The world feels a little uncertain right now.
Huge changes are going into effect each day, and no one can predict what’s going to happen next. Schools are closing, and countries throughout the world are restricting travel and even enforcing self-quarantine.
But even before the coronavirus caused businesses and companies to start requiring employees to work from home, the transition to remote work (or at least the option of remote work) had started occurring on a global scale.
I interviewed some people who are working from home because of the coronavirus – including some who are experiencing remote work for the first time – to see how we can use this experience to improve the workforce moving forward.
Coronavirus changes and impacts
The spread of COVID-19 worldwide is dealing a blow not only to health and healthcare systems, but also to the economy at large. Trillions of dollars have been wiped from financial markets, and we’re looking at potential recessions on a global scale, starting with world power lockdowns like Italy. Plus, the increase of gas prices could end up leading to shut downs and job losses across the U.S.
As schools, restaurants, and even homes start to close their doors to visitors, many offices are transitioning their employees to remote work. But CNN Business reports that over half of American employees are at risk because of the outbreak. For domestic workers, caregivers, and food service workers, working from home isn’t an option, which means that many low-wage employees will be hit the hardest.
But there are some efforts to curtail the consequences for these workers. In some places like Memphis, TN, local activists and politicians have helped secure public utility services to refrain from any disconnects for the time being. The Governor of New Hampshire issued an Executive Order yesterday temporarily stopping all evictions and foreclosures.
Shopify, an e-commerce platform like eBay, gave their workers $1000 stipends to stock up for the coronavirus quarantines. And a few organizations like Hand in Hand, a national network for nanny employers, have released guidelines discussing “How to be a fair employer during the coronavirus pandemic,” which attempt to get ahead of some of the challenges that come with lay-offs and job postponements.
Remote work in light of COVID-19
But for those of us fortunate enough to be able to continue working from home, changes still abound.
Moving from the office to working at home does not just present physical changes – it also presents work method changes and personal lifestyle changes. Businesses will have to determine what proper Work From Home etiquette looks like, and how often to check in with their employees.
(Remote Hustle founder Megan recently wrote an amazing guide to keeping your remote workers in communication virtually.)
And employees will have to decide how to manage their time with life outside of work, hobbies, children at home, etc.
I wanted to get an idea of how employees are feeling about their new situation, so I interviewed (virtually) some newly-remote workers from around the U.S and Europe.
Here’s what they had to say:
Audrey works as a Content Marketing Manager at GetYourGuide, one of Europe’s fastest-growing tech unicorns.
Most of GetYourGuide’s employees have worked remotely in the past, including Audrey, who’s worked remotely as a freelancer in between commuting jobs. All 17 of GetYourGuide’s global offices have been working remotely for one week, which has been going well for Audrey so far.
She appreciates the lack of commute and the extra time to spend at home with her dog, but she misses casual interactions with coworkers, which she now purposefully makes time to schedule. She’d like to invest in a better office chair to work from home, but other than that very little has changed.
Her team meets remotely via Zoom multiple times per day, and her company provided a helpful guide with best practices (including special instructions for parents), equipment needed for working from home, and FAQs
A licensed psychologist who works in Veterans Affairs, Laura has also worked remotely before, but never as regularly as she does now. Some positions with Veterans Affairs are entirely virtual, and the option was offered to her when she first began her work there as an effort to help with child care, etc. She’s been teleworking since this past Friday and has been able to stay connected both with colleagues and consumers.
Remote work, in her opinion, is a good way to provide continuity of care and allows her to stay on top of issues without showing up at the hospital. Specifically in terms of a pandemic or outbreak, she finds remote work invaluable to providing presence and care to individuals with more fragile medical situations.
The biggest challenge she’s faced with remote work (aside from the occasional technological issue) has been some ethical questions and legal barriers to providing care outside the hospital that she wishes had been resolved before the current Covid 19 situation.
“Ultimately,” she says, “I am grateful for the ability to do this work virtually so that I continue to provide the best quality of care I can to the veterans who so deserve it.”
Kevin is a credit analyst in the High Yield and Leveraged Loan markets who has never worked remotely before. At his company, everything is based at the office, which even has a cafeteria and a gym, so no one ever worked remotely. But all of that changed on March 10th, when Kevin’s firm recommended all non-essential personnel work from home (traders had to stay, however). The following day, the office shut down completely.
As a first-timer, Kevin is finding both pros and cons with remote work. He’s having trouble adjusting to social isolation, even though his job is predominantly individual-focused. He misses being able to walk around and chat with other employees, which allowed him both to de-stress and learn from others on the team. He expected communication to be a challenge, but says that Slack has been a lifesaver for the team.
Kevin also says that working from home allows him to be comfortable (i.e., no collared shirt), which allows him to work longer hours but necessitates more self-discipline to end the workday.
All in all, Kevin says that it’s impossible to compare this experience with his typical job. “Working from home during a market meltdown is such a unique situation that my job feels utterly alien to what I was doing basically three weeks ago,” he says. “I also struggle to separate what I’m feeling about the quarantine and the virus from what actually working from home in a normal setting might be.”
As a Completions Engineer, Elspeth supports offshore oil well projects by coordinating and planning for offshore oil wells and providing 24/7 engineering support during those operations. Elspeth actually moved to a part-time remote schedule in January before her company moved to all remote on March 13th.
Elspeth says that her company needs to make use of more digital tools and better IT infrastructure to make remote work sustainable. But she is enjoying the comforts of home and being close to her kids (although childcare also has its pros and cons).
