I spent my first days in Saskatoon reclining on a deflating air mattress.
It was the beginning of May, and that mattress — my only piece of furniture — doubled as my home office for the first two weeks of my new job at the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. As my friends kneaded bread over Zoom calls and took up jogging, I spent the spring red-faced from rolling over to inflate my workspace every hour or so.
Living on an air mattress clarifies things. Halfway between a life raft and a bed, they aren’t made for people suffering back pain or cold spells. I suffered some aches and pains in the first week, but it was home.
And I was grateful for my new job. Being a recent university graduate gives one an appreciation for work. Many of my friends had lost their jobs in the weeks before I moved, and most were back home with their parents, waiting for a break in COVID-19 cases so they could move away again.
Some young workers may have similar experiences in the future. A Conference Board of Canada report in July said about 71 per cent of employers were considering their long-term approach to working from home.
Some of my work at The StarPhoenix would have been done remotely even if COVID-19 restrictions had not forced the office to work from home. My job involves covering small governments, including rural and faraway places in northern Saskatchewan. If not for the pandemic, I would have been cold-calling reeves from an air-conditioned swivel chair in the newspaper's downtown office instead of from a life raft jammed into a sweltering attic.
But starting a job in journalism is always strange. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of a new place. It took time to get comfortable with Saskatchewan, a province known for its abundance of space — which I could only experience from a single-bedroom walk-up.
From a distance, I had a slow set of the firsts that come with any new place: a first after-work drink on the Friday of my first week, a first inside joke over an internal chat program, and a first in-person meeting with all my co-workers at a physically distanced picnic three months after I started the job.
I gradually replaced my deflated life raft with furniture as restrictions loosened. I owe some thanks to a couple from North Battleford who were moving their elderly parent into a new home. They helped me move a kitchen set, couch and some chairs up a flight of steps after I showed up to buy a rocking chair one Saturday. They did it for free.
Meanwhile, in backyards and in public parks, I met my co-workers. They're funny and dedicated (more so than their digital avatars can say).
These experiences helped to change my view of Saskatchewan. As the streets stayed open longer and the weather warmed, my perspective shifted from seeing the city as a quiet place to something bigger. Over the phone, I heard moving stories about communities overcoming all of this year’s strains, without seeing any of their faces.
Moving to a new city and job during a pandemic taught me the importance of patience. The relationships that journalism — and most work — needs are durable enough to last, even if people are apart. When COVID-19 restrictions tightened up again this winter, I didn’t feel as constrained because I knew my sources and colleagues were still out there, in their own safe places each day.
The view from my air mattress isn’t as bleak for recent grads as I thought. Many more will likely share my experience, but faith in the relationships we share is a genuine life raft.
Work is going to change — and moving to new jobs and cities will change even more. That faith may be a treatment, if not a cure, for the crick in my neck.
Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix