Pandemic: Treat it like running a marathon

Once upon a time, we may have dreamed of working from home. There’s flexibility, convenience and a lack of pestering bosses.

Then the coronavirus pandemic crashed down on us like a storm-tossed wave onto a crowded beach. With little warning and preparation, millions of Americans – including many in Bakersfield – are experiencing their dream come true.

They were sent home to work remotely, as states enacted “social distancing” strategies to slow the spread of the deadly virus. Schools and non-essential businesses were closed.  People were instructed to stay in their homes.

States, including California, in recent weeks have started “reopening.” Depending on local infection, hospitalization and death rates, businesses are being allowed to open up on a limited basis.  These may mean employees can return to work. Often, this means limiting the exposure of workers and customers to the virus by having only a few employees working onsite and others working from home.

The pandemic and its impact on the workplace continue to be felt.  It will be a long time until we return to “normal.” And that normal may mean a large percentage of the workforce will continue to work from their homes.

In the early days of the pandemic, some people may have been tempted to treat the stay-at-home directive as a state-ordered vacation. But as the weeks piled onto themselves and no end was in sight, people discovered working from home was easier said than done.

The fear of the pandemic, combined with a daily flow of depressing, scary headlines left people stressed and isolated in their homes.  Those who also were parents of school age children were forced to balance the responsibility of being educators with the struggle to be productive employees.

Studies by several human resources consultants and internet network providers have found a generation of “always connected” Americans began losing the balance between their private life and work life as their workplaces became their kitchen tables or living rooms. On average, people remotely working “plug in” 12 hours a day, rather than the 9 hours working in traditional onsite offices. Remote workers email earlier in the morning and into the wee hours of the night.

People working remotely risk burnout. As this pandemic is becoming a marathon, rather than a sprint to the finish line of a virus, it’s time to evaluate how remote working in the coronavirus age is unfolding and what adjustments should be made.

Let’s start with the boss. If you were a micromanager before, it’s time to regroup and move forward.

You no longer have employees you can constantly watch. You now have no choice but to trust that they are home working productively.

Set goals – The relationship between managers and remote workers must be “results driven.” If it’s a special project, or a regular production need, clearly explain the goals, how success will be measured and what is expected from the team and its members.  Don’t sweat the detail of how each employee meets those goals.

Communicate – Schedule regular group and individual virtual meetings with remote workers.  Workers should be expected to participate. “Pop up meetings” should be the exception, rather than the rule.

Be accessible – Workers should be able to contact managers for necessary information and guidance.

Feedback – Working from home, particularly when the arrangement is new and unexpected, can be confusing, terrifying and isolating.  Give workers feedback on project progress and their performance.

The challenges for remote workers – especially under these circumstances – are great.  And if workers are parents, they also are balancing their work and family responsibilities.

Achieve balance – Before the coronavirus pandemic, you did not work 24/7. So, don’t do that now.

Set a schedule – What did your life look like before the pandemic? Try to stick somewhat close to that schedule. When did you get up, eat breakfast, go to work, and come home? What did you do during your free time? That still applies. Get up and get dressed, work, take breaks, exercise, relax.  Confirm your schedule with your boss.

Children – If you are a parent, consider your child’s schedule. Try to keep him, her, or them on somewhat the same schedule.  In a two-parent house, share those responsibilities.

Maintain a calendar – List work meetings, project requirements, meals, free time, etc.  Include breaks and exercise.

Work space – Designate a workspace, which should not be your entire house.

Karen Bonanno is president of the Bakersfield-based human resources consulting firm P.A.S. Associates and P.A.S. Investigations. She can be contacted through her website and through the P.A.S. Facebook page.

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