The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragedy for the people affected and their loved ones. Incidence and death statistics are increasing both globally and in my country, although it must be admitted that at this stage Poland has not been hit so badly by this disaster yet. But it’s not business as usual here. The authorities have taken extraordinary measures to slow down the epidemic, whose economic implications are gathering momentum, and many of us have been grounded with our families at home.
The pandemic has turned over the table on many levels and tragic as it is in the human dimension, it’s also really fascinating to watch its influence on our professional lives.
It is crucial nowadays for companies to do everything they can to maintain business continuity. This includes new work organization, with a massive turn towards telework/remote work and/or home office mode. There are, of course, companies for whom it’s business as usual, but for most of the market players it’s all new, and they are learning by doing. So are their employees.
Working in an agile and tech-based environment, I am lucky to have had the opportunity to gain experience in working remotely for years. There are some general rules and hacks that are applicable to any job carried out remotely.
Protip 1: “Go to work” mindset
Old habits die hard. And some of them had better not die! It’s really worth keeping your mind focused on being organized as always. Start your day as usual: get a shower, get dressed, grab a coffee or do a running training if that used to be your thing before the Change. Let your body and soul know that the “work mode” is on. Some insurance agents wear a suit and a tie for cold calling sessions even though nobody sees them. They do it because you wearing a tracksuit with a t-shirt and you wearing a suit are actually two different people sending totally different messages.
Protip 2: Work on your workstation
It’s not a good idea to work from the cozy embraces of your bed or couch. Remember that your brain will associate these with sleep and relaxation — you don’t want that. Prepare a place that’s dedicated to work only. Not all of us will have a special room they can use solely for that purpose, but if you manage to scrounge up some space equipped with a chair and a desk that meets the basic requirements of ergonomics, you will be alright. It is a good idea to have a noise-cancelling headset. This equipment could help you focus even when you are working in a noisy room.
Protip 3: Keep clear of distractions
In these times of the greatest connectivity ever, we have incredible work tools at our disposal. Online apps, communication platforms, cloud-based solutions and mobile devices are really a blessing. But they may become a curse if you let yourself get pulled into the vortex of social media, news about the next cases of the coronavirus, or clips with funny animals. Log out of your social platforms for a few hours. Listen to the radio if you really have to get the news. Stay disciplined. You won’t miss anything. The content will still be there when you check in later.
There’s another distraction that’s really hard to beat: the Household Chores demon. Always ready to grab your attention, great at impersonating a good sprite that cares for order and cleanliness in your dwelling. Banish it by doing the necessary household stuff before you start working, and plan the rest to be done during your breaks or after you finish. Ask yourself this question: is the squeaky-clean state of your apartment really more important than your job being done well?
Protip: 4: Children are manageable, try it!
Children will do anything to yank out as much of your time as possible. What’s more, most of you will be happy to submit. My experience is that children understand everything better than we think they do. The situation is new for them, but they will adapt faster than you will, they are children.
Set the rules and plan your day. What’s important here, is a simple thing: it helps the children if they know when you are “in the zone” or not. Establish a code and working hours. They will cooperate, but you are responsible for setting the framework of this cooperation.
Note: This particular challenge cannot be overcome in 100%, we can only mitigate some of the risks. Children always need our attention and sometimes it is better to support them instead of fighting the disruptions created by them.
Protip 5: Keep teams intact
Traditional day to day communication lines are broken. No casual break-room chatter or coffee talk to share knowledge, no meetings. We go online, and it works, but our communication has been partially deprived of the meta level. Project sprints will not be enough. Hold regular online meetings to fill the gap, spend some time engaging in regular banter and general talk about what’s going on.
Protip 6: Don’t change anything in the way you run meetings…
…that is, of course, if you’ve been doing it professionally, following a set of rules we all know, like having an agenda, showing up on time, staying on point, being prepared. It’s now important more than ever, especially that online meeting platforms have their limitations, like the fact that only one person speaks at a time (is it a limitation really?).
Protip 7: Take care of yourself, maintain balance
Remember to take breaks. You would do that if you were at the office, wouldn’t you? Often, once we into get a good working pace and focus on it, we tend to be active for too long and can’t break away.
If you can, depending on federal and state policy, and recommendations regarding virus avoidance — go outside to stay physically active, and keep it regular. You need fresh air and sunlight more than ever.
We don’t know how long this extraordinary situation will last. We can’t be sure what crises it will bring. Let’s stay focused and do what we can to remain in good health and sustain continuity of businesses. Stay strong!