The business world has been thrust into a new era – that of COVID working from home.
Our Not-So-Distant Past
It has been an eternity since mid-March. For many, the routine of a rush hour commute, office hours and corporate structure was replaced overnight with working from home and a commute to the kitchen table.
Anticipating a two week hiatus, we scrambled to create quick fix solutions. Staff members took home laptops, and cell phone calls replaced drop in office visits. Internally in our operations and externally in our presentation to the public, we strove to maintain the appearance and functionality of “business as usual.”
We adapted ingrained routines, making only minor adjustments. Keeping the corporate schedule, nine to five, or some variant of that, remained work time. The old daily activity patterns persisted: up early, feed the kids, grab breakfast, check in at the office, work a full day, then home life with dinner, family time, bed time, and repeat.
And for the short term, the established routines held. We blocked out the corporate workday for corporate work, and kept home life within its designated bookend hours. During the work day, we strategically staged the appearance of being at the office, including a nondescript background for video conferences, and business casual dress, at least for that part of ourselves visible on camera. We struggled to eliminate “non-professional” elements, including the visible and audible presence of kids, pets, and unsuspecting spouses.
COVID Working from Home
As individuals and organizations, we have adapted, with greater or less success, to the pattern of working from home. And we have been met face to face with a new reality: the fabric of business has changed.
COVID working from home is materially different from transplanting routine activities to a domestic location. Work life and home life no longer are separated by space and time, and blend together in a new normal. Work-life balance takes on new meaning. Kids require attention during work day hours. Dogs bark and cats sit on our keyboards. Significant others wander through the room. Doorbells ring in the midst of online conferences. The sounds of dishwashers, microwaves, showers and flushing toilets are part of the new soundscape. Every family member can be concurrently involved in a different virtual activity, within the same physical space. Home life does not vanish during business hours.
So what does this mean for business, and how can we take advantage of COVID working from home conditions?
Seize Opportunities, Avoid Pitfalls
- Working from home eliminates commuting time, potentially reclaiming hours out of each weekday. For most, this is a blessing; however for some it may mean the loss of treasured quiet time alone. If you are missing time to yourself, consider scheduling a daily walk or quick errand away from the home office. The change of scenery can refresh and boost productivity.
- Technology has become even more critical to business. Online communication and data sharing platforms keep us connected to co-workers, customers and the public. Invest the time to become comfortable with the programs and applications used by your organization. Explore technology options to increase efficiencies and simplify routine tasks. The dependence on technology will only increase; don’t be left behind.
- Working from home increases familiarity with online activity. And going online creates access to organizations and individuals beyond customary geographic limits. My local networking group now welcomes an attendee from several states away. You might find resources you never considered before. Reach out; the small world has become even smaller.
- Depending on workplace constraints, flexible scheduling might reap benefits for both work and home life. Working from home opens new possibilities. Explore options, but ensure that neither work or home activities expand to the detriment of the other.
- Establish a clear understanding with your employer regarding workload and availability. Some tasks may take significantly less time at home, while others may take longer. Will expectations be adjusted accordingly? During the day, is it assumed you will immediately answer you phone or work emails, even though this is more than is expected onsite? Avoid unnecessary confusion and clarify expectations in advance.
- Negotiate your home workplace expectations. Is it realistic for your kids to self-amuse for multiple hours, without you? Can you find a quiet time and place if needed to host a webinar or other presentation? What is your availability during the day to help with homework or accomplish household tasks? Are expectations reasonable and understood by all?
- If your professional life permits, relax the traditional business facade. Don’t panic if your dog starts barking in the middle of a call; introduce him/her to your colleagues. If your cat steps on a key and launches an incomplete email, go ahead and blame the cat. Let your toddler wave to everyone on your teleconference. A little humanity is a good thing.
The impact of COVID on business is significant. For those who now work from home, the traditional work-life separation has been upended, and replaced by new expectations, challenges and opportunities. It is a period of adjustment. Dogs are rejoicing and cats are resigned to our extended presence. See the possibilities. Seek out, recognize and seize the opportunities presented by the new COVID working from home workplace.