This pandemic has forced many of us to adjust to new work realities.
I know that here in the Philippines, it has been a tough adjustment for some of my friends who are used to working in a physical office daily. Most companies still follow the traditional 9–5 schedule (even though the labor law does not require that, but that’s another story) with employees assigned their own desktop computers linked to a “secure” intranet system where files are shared. It is mostly the salespeople and field officers who are assigned laptop computers and mobile phones, given the nature of their work.
We have been on lockdown for a month now so it is safe to assume that most workers have already managed to work around the challenges of their new setup. The bigger problem, however, is that we are far from flattening the curve. Confirmed cases are still soaring, so most people would have to keep working remotely indefinitely. I’m afraid this is the situation for many countries as well.
Luckily, this has not been a problem for me since I have been working remotely for almost three years now. I am familiar with both the advantages and disadvantages of working with your colleagues at arm’s length. I do recall how challenging it was at first so I hope that by sharing some useful skills, you eventually ease into your work transition during this difficult time.
Be accountable to yourself
Remote work is not for everyone, so typically, some personal introspection is required before diving into uncharted terrain. But due to force majeure, you will just have to accept or at least pretend that remote work is a fit for you.
Continue your regular work habits, whether that is inbox 0 as soon as you arrive at the office or printing your boss’s schedule. You will still need to track your to-do list since that hard copy of the schedule is still a task for sending by email. Keep doing the things that are still relevant unless told otherwise by your boss.
Learn to work independently now that your boss is not around. Initiate and be responsive. Do not slack off (although you must allow yourself some time to soak it all in, both the good and the bad of this unfolding crisis, but try to do it after work.) Do not make her feel that she needs to check on you every hour. Update her on the status of the tasks at hand in advance.
Configure your tools and learn to troubleshoot because your office’s tech support will not come walking into your office this time. Follow their IT configuration memo to a T before calling for help because they are probably inundated by calls from other employees, especially those who are more tech-averse. YouTube is an invaluable resource for tech troubleshooting advice so try that first.
Pro tip: There are many tools that help with remote work, which your company probably uses already. These include G Suite, a project management app like Basecamp or Trello, and Zoom for conference calls. If you are self-employed, I recommend that you stick with some of these popular tools so that your clients will likely have access to them too.
Be accountable to your company
This is not an easy time for your organization, so do not make things harder for them. Aside from serious belt-tightening measures, they might be forced to lay off some staff. If you still have a job, know how fortunate you are and express your gratitude by elevating the level of your work.
Set clear expectations If your company has an extant standard remote work policy, request a copy from your HR department or download it from your website. You will need this in formulating your work plan. If your company does not have a policy on remote work, this is the time to create one so feel free to suggest that to your HR manager.
By now, you should already have an idea of how different working from home is from working in an office. If you are a mom of a toddler or a daughter caring for a sick parent, there will be distractions so you have to convey these realities to your boss. This will help her understand why certain tasks will have to wait.
Ideally, you should present a work plan to your boss so she knows what to expect from you, how best to reach you (make sure you both have access to her preferred communications platform) and when to call.
Pro tip: Recommend to your boss to use dictation via WhatsApp (click on the mic icon) when delivering instructions. This will save her time from typing an email and it will enable you to transcribe the message and refer back to it as much as you need to.
Work-related expenses If you are concerned about internet fees, your mobile phone bills, and other relevant work expenses, clarify with your boss if these can be reimbursed at a later time. Frankly, I would not push for this now given the likely volatile state of your company’s finances but it is definitely something that your HR department should at least consider.
Team check-ins To maintain some semblance of collaboration with other teams, check with your boss if you can organize a daily check-in with her and other staff if you think this is necessary. These calls do not have to take long if there are no questions or clarifications. You can also suggest a more casual weekly check-in, maybe on a Friday, and do fun things like a virtual game, just to keep the team in high spirits during this uncertain period.
These tips also work for professionals outside of a corporate setting, such as teachers. There is a huge demand for homeschoolers now from parents who need some assistance. If you have never tried teaching a class online, now is the time to do it. You can try it out with a few friends first to get some honest feedback. You will get the hang of it in no time. You may also design lesson plans that new homeschooling parents can refer to using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint.
Now does this sound like a side hustle for our beloved teachers? I think so!
Before the coronavirus struck, working remotely was the unconventional way of making a living, and I think I can speak for fellow remote oldtimers. I was the ghost employee at a huge conglomerate. I was the non-profit strategist reporting for work only once a week. I will not be considered for a promotion. I pay for my own medical insurance. It is not an easy life in many respects, but its ability to give me the flexibility I need to still do my art and convert traffic time to reading time makes taking the road less traveled worthwhile.
To compensate for my physical absence and disprove any perceived indolence on my part by the permanent full-time employees, I overdeliver. I do not wait for my clients to tell me what to do. I remind. I clarify. I ask questions. I provide my services in advance by always asking for deadlines. I do the necessary and complete due diligence. I have a mission to outshine the typical worker because I want to prove that the typical 9–5 grind is no longer working. Come to think of it, I should be paid more for staying away from the road because I do end up getting more work done.
Maybe, this pandemic is your time to shine.
I fiercely believe that the future of work, especially in severely congested and gridlocked developing nations, is remote. This method of accomplishing things works and should, in fact, be mandatory. Some people embrace it, some don’t. Unfortunately, those who don’t and still equate physical presence with productivity are the same people who are now struggling to configure their operations virtually.
This pandemic is showing us the way forward. I am not happy that the world is in a standstill, but I am grateful for the lessons this crisis is teaching us. It is a clarion call for all of us to start working smart, to keep working remotely even after all this is over, and to showcase the best version of our working selves.
If you liked this article and have more questions on remote work or how to create a remote work policy and system for your organization, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for reading.