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