Covid-19 Is Here | The Complete Guide to Working Remotely

March 18, 2020

Covid-19 Is Here | The Complete Guide to Working Remotely

Evolve or dissolve is a common mantra used to justify radical changes in the business world. Companies are continuously affected by outside forces and must adapt to these influences to preserve longevity. Covid-19, the rapidly spreading coronavirus which recently made its way to South Africa, has challenged businesses to take a hard look at their current office setup and consider the wellbeing of employees and clients alike. Limiting contact between individuals is one of the core precautions to inhibit the spread of Covid-19, which begs the question: do employees need to be in the office in order to do their jobs?

Remote work is on the rise, but numerous companies (especially in South Africa) are opposed to the idea. Some of the most popular arguments against going remote are that “employees can’t be trusted to be productive at home” or that “the company culture will suffer as a result”, but one only has to conduct a few simple Google searches to find solutions to these problems. Another argument to take into consideration is that some tasks employees have to do, simply aren’t flexible enough to be completed from home, but when taking into consideration that cities and countries are locking down, it is evident that the luxury of choice might not be available in the near future. 

As infection rates continue to increase, companies might need to start prepping for a distributed workforce, regardless of whether they want to or not. Ultimately the biggest threat to how well your business is equipped to deal with such an adjustment is in how well your team is supported in remaining effective. Employees may find it daunting to switch to working remotely, but not to worry- the simple tips below are guaranteed to make their transition to home based working smooth as silk. 

Office Setup

One of the most important aspects of working from home, is to create a dedicated workspace. Creating a dedicated workspace will separate your personal life from your work life and help maintain the barrier between work and play. Although everyone’s workspace will look different, certain work environments should be avoided, such as working in bed, on the couch, or in a space where you tend to relax. The best scenario would be to set up an extra room in your house as a dedicated workspace, creating a physical barrier to assist your brain in processing when it’s time to start and stop working.

Depending on your living arrangements, you might not have a separate room available, which will force you to think outside of the box when creating these barriers. Some suggestions are to move furniture around and create a designated work area or to sit in a different spot when working compared to when you are relaxing. If you have time, you can even arrange your furniture in a specific way before working and move all the furniture back to their original locations when your workday ends. Packing your laptop away at the end of the day is another subtle strategy to signal that your workday has come to an end, to avoid overworking or working longer hours than needed and ultimately preserving your personal life (and sanity). 

Working from home can initially prove challenging, but it’s important to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Small rituals such as sitting in traffic or having your first cup of coffee at the office, helps your body and mind transition into work mode, whilst other small daily rituals such as packing up your laptop or chatting with certain coworkers, sends signals to your brain that your workday has come to an end. When working from home, it can be hard getting into and out of work mode without going through these rituals, thus it’s necessary that you identify and create new versions of these subconscious triggers when working remotely. 

Routine

Just like creating a physical separation when you are setting up your work space, you also need to do the same with your daily routine. Each person’s daily routine differs, but either way it’s important to remain consistent. Your daily routine could consist of taking a shower when you wake up in the morning (I’m not even going to begin justifying this) and changing into your work clothes. Something as small as starting your day the same, regardless of your work location, will have a massive impact on your productivity when working remotely. Maintaining your routine will prove to be difficult and temptations will creep up every now and then, but it’s important to stick to your routine. Getting dressed in your work clothes, even if your regular work clothes consists of shorts and a t-shirt, is a good way to tell your brain that it’s time to switch to work mode. 

Human Interaction

As per the guidelines published by WHO, it’s important to keep physical contact with individuals exhibiting flu related symptoms to a minimum. Naturally, the best way to rapidly decrease your chances of becoming infected is to avoid people in general, but avoiding social interactions to such a drastic extent may take its toll on your mental health.

Feeling isolated is one of the most prominent pitfalls many remote workers deal with, and with WHO promoting social distancing, most people will neglect to fulfill their need for human interaction. Sean Blanda, an editorial director who has been working from home since 2017, has shed some light on the loneliness that accommodates the “digital nomad” lifestyle as well as why he experienced it. According to Blanda, seemingly unimportant daily social interactions such as accidentally bumping shoulders with a stranger whilst commuting, or overhearing others talking, has an effect on how connected you feel to your community. Not being in an office setting, surrounded by other employees, also leads to feeling disconnected and a lack of idea osmosis. 

It is natural that working remotely will curb your daily dose of human interaction, especially if you work in a rowdy office with an extroverted company culture. It is however essential that you meet your social needs while working from home. Everyone's social needs are different, but there are numerous low risk activities you can partake in to ensure your body and mind stays healthy. Some of these activities include taking a brisk walk outside, conducting Skype meetings with the camera on and even just having casual conversations with a friend or colleague over the phone.

Availability

Overcompensating your availability is a common byproduct of “Work From Home Guilt”. This phenomenon stems from the fear that others will assume you are being less productive or you’re contributing less when working from home, compared to your office-bound peers. Regardless of how quickly you reply to an email, or if you work through your lunch hour, the only true metric that will indicate whether or not you are being productive whilst working from home are your results. The employee who is taking advantage of working from home by doing as little work as possible, is probably the same employee that’s not doing much work in the office either.

If your WFHG is unfounded, it can easily be remedied by setting the same boundaries for yourself as you would at the office, keeping in mind that working from home is not the same as being home. Life happens and emergencies can pull you away from your work, but it’s important to frequently communicate with fellow employees and keep the chain of command up to date. Instant messaging platforms such as Slack or Skype are excellent tools to help you keep in contact with your colleagues.

Technology

Advancements in- and the availability of technology has made remote working a reality for many employees over the past few years. Tech has made it possible to attend meetings and communicate with others without having to leave your house. In order to replace face-to-face meetings however, remote workers need to invest in equipment that will allow them to digitally communicate by means of a microphone and/or camera. Arranging and attending meetings in the digital world eliminates numerous location issues, the need for formal boardrooms and increases the chances that all attendees will be ontime for meetings (take that traffic jams).

In Conclusion

Remote work can be a huge benefit to companies as well as their employees and could hopefully curb Covid-19 infection rates. When dealing with a pandemic, it can be hard to change your work location and stay productive without losing your mind, but by following the tips above, you can rest assured that transitioning to working from home will be a walk in the park. In fact, it is quite possible that the transition may prove so successful that employers might even be convinced to be more open to distributed workforces long after the pandemic has come to an end.

Lourens de Villiers

Senior Front End Engineer

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