By: Bob Dearing, CFE
Thomas Paine said in 1776 - “These are the times that try men’s souls” His reference was obviously not to the coronavirus but none the less very appropriate for today’s concerns.
The business world, our state and local governments, our communities, ourselves, our family and neighbors have all taken a sharp turn over the past few weeks as our lives have been engulfed by the Coronavirus. Schools are closing, sports, entertainment, private and social events have been postponed or canceled outright. Each of these events and probably others to come will have a cascading effect on all our lives at least for the next few weeks or possibly the foreseeable future. In time it will pass but it is likely that the effects could have a profound effect on how we work and play in the months and years to come.
That’s the bad news! Let’s take a look at the options and how the current dilemma could affect our lives not only for the short term but into the future as well.
Where possible, and practicable, many employers are asking employees to work from home. Business travel has been sharply curtailed and big tech companies like Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook have restructured their workforce around the world to stay away from the office and work from home. The normal work from home workforce is generally described as being approximately five percent in normal times. The current coronavirus situation has spiked these numbers dramatically and they are expected to climb even higher. Whether the bump in remote work will last depends on how long and how severe the pandemic is. The keywords in the working from home option depends on your occupation. If you work in hospitality, medical, construction or a multitude of other service functions it is not an option. If the pandemic passes fairly quickly, most workers will go back to work where and how they worked before. If it lasts for a longer period it could cause a stronger, longer-term shift to remote work.”
Those people who have the option of working from home have a different set of issues to reconcile. Watch this short video by Rafael Ludwig on setting yourself up to be productive.
Ludwig’s presentation centers around a full-time work at home assignment rather than what will be, hopefully, a short term problem for many. While you may be in the short-term group his suggestions still apply to making yourself as productive as possible. His message is short but important.
Set up your workspace – Try to avoid working from the couch, coffee table, bedroom or your kitchen table if possible. Spare bedrooms, basements or garages are different options and make good work areas away from daily household distractions.
Routine and discipline – Set up your day. You have a routine at the office and your work from home should be no different. Get dressed for the day – comfortable is acceptable but working in pajamas with uncombed hair, no makeup or unshaven is not conducive to a productive work environment.
Avoid distractions – They are going to happen. Manage your time and stay focused on your goals for the day. Communicate with other people on your team and keep up with team projects. Social interaction is important while you are separated from your normal office routine.
Set Expectations – Be sure everyone in your household understands that you are working. Kids won’t understand and will just be glad to have you at home. Deal with the interruptions and you will overcome them in time.
Manage the workload – Set a regular pace at home as closely as possible to your office pace and routine. Take regular breaks. Move around to get a little exercise and recharge so you can finish your task. Don’t overwork. Have clear start and stop times and try to keep to them as closely as possible.
Is that it?
No, it is not. Working from home has advantages and perks but it also comes with some downsides as well. Having been the beneficiary of working from home for over ten years I have experienced both sides.
What to expect
Working from home can be a radical change if you are not mentally, physically and emotionally prepared. Mentally you are not going to have the normal 30 to 45-minute drive time that allows you to prepare for the day and then “decompress” on the way home. The routine is now up, dressed, coffee, work. Physically you now need a place to work, office supplies, equipment, computer and software to connect you to the office and high-speed internet service. Emotionally you are now disconnected from your co-workers, friends and peers that normally surround you every day in the office. Of the three this one can be debilitating. We are all tribal in nature and thrive on being part of a team and the collaboration that results. For this reason, is it essential that you “over-communicate” with other members of your tribe to retain a sense of belonging.
You will also quickly realize that you have become your own IT department, janitorial service, travel agent, administrative assistance and any other service you have come to expect at the office. Take care that you do not get tied to your home office. That can lead to the feeling that you are always at work and can adversely affect your home life. Work-life balance is an important component of working from home.
And the benefits?
It takes time to adjust but you will learn the boundaries associated with working from home. One of the major benefits that you will notice right away is your ability to quickly organize and prioritize your task list You will find that your focus becomes much clearer and that you are better able to zero in on the most important tasks and assignments. You won’t miss the morning and evening commute and you will find that you can work from anywhere when the need arises. Your health will be better, and you have become more environmentally friendly. You will better understand and demand a work-life balance and the importance it brings to your wellbeing. And one last thing, you will save money.