The coro­n­avirus may help our lead­ers help us to work from home

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion - BY EMILY PARNELL Colum­nist

By the time this col­umn is pub­lished, all will have changed. I write this in the face of possible re­stric­tions to man­age the spread of the coro­n­avirus, the likes of which my gen­er­a­tion has never seen be­fore.

I can only re­mem­ber the country sim­i­larly com­ing to a screech­ing halt in the after­math of 9/11. Many I knew were trav­el­ing, and ex­pe­ri­enced delays, or had to aban­don plans. The streets felt eerily quiet, and as my brother and I went out to try to cel­e­brate our shared Sept. 11 birth­day, the restau­rant was sparsely pop­u­lated, and the nor­mally fes­tive at­mos­phere was quiet and sub­dued.

I won­dered for a while if events would af­fect the wed­ding I was plan­ning. It did not, and all went on as planned. Ev­ery­thing in my life, in fact, went on as planned.

Nor­mal­ity re­turned, but it was a bit dif­fer­ent than be­fore. We pack for flights a lit­tle dif­fer­ently, and choose easy-on, easy-off shoes, pre­pared for close en­coun­ters with TSA agents. We’re more aware of terrorist threats, and have a bit more un­der­stand­ing for at­tacks in other coun­tries.

I look be­yond brac­ing for an ill­ness from COVID-19, which is al­ready spread­ing, un­de­tected among us. We will re­turn to nor­mal, but again, there will be a shift in what nor­mal looks like. Surely it will be a sad­der nor­mal, as lives will be lost, and hope­fully a more hy­gienic nor­mal, with a new aware­ness of how to avoid spread­ing ill­ness. Per­haps the les­sons will stick, and so­ci­ety will learn to spread fewer germs.

Like it or not, we have to deal with air­port se­cu­rity. And like it or not, busi­nesses are go­ing to have to nav­i­gate the charge to al­low em­ploy­ees to work from home. Some busi­nesses can’t op­er­ate re­motely, of course.

My son can’t make you a sand­wich over the in­ter­net. But many peo­ple get up and drive to do a job that could as eas­ily be done from their own home, and while re­mote work is com­mon now, many busi­nesses and su­per­vi­sors have been re­sis­tant to the idea.

I’ve worked var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of on- and off-site. From strict, 9-5 butt-in-seat poli­cies to com­pletely re­mote, full­time jobs where I didn’t even have an on-site desk, I’ve had the chance to try out and eval­u­ate a num­ber of set­ups. I can tell you that work­ing from home, at least a few days a week, has some tan­gi­ble ad­van­tages, and I’ve done re­search to back that up.

Last year, af­ter a shift in man­age­ment at the com­pany where I worked, telecom­mut­ing came un­der scru­tiny. Ask­ing how he could eval­u­ate an em­ployee’s ef­fec­tive­ness when he couldn’t see them was a fair ques­tion.

My so­lu­tion was to pro­vide ev­i­dence that work­ing re­motely was ben­e­fi­cial to my­self and the com­pany by track­ing my time on a very gran­u­lar level, both by task and by pro­duc­tiv­ity. I found a com­bi­na­tion of tools to use for track­ing, so that I sim­ply had to click a task or ac­tiv­ity in a list when I started and when I stopped, then ran a re­port to de­ter­mine how my time was spent.

The re­sults did not sur­prise me, but sup­ported my hunch that work­ing from home re­sulted in much higher pro­duc­tiv­ity, more hours worked, more projects com­pleted, and all with less stress and ex­pense to my­self. I found my­self more gen­er­ous with my hours, get­ting a head start on my day while wait­ing for my kids to get ready for school, and will­ing to work a lit­tle later, know­ing din­ner was on sched­ule.

I still col­lab­o­rated with my team through video con­fer­ences and chats. On­line video con­fer­ences made it feel like we were all in the same room. The time I did spend in the of­fice felt fo­cused and in­ten­tional, and I more read­ily rec­og­nized dis­trac­tions.

Not ev­ery­one is cut out for work­ing from home. One em­ployee with a chronic ill­ness who had been cleared for re­mote work came into the of­fice out of sheer lone­li­ness. Oth­ers need more as­sis­tance to per­form their job. But for many, re­mote work can pro­vide a work­life bal­ance al­low­ing them to be more re­laxed and ef­fec­tive in both do­mains.

As with any other chal­lenges, the coro­n­avirus will ne­ces­si­tate changes, and changes can pave the way for progress.

Maybe some of us will find new bal­ance as re­mote work is ex­plored, and hope­fully, ev­ery­one will start wash­ing their hands.

FOR MANY, RE­MOTE WORK CAN PRO­VIDE A WORK-LIFE BAL­ANCE AL­LOW­ING THEM TO BE MORE RE­LAXED AND EF­FEC­TIVE IN BOTH DO­MAINS.

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