This isn’t “Normal” Work-from-home

Over the past three weeks I’ve supported a number of people who have transitioned to working from home during the Covid-19 lockdown. The one thing that keeps coming up is that this is different than standard remote work. I’ve worked remotely for 12 years of my career and this is definitely not “normal”. I think that’s a critical thing for folks working remotely for the first time to understand. When Covid-19 lockdowns are over, working from home will be easier; this is a lot harder.

Here in Seattle, as in many of the world’s cities, we’re in a “shelter in place” ruling: schools are closed, non-essential businesses are closed, we may leave the house for groceries, health care, and exercise but we must maintain 6 feet separation between others when out.

Let’s start with a list of things that are different that “normal” work-from-home:

  • The kids are home — it takes a lot of time (and screen-time) to occupy the kids while trying to get work done
  • You can’t work from a coffee shop
  • There’s a constant stream of news updates about Coronavirus which is distracting
  • We don’t have any idea what the long term looks like which makes it very hard to make strategic decisions

I’ve been running a remote company for the last 6 years and as I mentioned before, it’s not my favorite way to work (there are benefits, though, as I covered in that article). In the past, that meant that I worked from (roughly) 9 to 5 in my home office. Get the kid to school, get back and into work, wrap up in time to join the family for dinner. With school closed under shelter-in-place, I have to work around keeping the kid busy and I haven’t been able to get the same focus time (or anywhere near the same hours) in.

My general schedule got me out of the house to a coffee shop once a week. The fresh air and exercise getting there and back, and the social stimulation and connection to my community were really important in keeping my sanity. It’s much harder now with no businesses open; we’re resorting to Zoom calls with friends and happy hour over the fence with neighbors.

I don’t use Facebook anymore and don’t get sucked into Twitter conversations. For which I feel lucky. I have a lot of friends who spend a lot of time on Twitter or Facebook and I appreciate the few valuable nuggets they mine. I also know it can be distracting. I’ve felt that first hand with news updates and changing metrics or policies every day for the past two weeks. It’s getting better — I’m getting back to one time a day for news; but it’s taken a lot of dedication.

By far the biggest challenge, right now, is that we don’t know where things will be in a month, much less a quarter. It’s hard to plan marketing messages, product releases, or even adjust to changing economic conditions when we have no idea what will happen and when everything is so volatile. I think this is what’s making it hardest right now for everyone (e.

This post isn’t about how to work from home (I covered that in the February post before the U.S. was locked down), but I think it’s important to include two factors that can make a big difference to your remote work experience:

  • Make a home office that is your work place and has all your stuff and that you can walk away from when you are done. Even if this is just changing the dinning room table for the day and then changing it back when you are done.
  • Get out of the house (but stay six feet or farther away from others!) and get fresh air and exercise.

Working from home might be introducing new communication challenges and that can look like it’s really hard to have a remote workforce. It does take more effort, but keep in mind that there are some much bigger factors making any work hard right now. Once we make it through these lockdowns the work-from-home experience should be easy for us!

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