There I was, sitting at my desk on a reliably humid July day in Montreal, intermittently turning my portable A/C on when I got too warm and turning it off when I got too cold. Drinking tepid coffee that I could’ve sworn was too hot to drink a second ago. None of that mattered. I was doing work that I was proud of, even if my desk chair kept getting caught in my apartment’s crumbling parquet floors.
I’ve admired the work of the HIV Legal Network for a while. When doing research for my first few law school essays, I found myself reading their reports about prison needle exchange programs and HIV nondisclosure criminalization. Their mission is to advocate for the rights of those affected by HIV and, by extension, those more likely to be affected by HIV. This means that they fight for the rights of those who are often the most marginalized in society: people who use drugs, sex workers, newcomers, and the LGBTQ community are just some of the groups that come to mind (in addition to those living with HIV or AIDS). Through litigation, research, and consciousness raising, they shine a light on inequities that are often frustratingly underreported and not well-understood by the general public.
That said, I was planning on working from home full-time. I’d never done that before. I was working decidedly outside the home in customer service during the early days of the pandemic. Then, I started at McGill just as classes were held primarily in person again. So, I felt a twinge of internal conflict as my start date drew closer. Needless to say, I was more than excited to start working for an organization that aligns with my values and impacts the lives of people around the world. I also knew what people had been saying about the miracle of WFH (“You’ll have so much time! You don’t ever have to spend money on lunch or take a bus at rush hour!”). But I’d heard about the feelings of isolation that can come with working fully remotely, too. I couldn’t help but wonder, Will working from home really be that different from every other job I’ve had? More importantly, will I enjoy it?
As it turns out, the answer to that Bradshaw-esque question is that it doesn’t matter as much as I thought it would. Now that I’m in it, I can’t imagine anything that matters less than the space I’m in while working. If anything, there is a lot about the tech that allows for remote work that also facilitates making connections beyond what we could have conceived of even ten years ago. Reaching out to stakeholders (whether it be community organizers or government officials) from across the country is made easier now that video chatting software is ubiquitous. Having meetings with counsel who are thousands of kilometres away is, similarly, a no-brainer.
It is, of course, lovely to speak to the people you’ve been working with in person. I was lucky enough to meet most of my supervisors, and even some members of the HLN’s board, at the annual staff social in Toronto. Getting to know the people I’d been emailing for a month over some of the best (and sauciest) pizza I’ve had in a while* was one of the highlights of my internship experience thus far. It’s also undeniably convenient to be able to walk over to your supervisor’s office to ask a question. However, it feels important to remember that for some, remote work is the only way to make their profession accessible. It can quite literally be a life-saver. During these last few weeks, I’m left feeling grateful that we have this option rather than lamenting the demise of in-person contact.
It often feels unreal to be working from my apartment on projects that will hopefully have some real-world consequences. It sometimes even feels wrong that I have the opportunity to do this. Someone else should be doing this work. Someone more accomplished. At the very least, someone whose desk isn’t four feet from their bed. I’m mostly over that now. Doing this work was a possibility that used to seem remote (get it?). Well, it still is in some ways. But it isn’t in the ways that matter.
*Note: This may be controversial for those who are more familiar with the city than I am, but the pizza was from Maker. Do with that information what you will.