Working from Home during a Pandemic
Canadians are working from home in unprecedented numbers. For a small number of employers and employees, this is business as usual, but not so for most Canadians.
According to a survey by Regus Canada (2017), 47% of Canadians work outside their employer’s office for 2.5 days a week or more, 39% work mostly from home, and 11% work exclusively from home. The IWG Workplace Survey (2019) reports that more than half of employees globally work outside their office.
Working from home under the current circumstances of a pandemic may be possible for some, but not all. Many frontline healthcare and other essential service workers are not afforded that flexibility, so let’s take the inconveniences and challenges with a grain of salt.
If you are asked to work from home for the first time, you will face some challenges. How do you model your workplace space? Do you have the necessary technology? How do you deal with distractions while at home and perhaps feeling isolated if you are part of a tight-knit team?
Some employers will have the technology in place to enable staff to work remotely, given that employers have discovered the benefits of flexible working. In some cases, employees will need to be patient as their employer manages the technology load of enabling remote access for all.
In the weeks before the recent “Canadians should stay home” mandate from government and public health officials, some employers were proactive and had staff test simultaneously working from home. These companies were able to work out the bugs. Employers who take business continuity planning seriously and have protocols in place and routinely test for such emergencies are facing the current upheaval with much less turbulence than others.
Stanford University researchers have reported that older workers and those with families are happy to work from home, but it is more difficult for younger single workers who find the experience more isolating. But today the world is in crisis. Our kids are home from school, and our partners and roommates are also attempting to work from home. Our homes are a hubbub of activity that some will find affect our ability to get work done. My advice is to coordinate work time and play time (because we need to play to avoid becoming so very stressed and anxious), cooperate with one another, and be patient.
Here are a few suggestions to facilitate working from home under these unique conditions:
Establish a routine and follow daily rituals to provide signposts for the new styled workday. Finding a rhythm to the day and some sense of temporary normal is key.
Create a dedicated workspace, even if only temporarily.
Get as much clarity as possible from your team leader on what’s expected from you and by when given the circumstances.
Reach out to colleagues, clients and others to battle isolation and stay connected. This is especially important for extroverts for whom work is social and people are their source of energy.
Consult resources to help you optimize your productivity and minimize frustrations in order to spend time with family or in activities that sustain you. This kit could be useful for you: https://www.danpontefract.com/the-basics-of-working-from-home-toolkit/
Move! Get a breath of fresh air, stretch regularly, get some exercise.
Consider holding “walking meetings.” I saw two of my neighbours who work for the same employer diligently keeping a two-meter distance but strolling through the neighbourhood and having what appeared to be a spirited meeting.
Plan for boredom. Some folks will have full plates, and others less so. While having less work to do sounds enticing, some people may feel a bit out of sorts without a full plate. This is the time to read, sharpen up your productivity habits, clean up backlogs and dedicate some time to learning through books and online courses.
We are all figuring out this moment in time together, and there will be trial-and-error as employers and employees find a way forward. Reminding ourselves that the inconvenience of working from home pales in comparison to the challenges other members of our communities are facing is worthwhile. Reminding ourselves that these sweeping efforts are in the interest of the collective whole and that individuals will be temporarily inconvenienced for the greater good helps keep things in perspective.
In Part Two, we’ll look at the leadership perspective for managing those working from home. It can be a tricky balance between over-managing and under-managing people and can be a test in how we work.