Working From Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak: What Your Boss Wants
As coronavirus spreads, more companies and countries are feeling the impact. Though reported cases in China seem to have slowed, other countries are seeing increases in infections.
To help limit the spread of the disease, many companies are taking action. Lufthansa Group airlines (which includes Swiss, Brussels, and Austrian airlines) is grounding 150 aircraft. Many companies—Twitter, Google, and Amazon, to name a few—have canceled business travel and switched over to video meetings and video interviews.
Companies directly and indirectly impacted by coronavirus are asking their workforce to work from home, for example:
- Twitter asked all staff to work from home (in addition to staff in countries that already have mandatory remote work).
- JPMorgan is testing its emergency work-from-home plan, asking 10% of its staff to work at home.
- Google postponed its developer conference and has halted international travel altogether.
- Microsoft is allowing some employees in Seattle and San Francisco to work from home.
- Coinbase is asking everyone to work at home, too.
- REI has asked everyone to work at home while its headquarters is cleaned and sanitized.
- T-Mobile has requested that if an employee isn’t feeling well, they look for “alternative work options.”
- FlowPlay is encouraging employees to work remotely.
With the coronavirus not predicted to peak until at least April, more companies may find that either by choice or by mandate, their staff will have to work from home. And whether or not your employer has an emergency work-from-home plan, there are steps you can take to make sure you can work from home in any emergency.
Preparing to Work from Home During an Emergency
The best time to prepare for an emergency is long before you need it. Just like you might have canned food, flashlights, or batteries at home for emergencies, you should also have an emergency preparedness plan for working from home.
Even when there isn’t a new virus spreading, other emergencies can necessitate your sudden need to work remotely. Natural disasters, power outages, even cold and flu season are all reasons you might have to work at home for a few days.
Fortunately, even without an advance plan, there are many things you can do to make working from home in an emergency a success.
Keep in Touch
Communication is, of course, essential in any working relationship. However, even when there isn’t an emergency situation, when you work from home, communicating—and over-communicating—becomes essential.
For starters, stay in contact with your company via official communication channels for updates. Don’t rely on gossip or hearsay. Know how and when the company will communicate official messages regarding emergency plans, then monitor those accordingly.
Will the company send a text message or use the official Slack channel to notify you that you’re working from home? Will your direct supervisor inform you of what is happening, or will it be the CEO? Don’t rely on your work bestie for information. Make sure you’re getting the official word on the official channels.
And make sure you’ve got a plan in place for conducting meetings that still have to happen. Not every meeting can happen via chat, so you’ll need to have a way to communicate in real time with team members and clients.
Will you rely on your cell phone, or does your company use an online collaboration tool? And if it’s an online tool, is it voice only? Or, can you use two-way video? And can you share screens? Also, make sure that you test the methods out before you use them. Sometimes you need to update or download software, and the last thing you want to do is pause a meeting for a 20-minute update.
And in the event your entire company (or whole country) is working from home, bear in mind that the service you use may become overwhelmed and fail. What’s your backup plan? And what’s the backup plan for the backup plan?
Have Your Gear Together
It might be a pain, but make it a habit to always bring your critical work gear with you to and from the office every single day. That’s likely a laptop. But maybe it includes a hot spot or tablet, too. Whatever it is, always have it with you in case you have to work remotely without warning. Bring chargers, too.
If you don’t want to carry a bunch of equipment to and from work every day, consider duplicates. Two sets of chargers, one at work and one at home, might work better for you than trying to remember to shove it all in your bag every morning and every night.
Also, consider alternate ways to access your work. Maybe it’s best if you save everything in the cloud or on the company server in order to access it from your home computer, so you aren’t lugging a laptop on your commute. However, make sure your company is OK with this before you assume it is. Some companies have strict rules about how company information is accessed.
Have a Workspace
The best home office setup usually includes walls and a door you can close to help maintain a quiet and productive atmosphere. However, not every living space has a dedicated home office. When you don’t have a traditional office space, think creatively about where you can work.
Start with someplace that’s quiet and out of the way. When it’s just you at home, almost anywhere will likely work. However, if there’s an emergency, there’s a good chance you won’t be home alone, so where else can you work peacefully and without interruption?
For some, space is at a premium. In a pinch, anyplace with a flat surface, power outlet, and internet will do. Kitchen counters, coffee tables, even a folding beach table can work. You may have to get creative with your “office” space, but with some planning, you should be able to work something out.
Wherever it is, make sure it’s not in a high-traffic area. You’ll probably have trouble focusing on your work when someone is using the blender. And, while working at home is more common and accepted these days, no one on the other end of your conference call wants to hear excess noise (or an argument about the remote) in the background.
