For many employed Americans, the coronavirus pandemic has brought about a new reality. Here’s some advice for doing your job without driving yourself—or your family—crazy.
Medically, socially, economically—the spread of the coronavirus has necessitated a new reality on multiple levels. For many of those who work in jobs that are not deemed “essential,” and who have been fortunate enough to have kept their jobs, the new reality is working from home.
The coronavirus is causing more people to work from home than ever before. Before the pandemic, only about 7% of the American workforce had the option of working regularly from home, according to a report from the Pew Research Center. Of course, the very nature of many jobs, especially those in the service industry, requires workers to be on site. Those who can work from home are generally “knowledge workers”: executives, financial analysts, accountants and IT managers, for example, and others who do most of their work on computers. Nearly a quarter (24%) of workers in these occupations have telecommute access, as do 14% of “professional and related” workers such as lawyers, software designers, scientists and engineers.
Especially for those who have rarely or never worked from home, the change in routine brings a boatload of challenges, many of them unrelated to the job itself. How does one who’s used to close collaboration, for example, handle the isolation and anxiety? How do you avoid succumbing to the temptations and distractions of home? Some thoughtful preparation and honest communication can help create a productive home working environment.
CNN’s Richard Quest, aptly reporting in length from his living room and home office, suggested some best practices for working from home during the coronavirus. Among the advice offered by experts he highlighted: Recognize that we are in a reality much different from the normal baseline. Be intentional in seeking out activities and items that make us feel more comfortable, such as: hot showers, cool drinks, music, contact (albeit remote) with others. Make sure your technology is working properly. Follow proper etiquette, dress code and company protocol during online meetings, especially videoconferences. Pay attention and, as much as possible, try to keep kids and pets from being a disruptive presence. Have a daily checklist of tasks you need to complete. Remember that keeping fit physically will help keep you fit mentally; even with gyms closed, find a way to get some daily exercise.
Here are some additional guidelines:
1. Set aside a dedicated space and time for your work. If you don’t have a home office, find a spot where you can work comfortably and productively, preferably away from heavy household traffic. Minimize distractions and manage your time wisely. But acknowledge that part of this new reality is that there will be responsibilities to manage that were not part of the office environment. Children to feed, dishes to wash, laundry to do. Find a way to incorporate these into your routine amid your job-related tasks, if they must be done during normal work hours. If you must take a big chunk out of your work time to do other things, don’t balk at making up that time later, maybe after the kids have gone to sleep. When possible, share parenting and household duties with your spouse or partner.
2. Make sure you have the tools you need. Because you no longer can pop your head over a cubicle or walk down the hall to your colleague’s office, you (or your employer) might have to invest in technologies that will keep you connected. From webcams to software, there are plenty of tools designed to make telecommuting easier within a team framework. Depending on the file-sharing and security needs of your employer, a virtual private network (VPN) might be necessary to provide a fast, secure, reliable way to share information across computer networks.
Tools such as Zoom, Skype, Slack and Webex are tailor-made for remote work environments, allowing professionals to stay in touch with their colleagues, partners and customers through messaging, videoconferencing, online meetings and other real-time communications. Webinars, training sessions and other virtual events are also possible as stand-ins for face-to-face events during this time of social distancing. FaceTime (for Apple) and Facebook Messenger also allow video chats. Document sharing is made easier through applications such as Google Docs, Basecamp, Dropbox and Slack, among others.
3. Establish and clearly communicate expectations. With new routines come new expectations. It is important to establish and clearly communicate these―within companies; among companies, their partners and their customers; and at home. Because so much of the new work-from-home environment came about so quickly, ongoing feedback is essential: What’s working and what isn’t? What are the new and ongoing challenges? What kinds of adjustments will make things work better? Is there new equipment or software we need to invest in? Do we need to offer flex time to account for the realities of children at home, conflicting spousal schedules, older parents who need our assistance and other demands on our time that have been exacerbated by the pandemic?
4. Keep the kids occupied. With schools and daycares closed, a lot more children are at home during the workday. In some cases, schools are conducting online classes and activities, but someone still has to manage the kids to keep them busy and/or entertained. If a spouse or significant other is involved, this will likely require some kind of planned division of duties. Try to find ways to keep kids engaged if you have a conference call, with activities like coloring books, board games or puzzles. In another post, we take a look at ways friends and family members can stay connected from a distance, and that includes some avenues that can keep young ones connected with their friends.
Working from home is new for a lot of people at various organizational levels. Executives who previously resisted the idea have now been forced to accept it as a necessity, both for themselves and for those under them. Responsibilities are not going away, and there are still deadlines that must be met. More than ever, trust and honest communication are essential to a productive workplace.