Abstract: One of the biggest impacts of Covid-19 is the sudden and ubiquitous requirement for persons to self-isolate, alongside the demands for non-essential businesses to close offices. Although this was done with the intent to mitigate the risk of people associating in crowds and spreading the virus – especially to those at risk – many businesses have sought to continue operations with a remote workforce, connecting and collaborating via available technology, to ensure some measure of continuity of operations.

For workers who have grown accustomed to working on-site, at an office, the reality we all face today brings a lot of disruption and discomfort, in a number of ways. This article explores some simple and proven strategies to leverage working form home and overcoming some of the isolation effects of Covid-19 lockdown, to help persons transform their operation challenges into opportunities for a stronger tomorrow.

Keywords: Telecommuting; Working from Home; Professionalism; Performance; Personal Leadership

The ability to work from home (telecommute) is not a new idea, but has now become a requirement in the face of restrictions imposed on the population. And the feedback all along suggests the phenomena bears significant psychological, operational and other social effects that need to be factored. Working from home and having to utilize technology to work are significant shifts to When, Where and How work is done, and can manifest as uncharted territory for many. Interestingly, this need for ‘adjustment’ applies not only to the workers of a business, but to management themselves, since many businesses demanded persons be in office (often for a specific period of time) and performance was based on presence.

So what are the challenges that this new reality brings? Persons having to work remotely have typically struggled with issues such as work times and dealing with distractions, amongst others, and these issues are now supplemented by additional considerations given everyone is at home – the spouse, the kids, neighbours and such.

The main challenges can be contextualized in the following:

  • Work Times
  • Work Environment
  • Type and Nature of Work
  • Available Resources
  • Recreation, Leisure and Self-Care

In this article, we focus on the individual aspects of working from home and working in a self-isolation context, considering what the main effects can be some simple, accessible and cost-effective strategies can be to help us overcome the challenges and even emerge stronger than before.

Work Time

Persons working from home have tended to work longer hours. Historically, working from home was seen as a privilege (primarily granted to technical staff), and the emphatic response was to show that although home, work was still being done; the privilege of working from home did not translate into abandonment of the job. This ‘Always-On’ employee would feel the imperative to respond instantly to communique, always be available for chats, and would be sending correspondence (even engage co-workers) late into the night. This is not a sustainable practice, and can very quickly lead to burn-out, sub-par performance and questionable positions / decisions, if not wear away at your physical health and put you at even greater risk.

Maintaining Set Work-Time: The solution to this is to set hours for work, with deliberate cut-off times, over the course of the work day. Having set hours for work helps you to not only focus your effort, but maintain that critical work/life balance that will help you sustain your contributions over an extended time-period. Some persons work best in the morning period, others afternoon, yet others in the dead of night. If you know what times you work best, then you would want to segment your 24-hour day into time-sets, and allocate specific time-sets for your various tasks. But there’s a catch. Setting the hours based on productivity may not be consistent with the timings of others. This is where open communication and an understanding management would help in no small measure to establish effective work-times and deliverable deadlines.

Working with Kids Around: Another dimension and challenge of the current reality is the fact that everyone is confined to their homes. It means its not just us individually at home, but so are our spouses, and the kids, and neighbours…. This is different from ‘traditional’ work-from-home arrangements when we would be at home alone for extended periods of time. From a time viewpoint, working from home as a parent means working in shorter segments, with much more distractions while the kids are up and about, and significantly less energy when they are in their down-time. Having help allows you to mitigate some of this – 1 person is with the kids on a rotating hour-by-hour shift system, if both have to work. Technology tools have become central to keeping kids quiet and safely at home for extended time periods. Not that this is an ideal situation, but it can be a useful workaround if some tasks and deliverables require additional time and attention. Gaming, videos, movies, augmented reality apps and virtual tours, etc. have all proven to be useful to capture and maintain kids’ attention, and with the parental controls in place it can be a safe and educational means to gain some much-needed time. Over a sustained period, it may be a good idea to allow for it in key time-sets – say for example a tech time between 1 pm and 3 pm daily, giving you some time after lunch-hour rush to get some work done.

Working Alongside Others: For some persons, the challenge they face may be neighbours playing music or TV loudly to interrupt your work. Relationships are the primary vehicle to help in this challenge – communicating with your neighbours to some compromise can help, or if not, then communicating with authority – the building superintendent or even neighborhood police may become necessary. This may not be ideal situations to treat with, but in the Covid-19 environment we may be forced to and it may prove necessary. The good news is everyone is struggling to deal with this ‘new reality’ and therefore may be more inclined to help each other out. The bad news is ‘Lockdown Fatigue’ may result in shorter tempers and lower tolerance. What your specific situation is would be extremely contingent, but at the very least know there are options to help you overcome the challenges in the short-term.

Trying to get colleagues to function effectively online is proving a struggle for some persons. Long down times before a meeting actually starts, repeated testing of audio and video settings, interruptions from some people’s audio feeds, toggling screens for file sharing… these have been proving trying for those who put in the effort to master the techniques and minimize disruptions. We have had sufficient practice previously with ensuring mobile phones are muted or switched off, so one would expect this would also manifest in the virtual meeting space, if the same level of tolerance is given.

Planning Time around Delays: All too often, meetings are delayed or persons join late because of delays in runs to the stores etc. The Covid-19 reality of ‘essential services’ only commutes, and the ‘social distancing’ measures of limited numbers of people in any establishment at any point in time, has resulted in a long-lines to get to the supermarket, pharmacy, or anywhere else that one needs to get to. So while its takes a lot less time to get from point A to point B, it is taking a lot more time to get into point B. From a time-viewpoint, the additional ‘line-up’ times need to be factored, to allow for effective time-management within your operating time-sets and for those virtual meeting schedules.