By Bonnie Newman Davis
Some eight million Americans worked from home in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s safe to say that number has probably tripled since the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
For almost one month, employees accustomed to workplaces in which they are surrounded by coworkers have been planning, teaching, training, or attending meetings online from home. Several software programs or digital platforms have enabled such work from virtual offices in kitchens, dining rooms, basements, attics or bonus rooms. These remote employees either work solo or consider their new “coworkers” to be spouses, partners, children or other family members.
While some workers may find it easy to adjust to their new work spaces, others may not. For example, I am self-employed and have operated my business from home for five years. Yet, when I recently relocated to another room in my home to allow my daughter to use my second-floor office, weeks passed before my full “work groove” returned. I’m convinced that part of my inactivity was due to having my meticulously planned work and social life abruptly upended.
Janet Davenport, a journalist -turned-leadership coach and communications strategist, provided insight and a spirit boost.
“In times of uncertainty and high anxiety, perspective is always in order,” says Davenport, principal of Davenport Coaching Solutions. “Choose to focus on the things you have power over.”
In a Facebook post, Davenport reminds her followers: “In a culture that glorifies ‘the hustle,’ ‘the grind’ and workaholism, it is hard not to feel guilty unless you are busy ‘doing.’ But what if, being is enough? What if your existence does not have to be justified by how many closets you clean, books you read or activities you can accomplish in your home. If these or other things give you joy, by all means do them! Just remember, if you’re not ‘doing’ anything and are able to find relaxation, rest and joy in that, that’s okay, too!”
Turns out that Davenport’s advice was just what I needed. Several days after speaking with her, I transformed my attic, already filled with enough furniture to open a consignment store, into a makeshift office. Once the pandemic ends, my attic may even become my permanent home office.
The ability to quickly adapt to new spaces – whether at work, at home or in a new city– is a skill mastered long ago by Linnie S. Carter, Ph.D. , APR. president and CEO of Linnie Carter & Associates LLC and a community college vice president.
Carter obtained her graduate and undergraduate degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University, and earned a doctorate degree at Old Dominion University. After living in Richmond for several years, Carter moved to the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia, and spent nearly two years in North Carolina. For the past eight years, she has lived in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
When I asked Carter to share her tips for carving a successful career while working remotely, she was happy to oblige. Thank you, Dr. Carter!
Davis: As someone who often telecommutes, what are the advantages/disadvantages of doing so?
Carter: In 2008, I founded a virtual company. As a community college vice president, I telecommute once a month and have been doing so since 2013. Therefore, I have a lot of experience with telecommuting. I thrive in telecommuting environments. However, I recognize that others do not fare as well.
Following are what I consider the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting:
- There are fewer distractions from colleagues.
- You can produce more work in a shorter period of time.
- You save money by not having to buy as much gas for your vehicle.
- You do not have to dress as nicely as you might if you were in your “regular” office.
- You may miss socializing with others in person.
- You may not have access to the same resources you might have at work (printer, office supplies and “free” internet access).
- You may be less motivated to work.
- Your home life may not be conducive to telecommuting (children, significant others and pets).
- People may perceive your telecommuting as vacationing. You may have to remind them that you are working and thus they should not expect to have instant and constant access to you.
- You may struggle with time management.
Davis: I know that you adhere to a strict schedule when telecommuting. How did you develop your virtual work schedule and how do you stay on task? What about working parents at home with children? What do you say to them?
Carter: My virtual work schedule aligns with my work ethic, discipline, drive and ambition. Because of these factors – and the fact that I love to work – I find it easy to stay on task. I start work at the same time each morning (between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.) and work until the evening. My husband works, I am CBC (childless by choice) and I have no pets. Therefore, I do not have personal distractions when I am telecommuting.
- Currently, my entire community college team is working remotely, which makes me happy. They are safe. Several of them are working from home while their children are home, because the school systems are closed.
- My team has been allowed to work remotely at least one day a week for eight years. Therefore, the only difference now is that they are doing it every day in light of the global pandemic. In addition, they are allowed to work their schedule anytime between 12:01 a.m.-11:59 p.m. Yes, they have 24 hours to work their hours in a day, and they love the flexibility. (For example, they can work from 8-10 a.m., 3-5 p.m. and 8-11:30 p.m. On this same day, they can have lunch with their spouse, take their children on a field trip and go shopping). To add even more awesomeness, some members of my team work four days per week instead of five.
- Our community college policy allows colleagues to work from home, but colleagues must have childcare to benefit from this privilege. Therefore, if you work from home, your children must be cared for by others. Due to the global pandemic, we have waived this aspect of the policy. Again, schools and daycares are closed, so colleagues have no choice but to work from home while their children are at home.
- To support my team members who are now working from home while their children are there, I sought advice from my direct reports who have children. They offered this advice, which we shared with the entire team:
- Work before your children get up in the morning
- Work while your children are taking naps
- Work after your children go to bed at night
- Ask a friend to keep your children while you work and return the favor (especially if you and the friend have different work schedules)
- Work when you can and communicate with your supervisor if you cannot work a full day due to having your children at home
- Ask your significant other to do their part (if applicable)
- I expressed sympathy that some members of my team are having to work remotely while their children are at home. However, I made it clear that they are still expected to be professional.
It is expected that we will occasionally hear a child crying in the background or hear a dog barking. However, that cannot happen often – for obvious reasons. I encourage leaders to have these types of conversations – though difficult – because it is what good leaders do. Also, I am a great, supportive and family-oriented leader and expect my direct reports to be as well.
- Since my entire team is working remotely, I instituted common work hours to ensure we are still able to meet, connect, bond and collaborate as a team. Therefore, each day, from 10 a.m.- noon and 1-2 p.m., the entire team must be working. For the rest of the day, they can work any schedule they would like through 11:59 p.m. Again, they love the flexibility.
- In addition, I recommend that leaders host virtual events for their teams. For example, I just hosted a virtual potluck luncheon for my team via Zoom. We turned on our web cams, ate, played games, shared stories and bonded. They loved it, so we will do another virtual potluck luncheon in April and May.
Davis: Do you believe there will be more people seeking to telecommute or work virtually when the COVID-19 crisis is resolved?
Carter: Yes, I do. To retain high-performers, employers will have to allow more people to telecommute. Not everyone will want, request or desire this option. That is why – when things get back to normal – this privilege should be reserved for high-performers. As a rule – before the global pandemic struck – I did not allow low-performers or those struggling with their job duties to work from home. If they cannot perform their job duties at work, it is unlikely they will be able to perform them at home.
Dr. Linnie S. Carter offers more advice and tips about virtual work in these articles:
- Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings:
· Tips on How to Run a Virtual Company:
Bonnie Newman Davis
Journalist, Journalism Educator, Media Consultant
Executive Director, BND Institute of Media and Culture Inc.