She’s still having trouble adjusting to being completely isolated from her coworkers, who she often works with each day to troubleshoot. Additionally, she says, “a big part of my job involves explaining offshore operational things to people with a much different background (say, a geologist) … Trying to convey complex engineering & operational nuances to someone with a very different background, without being able to draw it out in front of them is hard.”
Her two biggest takeaways are communication and technological improvements. As an extrovert, she doesn’t like feeling so cut off from her team. And she wishes her company would provide (and pay for) higher-quality applications, programs, etc., for quick and clear digital drawings and sketches.
Melissa works for T-Mobile as a Senior Communications Specialist, and she has never worked remotely full-time before. Several teams at T-Mobile work full-time from home, but they’re still required to come in occasionally for certain mandatory meetings. Melissa was actually traveling right as the COVID-19 fears began to intensify, and T-Mobile asked her to work from home starting March 5 to see if symptoms developed. It was during that time that all employees were asked to work remotely.
Melissa says that about 85% of the time she enjoys remote work, but she misses the social aspect and culture of her office, as well. Working from home has allowed her to work on her hobbies more, as well as taking care of life outside of work without feeling exhausted. One thing she wishes she had had time to prepare was setting up an office area in her house. Working all over the house, she says, can give you anxiety. That’s why it’s important to “have a dedicated section but give yourself the freedom to move when needed.”
But, in general, she says that working remotely hasn’t been easier or more difficult than working in the office. Rather, she says, “It’s just a matter of finding new ways to do things and are the ways the most effective.”
Materrinan is a Senior Administrative Program Coordinator for Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives. Since she works near the Superdome in New Orleans, the only time she was allowed to work from home was when LSU played in the National Championship. However, she knows that her department is particularly accommodating for parents who need to work from home, and has three coworkers who work remotely once a week.
When someone at Materrinan’s office learned they may have had secondhand exposure to the coronavirus, their executive director decided everyone would work remotely, which began March 12th.
Materrinan has enjoyed being able to cook full meals instead of prepping “to go” food for work or spend money eating out at cafes and restaurants, as well as avoiding the stress of a morning commute. She’s found difficulty, however, getting started in the morning and keeping with a consistent schedule throughout the day.
Her biggest struggle has been the adjustment for screen time. In the office, she could just pop into a coworker’s office to ask a quick question or print a document to read it. But now, everything has to be done online, and she has to manage time for screen breaks to avoid headaches. But even so, she considers working from home just a slight adjustment, and her team is working hard to add in more face-to-face time for non-essential or fun conversations, too!
Transition to remote work, generally
The number of remote positions around the world has been increasing since long before the world was introduced to COVID-19. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2010 that only 9.5% of Americans worked remotely even once a week, whereas the same question in 2020 revealed that 36% did so once per week – a 400% increase!
And having the option to work remotely, even occasionally, is especially helpful for people who have difficulty commuting, have children at home, or even in light of outbreaks and emergencies such as the coronavirus. In fact, other crises have led to upticks in remote work, as well, including after September 11th and after the 2008 recession.
Because of these trends, more and more workers have been searching for ways to successfully and productively work from home. Travel blog halfhalftravel has some good ideas for first-timers, and we have our own guide for staying sane while working from home, as well. (Granted, for now you should ignore the stuff about getting out and being sociable.)
[Download this infographic: Working from home take self-discipline (and a little creativity]
If you’re interested in landing a job that you can do remotely, there are all kinds of resources to help you find one. To get you started, here’s a list of Facebook groups that provide links to available positions for remote work.
Ways you can help during COVID-19
Whether you’re working from home or not, at the end of the day we’re all going through this pandemic together. If you’re fortunate enough to not feel all the stressors yet, consider finding ways to help others get through this difficult and confusing time.
Here are just a few ideas for volunteer and donation work that PBS published last week:
- Donating to and volunteering at local food banks.
Food banks have seen a decrease in volunteers and donations across the U.S. due to the panic, but food banks are actually becoming more popular as grocery stores nationwide run out of various food items. Donations can be made online, and some food banks and organizations are accepting non-perishable food donations, as well. And if your company was hosting an event that has now been cancelled due to the outbreak, consider donating the food that would have been used for your guests to a food bank, instead.
- Providing food for students who typically rely on school lunch.
Schools around the world are being shut down, which leaves low-income students who typically rely on basic services in the cold. More than 20 million children nationwide rely on free lunch at school, with almost 5 billion school lunches served annually. Because of the virus, some states have offered to serve lunch to these students off-site, while others are providing vouchers or grocery cards for families who need assistance. Contact your local public school district to see what methods have been put into place and how you can help.
- Supporting small businesses and low-wage workers.
As I mentioned above, low-wage workers in small businesses and particularly in the service industry do not receive the benefits that other types of workers enjoy. And as economies across the U.S. encourage patrons to stay away from restaurants and other small businesses, these workers and business owners will suffer. If you feel comfortable patronizing these small businesses, be sure to tip well; if not, let workers who lose their jobs during the breakout know about any businesses that are hiring.
- Help the most vulnerable in your community.
The elderly and the homeless are particularly vulnerable to outbreaks such as COVID-19. Anything you can do in regards to food, clothing, home help, or even monetary donations to homeless shelters or nursing homes, etc., can go a long way for people who may need a little more support.
Stay healthy and stay safe, y’all
From all of us at Remote Hustle, we’re wishing you the best and begging you to stay home and wash your hands.