Baby Boomers (those born from 1944-1964) are experiencing extra anxiety during the Covid-19 Pandemic. There are the health concerns, of course, (I might become sick due to my age or should I continue visiting my grandchildren type thoughts) but the anxieties created by working from home (WFH) are also there. Alexandra Samuel is not in this category. She has worked from home for 22 years and wrote about it in a column in the Wall Street Journal. She has inspired me to muse about my personal challenges of working from home, while providing five key tips for WFH.
1. Keep Healthy. Frequent trips to the refrigerator and lack of an exercise routine are a concern. As a 63-year-old boomer I cannot afford gaining even five pounds much less the ten I have gained over the last month. The exercise bike remains idle. So, I went searching on the web for tips to stay motivated. Alexandra Samuel recommended a fitness tracker to ensure you got your steps in (arriving in two days). She also recommends you use reflection (Headspace) software programs for mental health. Take breaks that involve some sort of physical activity—a walk? I have no tips on how to avoid the frequent trips to the refrigerator.
As a person who has employed people for over 40 years, I have struggled with the concept of allowing people the freedom to work from home. It is a generational thing, we used typewriters for the first ten years, and I feared the impact of the fax machine (customers would want product faster). Now I struggle, as an employer, with WFH. It’s about developing trust. I have always had team members that crank out deliverables when left alone. Developers often do their best work during the graveyard shift. Salespeople are evaluated on the volume of new sales. Project managers are evaluated on their ability to get projects done on time and near budget. No need to micro-manage. The solution to my anxiety over this: work hard to honor output not time in seat.
From the employee perspective how do you prove to your manager that you are cranking out good work? What is the evidence you are accomplishing things? It comes down to over communicating with your supervisor. Create a “to do list” daily. If that does not work send a short email with bullet points of your accomplishments for the week. If your company uses employee time logging, try combining logging with a weekly email to your supervisor. Having a hard time concentrating on getting things in the done box? Consider buying the book: Deep Work.
2. Develop a Routine. Countless articles suggest that you discipline WFH by developing a routine. Schedule a continuous early morning virtual meeting so you are motivated to get up, get dressed and get seated at your private work area. Likewise, don’t be too hard on yourself. Take frequent breaks (hopefully not at the refrigerator) and don’t worry about working eight hours. Alexandra suggests that she is more productive at home: “I consider it a good day if I get four – (maybe 5) hours of decent work time.” Communicate with your supervisor about being measured by output.
Baby Boomers, like myself, particularly have a problem with this paradigm shift of being measured by output. This can have the result of working too many hours at the WFH office. This adds to the current pandemic stressors and needs to be controlled. Supervisors, read the Harvard Business Review article: A Guide to Managing Your Remote Workers.
Be explicit with your teammates that it is “OK” to communicate (even over communicate) more often with fellow employees via chat programs and monitor LinkedIn and other social media more often. Using video conferencing is a no-brainer. In online learning vernacular it’s called building “social presence.” Online instructors are taught techniques for engaging students, and the obvious first step is to encourage discussion threads via special techniques. What am I doing? I am committing myself to attend our Friday Virtual happy hour each week.
Web Courseworks Happy Hour: Every Friday, 3:00 PM CT
3. Keep a Calendar. To help make the transition from time clock to done box work you need a new time management system. Some people write down on paper hour for hour what they are doing or accomplishing others create calendar meetings in MS Outlook. Alexandra suggests you go one step further and invest in and install a program like Timing.app or Manic-time. “This type of program runs in the background and lets you see where your time has gone.”
4. Use Video. I have been promoting the use of video during virtual meetings for many years and people, until COVID-19, rarely complied. Video at the very least should be used at the beginning of meetings and at the end to promote social presence. Make sure your “video studio” is setup. This means to avoid “back light” and use any windows in front of you to illuminate your face. A ring light is becoming a popular desk addition. Dress like the sports announcer who wears a suit jacket and below camera range is wearing gym trunks or jeans. Practice looking into the camera (as opposed to the screen) and try to maintain a little distance from the camera. Boomers are often uncomfortable about being on camera. Get over it.
Web Courseworks Annual IT/HR Training on March 27, 2020
Get a list of the other tools you should have (including dual monitors and a comfortable chair) for WFH. Build an addition on to your house for that perfect office at home (it could be deductible).
5. Accept Change. Well over 50% of companies worldwide are promoting remote work. After this Covid-19 Pandemic subsides be prepared for changes at work. Your employer, if they continue to grow, will not be renting more square footage. Be prepared for shared work desks and the requirement that you WFH. Ask your employer what the company remote work policy is. It is probably already in the company handbook.
This transformational learning exercise I have been experiencing on working from home is now reaching a crescendo. It took a Pandemic for me to see that WFH, when done right (get childcare) can be more productive and ultimately healthier for both employer and employee. Baby Boomers it is time to get on board the WFH train!
- Larson, Vroman and Makarius. (March, 19,2020) A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers
- Pollak and Coombes (March 17, 2020) 23 Essential Tips for Working Remotely
- Zapier.com (2020) Zapier’s guide to working remotely
- Alexandra Samuel (March 30, 2020) I’ve Worked From Home for 22 Years, Here’s What I’ve Learned