was working from home, he was able to see it from the upstairs window.
Ed usually isn’t home when the field behind his house is crop dusted, but because he was working from home, he was able to see it from the upstairs window.
Many staff members spent weekends hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. TWRI Research Specialist Michael Schramm and his family took socially distanced trips to East Texas for fishing and hiking, and Danielle and her family took camper trips to “clear the head, relax and enjoy being outside, yet have the comforts of home inside.” When bad weather cancelled camping plans, Chantal found that going camping in the living room and making s’mores in the oven is also a great way to “get away.”
Many staff members spent weekends hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. TWRI Research Specialist Michael Schramm and his family took socially distanced trips to East Texas for fishing and hiking, and Danielle and her family took camper trips to “clear the head, relax and enjoy being outside, yet have the comforts of home inside.” When bad weather cancelled camping plans, Chantal found that going camping in the living room and making s’mores in the oven is also a great way to “get away.”
“The big take-away is just keeping this up and really getting active/outside when possible when we transition back into the office,” Nathan said.
“The big take-away is just keeping this up and really getting active/outside when possible when we transition back into the office,” Nathan said.
 Allen can track the change of the past year in just one person — his son, who was born in March 2020, is now walking. So working from home this past year has been a blessing in disguise. “It gave us an awesome opportunity to bond as a family with our new addition,” Allen said.
Allen can track the change of the past year in just one person — his son, who was born in March 2020, is now walking. So working from home this past year has been a blessing in disguise. “It gave us an awesome opportunity to bond as a family with our new addition,” Allen said.
Recently, TWRI commemorated the one-year anniversary of working from home. Embracing the uncertainty has helped all year, Jaclyn said. “I threw normalcy out the window a long time ago and I’m not mad about it. Flexibility, patience, and understanding are the new normal. Calm and joy fit somewhere in between,” she said.
Recently, TWRI commemorated the one-year anniversary of working from home. Embracing the uncertainty has helped all year, Jaclyn said. “I threw normalcy out the window a long time ago and I’m not mad about it. Flexibility, patience, and understanding are the new normal. Calm and joy fit somewhere in between,” she said.

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As a communications specialist for the Texas Water Resources Institute, Chantal Cough-Schulze works with the institute’s communications team writing articles for and editing txH2O and Conservation Matters, developing TWRI multimedia materials and editing reports and education and outreach materials. She also serves as the managing editor for the Texas Water Journal.