Coronavirus Forces Telecommuting: Here’s How to Stay Connected While Working From Home

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The Amazon headquarters sits virtually empty on March 10, 2020 in downtown Seattle, Washington. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Due to the global pandemic known as COVID-19, many businesses like Google, Takeda Pharmaceutical and Twitter are asking employees to work from home and stop all non-essential travel, as a means of keeping employees safe and containing the spread of coronavirus. While this is business as usual for the 43 percent of workers who have the option to work away from the office, according to 2016 Gallup data, many people will be working remote for the first time ever.

With a nation—and most of the global workforce—working remotely, many are seeing this essential move as a test on the work-from-home debate. Will they see higher productivity and lower costs, or will the drop in human connection lead to less teamwork and creativity? No matter which side of the debate you are on, this period in time could either be the remote work revolution, leading more companies to offer flexible options, or could highlight the need for more home/office balance.

Working from home

To help ease the transition for all of the new remote workers out there, we asked work-from-home pros for tips and tricks on how to be as effective as possible. Here is what they recommend, plus other ways big tech is helping the nation work remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic:

Set up to telecommute

Most of us already have what we need to work from home—a laptop or desktop, WiFi and a phone. But it can get a little more complicated than that depending on what industry you are in, and your essential job function. Confirm with your leadership team that you are set up to successfully function from home, and that you have access to all servers and technology needed. It is also a good idea to note who to turn to for support, and their preferred channels. If you work with clients, make sure they are prepared to meet virtually with you, if needed.

Have a routine

It’s hard not to work around the clock if you don’t have to commute, but it’s important to try your best to set hours, and stick with them. This means putting away your phone, closing your laptop and taking a break from work, just like you would if you were leaving an office. Sticking to your hours will also help you maintain a work/life balance while your work life is at home.

Kamila Henley, a Network Deployment Engineer for Gogo, who works from home at least once a week, loves to keep a routine. “Wake up and shower and put some clothes on—no pajamas!” she says.

Create a dedicated work space

“A designated ‘office’ is key,” suggests Amy Werner, a Product Manager at DTN who is based at home. Establishing an office space in your home will not only help you stay focused, but it will help you keep your work to one dedicated area (and help you stick to those set hours). Sure, working from the couch sounds fun, but the tempting list of Netflix shows you want to binge and eventual chaos of other family members and pets can be distracting. Creating your own work space, and having fun with it, will also help you stay motivated.

Establish boundaries

Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean your work, and quiet time, is not important. Make sure other family members and friends understand this. Sure, your schedule might be slightly more flexible, but it doesn’t mean you can change plans whenever you’d like. Stay on your schedule, be present and focus!

Take breaks

If you establish boundaries and take our above advice, it will make your breaks that much sweeter. “Go for a walk,” says Lauren Fallon, an Academic Advisor/Adjunct Professor for Social Work at Simmons University. “Little breaks really help break up the day.” This includes not eating at your desk—as tempting as it may be. Get some fresh air, maybe unload the dishwasher and give yourself a reset.

Connect to the best tools

“Dual monitors are a must,” says Julie Ballard, Sr. Engagement Manager at Mulesoft. For Henley, she can’t live without using a mouse with her laptop. It’s all about your personal preference, but if you can replicate your in-office setup at home, it will help you maintain your office routine as you work from home.

For videoconferencing, the Better Team uses Zoom and Google Hangouts to connect to our co-workers in Marin regularly. This allows for face-to-face connection, which is something that you can’t achieve over text or Slack (which we also love).

Many tech companies are making tools widely available during the pandemic, in an effort to keep business as usual:

Google & Microsoft: Providing free access to their enterprise conferencing options, which include teleconferencing and collaboration tools.

Facebook: Their Business Hub offers useful tools and resources for staying on track, and connecting with your audience.

And for something light amidst a worrying pandemic, see how Google employees are dealing without their “perks”—which include gourmet meals and a barista—during their forced telecommuting (hint, they are not taking it well).

For the latest news you need to know on the pandemic, check out “Coronavirus: What You Need To Know About COVID-19,” which we will update regularly.

Macaire Douglas lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two sons, and covers the Weekend 101 and monthly Recommended Events features. She proudly supports Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to prevent the illegal abandonment of newborns nationwide. Since its inception in 2000, more than 3,600 newborns have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.

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