Despite reports over the past few years about the benefits of working from home, the current effort to maintain productivity by working from home during the pandemic could backfire and generate a productivity slump that threatens economic growth for years to come, says Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom.
“We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days,” says Bloom, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). “This will create a productivity disaster for firms.”
Without time to adequately prepared for working at home, most people are dealing with four challenges: children, space, privacy, and choice.
The companies with working from home success stories had a plan in place for child care. Children were either in daycare or in school. During this pandemic, the work-from-home employee must split their time between caring for their children and trying to work for the company.
Most companies that implemented successful work-from-home policies in the past would only allow an employee to work from home if the employee had a dedicated home office. The room could not be a bedroom, and nobody was allowed in during the day except the employee.
With the sudden impact of COVID-19, many people are trying to work from home in their bedroom, dining room, or other common areas without the dedicated privacy found in the office. It’s easy to become distracted by your partners, family, or roommates. You should not be working in the same room with a television.
Companies that launched successful work-from-home programs in the past gave employees a choice of working from home or working in the office. Surprisingly, half of the employees chose to continue working in the office. After working from home for a year, many employees decided to return to work in the office.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t offer us a choice. Working from home, if working at all, was forced on us. Some people just don’t have what it takes to work from home. They need the office environment to maintain their productivity—most of the successful work from home programs involved at least one day a week in the office.
Establish a Child Care Plan
Your family comes first. They are your most important responsibility. You must develop a plan for their care first before you turn your attention to work. Childcare is challenging even in the best of times.
“For most parents, it’s completely resetting their reality. We’re unable to do the same things with work or caring for our children that we’ve been able to do in the past,” says Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist and the senior director of national programs and outreach at the Child Mind Institute.
Go easy on yourself. You have no choice but to do two crucial jobs at the same time. “Take the to-do list you had for today and cut it in half, then cut it in half again,” says Anderson.
Determine what your optimal working hours will be and how much you can get done. Then communicate with your boss so you can work out a schedule that works for both of you—having an agreed-upon plan will relieve some of your stress. Unfortunately, unconventional working hours are probably necessary.
Create a Productive Home Workspace
Properly designed office furniture has a work surface at the optimum height level. When you’re working from home, you might have to work at the dining room table or some other work surface that is not at the optimal height, and this can cause eye strain and neck problems. The general rule of thumb is that your shoulders and neck should be relaxed, and your forearms should be approximately parallel to the floor while you’re typing.
If you are working on a laptop, you may want to use a secondary keyboard, mouse, and separate monitor. Adjust the monitor height by setting your computer on a large book or laptop holder. A good rule of thumb is to keep your monitor at a minimum distance equal to its size (a 28-inch monitor would be no closer than 28 inches from your eyes).
Develop a Privacy Plan
Privacy and working from home involve two different issues, company data privacy, and your personal privacy.
To fulfill your company’s privacy policies, make sure of the following:
- Your physical workspace is secure
- Your shared home network is secure
- You practice information security best practices—at work and home
- You understand your responsibilities when it comes to working securely both in and out of the office
You need personal privacy so you can concentrate on your work. Try to confine your workspace to a specific area in your home, so your job doesn’t intrude into the lives of other household members. You may need to work out a cooperation agreement respecting each other’s workspace and work times to ensure everyone gets the privacy they need.
Choice, the Final Challenge
In most work-at-home jobs, the employees had a choice to work from home or stay in the office. With COVID-19, the decision was not ours to make. Do your best to deal with it.
We will get through this. Don’t pine away for things “to get back to normal.” There were plenty of complaints about “normal” before COVID-19. Use this time to look forward. Try to imaging how your future will look. Think of ways to innovate.
Most importantly, if you need help, be sure to reach out to an appropriate professional.
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