While working from home is not a new concept—from businesses allowing their staff to work remotely a few days a week to individuals running their business from a home office—during the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has become the new norm for a majority of the world. In many cases, this change came abruptly as governments made swift decisions forcing businesses to close—sometimes within 24 to 48 hours. Businesses of all sizes have spent countless hours developing disaster plans for what they most likely thought would be environmental disasters (e.g., earthquakes, hurricanes) with the hopes of never having to use them, but these plans have now come to fruition with this global health emergency.
The challenge for many business’ employees is that their home has suddenly become a workplace, daycare, and school all wrapped into one.
Before I started working from home 4.5 years ago, I created a workspace that mimicked what I had in the office—desk, chair, filing cabinet, and drawers full of supplies. While many homes may have space designated as a home “office,” with a desk and computer for tasks such as schoolwork and home recordkeeping, having the entire family at home vying for this single space at the same time has presented a challenge for many households. Social media has an abundance of photos individuals have shared of their creative, makeshift workspaces—from the obvious use of the kitchen table; to an ironing board; to my personal favorite, the bathroom toilet. Ergonomically correct workspaces may not be achievable but the key is to make a space that you can make as comfortable as possible (without making you want to take a nap). In lieu of these creative workspaces, I expect chiropractors and massage therapists to be overwhelmed with appointments once the social distancing restrictions have been lifted.
The caption included with the photo of the toilet being used as a desk was that this was the only spot in the house where the woman could not hear her young children. Even if you worked in an office space with an open floor plan, your coworkers knew that you could be on the phone with a client at any moment so conversations were kept at a mild tone as to not disturb anyone. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for those in your new workspace—primarily children and pets.
If you have infants and toddlers, you will probably have a playpen right next to you with a selection of “quiet” toys but that won’t stop the sudden outbursts of laughter or cries for attention. With school-aged kids also required to be at home you will be trying to keep them busy with educational materials. With normally active teenagers and/or college-aged adults, you probably have heard “I’m bored” multiple times per day. Add to that the dog barking every time the mailperson comes or the cat trying to walk across your computer keyboard and you might as well be trying to work in the middle of the parade at Disney World. As my own children are in high school, I inform them that I will be on a call and that there shall be no bickering or yelling at a video game; however, I have still gotten a lot of use out of the mute button on my phone just in case.
Unless you will be video conferencing with clients, the normal office attire need not apply. That being said, you may be someone that feels ready for business in business attire. You will stick to your normal routine of getting up, getting ready for work, and then go to your new “office.” As you will hopefully be able to get back to working in your normal office space sooner than later, sticking to the normal routine is not a bad idea. (Think back to your parents making you get back to the routine of school a couple of weeks before summer vacation was over.) On the flip side, you may be someone that looks forward to the opportunity to work in sweatpants and a t-shirt while sitting Indian-style at your desk.
Taking time for breaks and lunch is just as important when working at home as it is when working in an office environment. Of course your breaks may look a little different—instead of meeting your coworkers in the break room to tell them a story about something your child did at home last night, you might be meeting your child in the kitchen for a mid-morning snack. It’s also a convenient time to throw in a load of laundry or go get the mail.
If your company had a flexible schedule for taking lunch, you will most likely need to adhere to a stricter schedule if you have younger children—their little tummies will still be on daycare or school schedules. If it is just you, or you and your spouse, you could still do lunch dates, watch the news or another television show together, or even take a walk around the neighborhood.
Connectivity and Data
While Internet providers offer a wide-range of broadband connections and speeds, unless you have a gamer in your household the most basic (and typically cheapest) plan is usually sufficient. Depending on your profession—primarily the size of files that you may need to send and receive—you may need to consider a temporary increase in speed, if available. There is nothing worse than waiting ten minutes for a file to upload that would have taken 30 seconds in the office.
Another thing to be aware of is if your current plan has a data allowance and if your provider is waiving that allowance during this time. Don’t forget to include the extra data your kids may be using streaming videos or video chatting with their friends.
The sudden change of working at home, along side your spouse and children, can definitely present challenges in regard to workspace and privacy. As the entire world is practicing social distancing, we also need to practice patience—whether it is with a coworker or client who is typically quick to respond to an email but you have not heard from them all day, or with family members that are interrupting your normal daily routine. Setting ground rules and taking moments for yourself (even if it is just taking a few extra minutes in the bathroom or taking a short walk around the block) are important for your entire household to maintain some level of sanity during this crazy time.
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