The past decade has seen the rise of remote work or teleworking for a number of professions, but with the coronavirus outbreak, many people who might never have left the comforts of a traditional office are suddenly thrust into remote life.
A number of companies throughout the U.S., large and small, have either asked or mandated that employees work from home, and as the outbreak continues to spread, there's no sign of that slowing down.
Massachusetts-based biotech firm Biogen has asked its 7,400 employees worldwide to work from home after employees tested positive for the coronavirus. In Indianapolis, pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly requested that all its U.S.-based employees work from home and restricted all domestic travel. And in the tech hubs of the Bay Area and Seattle, several companies, including Twitter, Airbnb, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and more, have asked employees to stay away.
[SEE: Best Work-Life Balance Jobs.]
Those experienced in teleworking have greeted the news with a virtual shrug, while others are working to adjust to their new realities. Consider the following advice if you're new to full-time telework:
-- Adjust quickly to working remotely.
-- Build solidarity with your remote team.
-- Get savvy and connected with technology.
-- Look at remote work as an opportunity.
Adjust Quickly to Working Remotely
To those who are working from home for the very first time, comedian and author Sara Benincasa, who wrote "Real Artists Have Day Jobs," offers this sound advice via email: "Strap in. You're about to get to know yourself a LOT better."
"What I've found is that regardless of perceived social cache or any so-called cool factor, your work-from-home job can be dismal or pleasant. That's because so much of the work-from-home experience depends on YOU," Benincasa says. "When you work from home, you are your only in-person co-worker and supervisor."
Benincasa recommends establishing a routine, creating a dedicated workspace and taking periodic breaks. "Do not overdo the caffeine. If you need to write down everything you eat and drink each day in order to keep your caffeine, sugar and alcohol intake low, do it," she says.
"Also, don't drink during work hours, please," she adds.
Isha Kasliwal is a senior developer at Twitch, the video live-streaming service and Amazon subsidiary, based in San Francisco. She and her co-workers were asked to work from home if possible, for their own safety, at least through the end of March. While Twitch has long had a fairly flexible work-from-home policy, Kasliwal says the prolonged experience of remote work is something new for many of her colleagues.
"I've had to make adjustments with regards to how I get myself ready in the morning, still getting semi-dressed for the day and not staying in pajamas all day," she says, "and making sure that I set some time to take a walk outside during the middle of the day so I get fresh air and can get some steps in."
Kasliwal says she doesn't mind working from home temporarily but is looking forward to getting back to the office when she and her colleagues are able.
"I'm actually enjoying working from home because I don't have to deal with commute times, which is great," Kasliwal says. "But I do miss seeing my co-workers and the Twitch kitchen, which is amazing."
While it might seem foreign to those who work independently or remotely full time, some people do actually like going into an office and spending time with co-workers. Kelly Hoey, author of "Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In a Hyper-Connected World," says managing interpersonal relationships remotely can be an often-overlooked challenge in suddenly having to work from home.
Build Solidarity With Your Remote Team
"For managers, it's important to keep some sort of routine for your team. There's a structure to getting up, getting dressed and the community in the office. Some of your staffers might feel lost without it," Hoey says. "If you usually have Monday meetings or Thursday lunches, for instance, try to arrange a video chat or brown-bag virtual gatherings. Check in with each other."
She reminds managers to ask their employees if anything else has changed in their lives or routines due to the outbreak. For instance, if an employee's child's school is closed or if they're suddenly caring for an elderly neighbor or relative, that might impact how and when they're able to log in every day. And if a manager doesn't ask, Hoey suggests employees communicate that information directly.
Hoey warns teams against simply using the same tools in the same way as they do in a traditional office setting. "If you're using Slack or email in the office, many times you have that line of sight. You can look up and see if your colleague got your message, and if it came across the way you meant it," she says. "Now that you're remote, maybe now you leverage other, more personal technology -- even hop on a call -- to really connect."
Get Savvy and Connected With Technology
And for all those conference calls and video chats that will suddenly be required? Hoey recommends setting up a dedicated video space with a neat background, good lighting and no distractions. After all, it might not just be fellow employees also in their pajamas on the other end of the call. Salespeople might need to speak with clients, managers might need to speak with board members and other stakeholders. Working from home is no excuse not to keep it professional. (At least from the blazer up!)
It's easy to feel isolated while working at home, even for someone tethered to multiple social platforms. Chris Guillebeau, host of the podcast "Side Hustle School," author of "The $100 Startup" and a long-time remote professional, says working from home can be both better and worse than working in a traditional office.
"There's no one around to distract you, so you can be way more productive," Guillebeau says. "On the other hand, there's no one around to talk to, so you can feel isolated."
Unlike in other scenarios, where companies offer flex remote work and colleagues take advantage as needed, the coronavirus outbreak means large teams are suddenly all working independently. That sort of solidarity can bring a team closer together.
"You're probably not the only one from your office who's been sent home. Set up regular Skype or Zoom check-in calls with your colleagues," Guillebeau says. "Sure, email is efficient, but if you'd normally walk down the hall to talk with someone, give them a call instead of typing to them. You're in this together ... just not in the same place."
Look at Remote Work as an Opportunity
Long-term remote workers remind their newly homebound peers to seize the opportunity that this period provides.
"The silver lining in all this is that by being forced to work from home, employees now have the chance to show that they can make it work," Hoey says. "If done poorly, it can magnify why companies are hesitant to allow remote work."
"Use this time to reflect on your goals and preferred work style. If you could work however you wanted, would it be (at home), back in the office or some combination? Is this really the kind of work you want to do?" Guillebeau suggests. "A time of uncertainty can allow you to reevaluate and make some changes. One year from now, maybe you'll be doing something more fulfilling and rewarding, and it never would have happened without this disruption."
And for those who might be daunted by the task ahead, Benincasa says to hang in there.
"You can do this. Make time to check in with your friends or loved ones every day," she says. "And put on clothes at least some of the time."
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