The COVID-19 Situation: Adapting to Working at Home

The COVID-19 virus has made a huge impact on American society and business in a very short period of time. State and local governments are restricting the size of gatherings and closing schools while businesses are trying to decide which…

The COVID-19 virus has made a huge impact on American society and business in a very short period of time. State and local governments are restricting the size of gatherings and closing schools while businesses are trying to decide which workers to keep on site and which can work remotely. While people often say they would love working at home, the truth is there are challenges to it. Some people are very suited to working in the same space they live. Others…aren’t. What are the challenges to working remotely? How can you adapt at least in the short run so you can be successful in your new environment? 

The Challenges of Working at Home

Under normal circumstances one of the biggest challenges is the quiet. Most office environments have a fair amount of “action” because of the interactions that happen between bosses, workers, and clients or customers. There may be conflict, gossip, or socializing. All of these are things that people find engaging, so when they make the transition from working in the office to working at home, it may seem dull to begin with. Your only company is yourself. That can be lonely.

There also is no boss looking over your shoulder while you work or don’t work. That old saying, “While the cat’s away, the mice will play” is true. Even people who have very hands-off bosses will work harder when someone’s watching. If you are not a very self-disciplined person, you can easily be distracted away from your duties by the TV, social media, family members, and even pets. It’s very, very easy to procrastinate when you work at home and no one’s there to crack the whip.

Under the current COVID-19 semi-quarantine conditions there is another huge challenge: family members. Schools closed all over the country mean that kids are at home and parents must “homeschool” them for the time being. Kids are hard to work around – very hard. That’s because they view their parents and other family members not by their job titles, but by their family titles. It can be extremely difficult to get children, especially little kids, to respect boundaries so you can get your work done. This is also true with spouses, parents, and even neighbors. People look at someone who works at home as automatically available to help with home or neighborhood issues.

Adapting Work to the Home Environment

The above challenges exist, but that doesn’t mean that people can’t work from home successfully. Millions of people do it every day. Many of them love it and would never go back to a typical workplace. Let’s pair the above challenges with solutions.

The solution to being lonely or insufficiently stimulated at home is to make sure that you add outside stimulation to your workday at home. Make a point to schedule phone calls or Skype sessions with either clients or colleagues so that you can bounce ideas off of each other and get some social support. Getting out and meeting people for lunch or a cup of coffee on a regular basis helps too – although it’s not an option right now with the coronavirus raging. Busy people have less time to get lonely, so stay busy, and use technology to connect with the people who can help.

The solution to the problem of no oversight is to create specific practices that will keep you accountable to your work. Make a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Many people fail at working at home because they approach it like the weekend: they sleep in and wear pajamas all day. If you set a goal of hours worked per day or project accomplished, though, you will be less likely to fall victim to endless procrastination. Also, you must make a rule to avoid time sucks like Facebook or Twitter if you want to succeed at working at home.

Having family members with no boundaries is definitely a challenge for the at-home worker, but this too can be solved by practices like setting office hours, having a dedicated workspace for yourself, and making it clear to them that when you are in that space during those hours, you are at work. You will have to keep stating your rules and boundaries and stick to them if you want it to work, though.

We are all together dealing with the difficulties of the COVID-19 outbreak, but if you have been pushed into working at home and think it will be impossible, have faith. With self-discipline, established work practices, and some boundary setting with your family it can work. And there are definite advantages to it like flexible hours, a very short commute, and a much more comfortable wardrobe. Good luck!

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Mike Reed