Working Remotely to Curb Covid-19

Marie Therese-Phido,

In the past few days we have heard about the impact of Covid-19. Many companies have had to advise their staff to practice safe social distancing with the outcome for some being to work from home. While some are asking their staff to go on leave, some with pay and some without. The consequence of the pandemic across the world is reverberating. Many people who get paid by the hour, casual workers, gig workers are all losing income.

Thankfully, we have not seen the above in Nigeria, but we need to be prepared. It must not be when it happens that we begin to put our activities in order. As we all know, according to H.V. MacArthur, “Working remotely isn’t a new concept. People in all kinds of career fields have been doing it for years. But most people are accustomed to one day of work at home, once in a while or never actually working from home. With the current state of the COVID-19 coronavirus causing many companies like Twitter to require all of their employees to work from home or the likes of Amazon, Google, LinkedIn and others asking a portion of their staff to work remotely, a large portion of the workforce are now expected to be skilled at the art of working remotely.

If you’re one of the many starting to work remotely for the first time or engaging in full-time remote work for the first time, you are probably discovering that it’s not as easy as you may have thought. Most of us have been conditioned to work and focus because of outside constraints. Meetings force us to adhere to certain schedules, office hours dictate our start and end time and a manager’s watchful eye keeps our internet surfing to a minimum, for the most part.

Once on your own, you may find yourself floundering a bit to stay productive. Here are some tips to set yourself up for success.

Embrace the initial time suck. Instead of trying to immediately mirror your office work tempo and practices, simply embrace that things are a bit off kilter and you might as well allow yourself a little indulgence and enjoy being at home vs. in the office. Do what you can reasonably do without putting your professional credibility at risk.

Remember that working from home is a continuously developing situation for most companies. What this means is that there will probably be several things companies learn and continue to leverage in the future regarding working remotely and the policies meant to support it. The positive will be companies everywhere realizing that there are opportunities to save money on office space since much of their staff’s work can be done from home. This would potentially open up more flexible options for staff to navigate the demands of their job and home life and more freedom and autonomy in general.

On the other hand, if your company perceives or genuinely experiences a dip in productivity and effectiveness, it could put the nail in the coffin around resistant leaders being open to more flexible work policies. It would be a shame if some of the leaders that have been against flexible work policies see proof that their concerns were right simply because newbies to the remote world scramble to get their footing.

Set your own schedule and stick to it. One of the first things people working remotely experience are friends and family members viewing them as having much more free time than they actually have. Especially if your job gets done primarily through your laptop. There’s just something about watching someone sit on a couch with a laptop that makes others think you’re not working. In an office building, you’d look hard at work. At home, you look like you’re simply internet surfing.

If you set a schedule every Sunday and let your family and friends know your office hours they will be more likely to respect your work time.

Schedule your time in between meetings. This is just a good practice in general but even more critical when working remotely. Don’t assume that you’ll get to all the work you have in between the video and phone meetings you have booked. It will be easy to get sucked into tasks and interests you have at home that you never feel like you get to really enjoy or complete.
Create a protected workspace. If you live alone it’s a lot easier to treat any area of your home as a workspace. But you’ll still need to make some type of separation for your own sanity.

If needed, have an ‘at work’ sign so people know that just because you are there and they can see you, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay to interrupt your train of thought or work flow.

Proactively reach out to co-workers, leaders and clients. Don’t rely on them to connect with you. It can be easy to get pulled into the bliss or misery of isolation, depending on your social preferences. But the reality is, when working remotely, people need to be shown you are thinking of them. If you don’t have a cause for regular engagement with key people then you should schedule reminders to reach out with an email or call.

Update on progress more than usual. Since this is a new experience for everyone, you should err on the side of over-communicating, especially with work progress, until remote working norms are established. Send updates to your manager and clients vs. waiting for them to ask you for them. Ask them what preferences they have around frequency, content and form of updates.

Consider internet security. When working remotely, consider how you are accessing the internet. Avoid public wifi since this increases chances for getting hacked. If you don’t have your own or company provided hotspot wifi then consider only working on projects that don’t require internet access when in public workspaces.

Give yourself breaks. Schedule breaks to get up and get some air. Schedule time to go grab lunch. Most importantly, schedule a stop time.” Don’t make the mistake of working round the clock in order not to burn out.