Committing To My Work From Home Life
Week two of work from home life is in the books. Last Sunday it felt more temporary. Now my wife and I are committed. With the recent spike in deaths here in New York State, the Coronavirus pandemic feels more real than ever. And America’s heartland may be next.
Adapting is easier said than done. Responsibilities do not cease, whether personal or professional, simply because a virus knocks on the door. In many ways, life is easier for us though — no kids, job security, and we can take care of ourselves — but even people in a seemingly stable situation can struggle under concerns for family or friends who may be worse off. Some 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment (an all-time high), with more projected in the coming weeks as companies continue layoffs.
For those that keep their jobs, professional life has changed forever. Work from home settings have blurred the lines between personal and professional spaces. Week two of working from home — with two of us in 700 square feet — has aggravated and annoyed us, but it has not broken us . . . yet. A few simple strategies (detailed below) have made a world of a difference.
Not all hope is lost, however. For one thing, I feel more connected with distant family and friends than ever before. Deliveries still arrive at our apartment, even amidst the dire conditions in New York City. While these deliveries have been hit or miss, the city that never sleeps has galvanized itself yet again in the face of adversity and has continued to function. Meanwhile, we have operated in our apartment with some sanity by implementing the following measures.
Create Separation — Work and Life.
I log in earlier and log off later. The pressure to prove you are actually working from home can be overbearing. With a plethora of productivity monitoring tools at their disposal, big brother employers are probably watching all employee activity. But do not let that reality prevent you from carving out much needed personal space.
Coworkers and bosses alike have acted with more bravado as the weeks progressed. They think they can “ping” or call whenever. When does the work day stop when you work from home? Nobody knows. Sometimes people are lonely and just call or hit me up on Jabber / Zoom to video chat and small talk (much to my coworker wife’s chagrin).
Over the course of the past week, I carved out more defined personal time. Around lunch I now tell my team I am going to be away for a few minutes. Whether it is for making food or going for a walk, I need space to breathe during the day. At the office I walk away from my desk at times. The rules should not apply differently when working from home. Communication is crucial though in case someone is looking for you. Be open and transparent as needed (some coworkers/bosses are needier than others!).
In addition, I learned that I cannot always be available. Even though I may appear “green” and free on our firm’s instant messenger, that does not mean I need to answer you immediately. If I am in the middle of something, or if I need to do something personal like — oh I don’t know — go to the bathroom, I should have the liberty to do it. Freaking out whenever the big boss calls and dropping everything to answer sets a bad precedent. You will establish zero personal boundaries if you are always available. And let’s be honest, nobody will fire you for missing a few phone calls.
Take the Initiative.
Although the constant calls and pointless interactions may be annoying at times, they are important. One of the biggest benefits of an office or work environment are the random encounters. The serendipitous moments that lead to beneficial professional outcomes occur more often than you might think. If you are out of sight, you will eventually become out of mind too.
Make a point of contacting the people that matter. If you want to be less Machiavellian about it, say hi to people you care about as well. It is too easy to hide in work from home holes. Remember to be human and engage in social interaction at work.
I am a strong proponent that small talk and emotional connections pay off in the long run. If you do not poke your head up every once in a while from the WFH hole, people will forget you exist. Let yourself be heard even when you are not physically present. So hit the phone and communication applications, all day, everyday.
While I continue to work on building and maintaining connections at work, I feel that my personal connections are stronger than ever since “sheltering in place.” My wife and I collectively have had more video calls with friends and family in the past two weeks than we have had probably since moving in together in 2016. We are all going through this unprecedented period in human life, so why not experience it together? Physical separation is no longer an issue when we can commiserate through modern technology. Can you imagine if this pandemic struck in the 1980s when the internet wasn’t even a thing?
You are doing yourself a disservice if you do not make an effort to have the virtual happy hours I mentioned in my last post. A shelter in place experience is only as lonely as you make it. Sometimes you have need to take the initiative and corral your friends or family members. Alcohol is not required, but it never hurts!
In all seriousness though, one of the silver linings of this pandemic ordeal is the bonds we will build with the people in our lives. I have seen more of my friends from afar than ever before, and quite frankly, I am loving it. You will ask yourself: why has this not always been the case? If there is anything a tough time teaches you, it is the value of certain relationships. A difficult collective experience can also bring everyone together if you let it.
Hit and Miss Delivery, But Support Local Restaurants.
I may be grateful for friends, but I am probably more thankful for FreshDirect. We do almost all of our grocery shopping through this delivery service, and they have not failed us yet. The delivery drivers are almost always on time despite the high demand for their services (as noted on the FreshDirect website). If you order from them, tip often and well.
We have also relied heavily on Warehouse Wines and Spirits. They no longer accept walk-ins, but that change had no effect on us as my wife has been using their online ordering system to keep us fully stocked on wine and liquor. Yes, it is not advisable to drink away your sorrows in times like these, but a glass here and there enhances the quarantine experience. Indulge responsibly, of course.
One form of delivery that has been disappointing is lunch and dinner. I had read a New Yorker article recently about the struggles local restaurants were experiencing during the pandemic, and I finally convinced my wife to order some food. We turned to an old favorite, Joe’s Pizza, the Greenwich Village institution that made my list of favorite spots in 2019.
Our instructions on Seamless requested the delivery person to leave the pizza at our door and step away (we had already added a 20% tip). Instead, my wife answered the door and a guy without a mask or gloves fumbled with the pizza before handing it to her. We spent the next few minutes throwing the pizza on a pan and discarding the box as quickly as possible. My wife then had to wash down — the FDA has said that Coronavirus is unlikely to infect you through food, but it can live for days on surfaces (beware of food boxes and bags).
I may not be able to convince my wife to order delivery again, but if you are comfortable, support local restaurants when you can. It would be a shame to emerge from this crisis only to eat at the McDonalds and Dominos of the world. Local businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy and we all need to do our part to support them. Whether it is as simple as signing a petition like ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants) or ordering takeout, we can all play our part.
This Too Shall Pass.
I keep reminding myself that this too shall pass. The Coronavirus will not impact humanity this way forever. But in the meantime, we need to take care of the more vulnerable among us — whether it is the sick, those with high risk conditions, the unemployed/furloughed, or small business owners. Many have their own unique, relative struggles during this time. Only together (virtually!) will we get through it and return to some version of normal when this passes. Until then, I have committed to my work from home life, with boundaries.
Originally published at https://polispandit.com on March 29, 2020.