How to Work from Home in an Emergency
The day has come, and you’re working at home for whatever reason. You’ve got your gear and your workspace. The problem is, you’ve got a family, roommates, or pets that don’t always understand that working from home means you have to work the whole day!
Your work-from-home plan should always include strategies for getting work done as best as possible. That means making sure you’re taking breaks, setting and enforcing boundaries, and demonstrating how productive you are working from home.
When you’re the only one who’s sick, you’re probably the only one at home that day. However, in the event of an emergency or mandatory quarantine, everyone is at home with you. And while the others in your household may have their own activities to keep them occupied, not everyone may be on the same schedule as you. So, make sure you set and maintain boundaries.
Whether it’s kids, in-laws, or roommates, start by explaining that when you work from home, you’re working. Even if it’s an unexpected work-from-home day, it’s not the same as a snow day, a half day, a bonus day off, or anything like that. You have to and will work.
Explain to kids that when the office door is closed, they can’t come in unless they knock first, and you say it’s OK to come in. Create a stop sign and tell them that if that sign is on the door, they can’t bother you because you’re in the middle of something. Let them know you will help them as soon as you can, but they have to stay quiet when the door is closed and the sign is up.
But, in the event there is no private space to use, use the signs and let everyone know before you start your call that you need silence.
Let adults know the same thing—that you are working and as much as you’d like to join them, you can’t. They’ll know to knock on the office door and to leave you alone while you’re typing away. But they may not realize that their Mario Kart game is getting a bit loud. Work out some guidelines in advance with them, so everyone is on the same page when you work from home (and no one needs to pause their game at a crucial moment).
Treat It Like Any Other Day in the Office
One of the great things about remote work is that you can skip the commute. That means extra time for you, or, at least, no road rage. However, skipping the commute doesn’t mean you should skip the rest of your workday routine. Make sure you treat a work-from-home day like any other day at the office.
For example, it may sound tempting to sleep in since you don’t have to catch the train. However, sleeping in could mess up your body clock for the rest of the day, making you sluggish and more tired than normal.
Instead, wake up at your usual time, but use your commute to do the things you don’t have time for. Have a leisurely breakfast while you catch up on news. Do some laundry, exercise, or even walk the dog. Then, at your normal “start time,” sit down and get to work.
Alternatively, you could use that “found time” in your morning to get a head start on the day. You may find that you’re better able to focus after breakfast and coffee, instead of a grab-and-go breakfast and busy commute.
The same applies to the end of the day. Use your commute time as either bonus work time or bonus free time. The choice is yours.
End Your Day
Don’t overwork yourself. It’s natural to want to prove to your boss that you really are working when you’re at home. So, you may want to put in some extra time to get even more done.
There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t take it to extremes. If you’re at home for an extended period of time, resist the temptation to put in 10- or 12-hour days without taking a break. Working at home means work. But “working” is not synonymous with “no breaks.”
Have a mid-morning coffee break if that’s part of your regular in-office routine. Eat lunch with your peers. And make sure that when you’re done working for the day, you’re done. Don’t go back for “just one more thing.” Maintaining the boundaries between work and home when you work remotely goes a long way toward helping you stay a happy and productive employee.
Talk a Lot of Shop
When you work from home, keep your supervisor in the loop. This doesn’t mean sending an email every five minutes, updating them on your status. It does, however, mean you may need to be more conscious about documenting and talking about your workflow.
For example, consider sharing your documents and spreadsheets in a shared drive, so your supervisor can see what you’re working on and how much progress you’ve made. Project management software can help you update where you are on each project, too. But, if your company doesn’t have any of these, consider sending an email at the end of the day summarizing what you accomplished and what you’re going to prioritize the next day.
Any and all of these methods can help you stay on top of your workflow and reassure your supervisor that you’re not wasting the day away.
Ask for a Plan
If your employer doesn’t currently have one, ask about creating an emergency work-from-home plan that can be used for any and all emergencies. The next time it may not be a worldwide epidemic. It could be something as simple as a bad storm that means everyone has to work from home.
No one ever wants to use their emergency disaster plan. And even if you never use yours, it’s a good idea to be prepared. You never know when something might happen and you have to work in unusual circumstances. It’s better to be ready instead of caught off guard.
We’ve got lots of tips and tricks to help you be a fantastic remote employee. Read up on more tips to help you create your work-from-home emergency plan and what things your employer should include in an emergency remote work plan.
And if you’re ready to make remote work a permanent part of your job, consider joining FlexJobs. With open positions across 50 career categories, you’re sure to find a job that supports remote and flexible work that’s right for you.
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