When Remote Work Goes Viral: Tips for a Productive Self-Quarantine

With the rapid spread of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus, throughout the United States and the rest of the world, businesses are being urged to take unprecedented precautions to ensure the safety of their staff and the general public. And while it won’t be an option for all, this situation has led many businesses to seek out alternatives to the traditional work experience, including asking employees to stay at home and work remotely.

But because the need for remote work arose so quickly, some employers and employees may feel like they’re scrambling to catch up with the rest of the remote-working world in a short amount of time. If you are an employee or employer new to teleworking, there are several steps you can take to keep productivity up while at home. And who knows? If the whole impromptu telework experiment pans out, it may be something you want to explore further in a post-quarantine environment.


Put a Guide Together

Making a remote-work guide for staff can be a great way to keep everyone on the same page regardless of where they are working and when. This is one of the first things management should focus on implementing, since it will communicate essential information about what will change and what will remain the same as well as how to perform standard tasks in the new environment. Make sure to share the guide with the entire staff (a cloud service such as Google Drive can be helpful here) and detail the following:

Stay Connected

If your company relies on a lot of meetings to get things done, you can continue to hold department and all-staff meetings even when everyone is working from home. The catch, however, is that you may need to put a little extra planning into your meeting efforts.

First, you’re going to need to choose a reliable video conferencing software, such as Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet or WebEx. If you’ve put your company’s remote work guide together, you’ve already selected a service (and hopefully a backup) for these meetings. But remember that video conferences aren’t always going to be the best choice for large groups, and one staff member’s technological limitations, such as slow internet, can affect the audio/visual quality for everyone involved. Sometimes Google Hangouts chat, Slack, conference calls or email will be better alternatives depending on what needs to be communicated.

Also, it’s often a good idea to start the meeting by checking in with staff before diving into serious discussion. Since staff members are separated from each other and may be experiencing feelings of isolation, some friendly, informal chat can boost team solidarity and morale. Plus, you may get a better understanding of the additional challenges staff members are facing in their new work situation.

With all of this in mind, if you’re going to have a video meeting, be sure to give staff at least 24-hours’ notice when possible. The last thing most people want is to get a notice for an impromptu video conference in feety pajamas with Einsteinian bedhead as the kids feud over Fortnite in the background. Instead, managers should try to plan meetings in advance, send invites and describe what kind of meeting it will be (audio or video) in a shared calendar. And if something is really urgent, an instant message may be the way to go.


Keep Calm and Carry On

On the topic of pajamas and bedhead, ideally it’s best to keep your normal morning routine in place even if you aren’t heading into the office. Get up at the typical time, make that breakfast, do the normal hygiene stuff, etc. The standard routine can provide you with a sense of normalcy despite the very abnormal situation we all find ourselves in at the moment. Plus, it will help you get mentally focused for the workday ahead, unlike reaching for your laptop from bed and logging in half asleep.

And think of it this way: the time you save from not commuting can be spent reading a book, scanning social media, talking with your family, getting in a little early exercise and so on. (Sparing the environment those extra CO2 emissions isn’t such a bad thing either.) When you take your normal breaks throughout the day, try to spend that time away from a monitor. The feelings of isolation that can come with remote working make it easy to forget to step away, but breaking from the computer screen and injecting some movement and activity into your workday can actually improve productivity. And with many stuck in their homes, making time for physical activity will be especially important in the days to come.

Create a Workspace That Works for You

Those who didn’t already have home office setups may be struggling to adapt to their new work environments. Couple that with the added difficulty of supervising cooped-up kids and it becomes clear that, for many, self-quarantine remote workspaces will be pretty far from ideal. It’s important for managers to understand that staff members may be facing unique challenges at this time and to keep expectations in check.

With that said, the following suggestions can help remote workers make the most of their home offices:

The next few days and weeks (God, please not months) are going to be trying, but we will adapt, overcome and get through this. As many on social media have pointed out, if the Greatest Generation can storm the beaches of Normandy and rivet like nobody’s business, we can work at home to keep others safe. Do it for your loved ones! Do it for your country! Do it for Mel Brooks!

Keep safe, keep well and keep working, everyone.

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