With new cases of coronavirus being confirmed in the U.S. every day, tech giants like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and Apple — not to mention a host of other, less famous companies — are now asking employees to work from home. It’s a privilege that less than a third of the American workforce can take, but it’s an important measure for “flattening the curve” of how quickly coronavirus spreads, which helps prevent overload of the healthcare system. It also means those who are suddenly working from home for the first time are adjusting to a new way of life. Start work at 9 AM? Set your alarm for 8:59. Cook a hot meal for lunch. Turn the heat up to your heart’s content and cry anywhere you want.
Which Companies Are Working From Home?
Besides big tech companies like Facebook and Google (which has now asked all of its North American employees to work from home), others like Airbnb and J.P. Morgan are also taking precautions and asking staff to stay home. The SEC became the first federal agency to ask its employees to work remotely. Employees at Buzzfeed, Vice, and the New Yorker have also reported that they’re now remote.
If you’re one of these employees, you might feel liberated by the solitude, or you might feel like you’re going stir crazy. Either way, it’s jarring to go from an open office — where every sniffle is a community broadcast — to the small island of your own abode. Those new to the WFH club are doing virtual double-takes at one another, asking: Is this really happening? How do we handle it? How many video calls should we be doing? Can you believe that the reason we finally get to work remotely is because of a highly-contagious virus?
How To Work From Home — And Be Productive
Suddenly, social media has become a hotbed of tips and thoughts:
Set & stick to work hours. You can split hours morning/night with afternoon “off” or timeshift, but still have set hours or you’ll constantly get derailed.— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) March 8, 2020
It’s easy to get distracted by flexibility to take a social call, duck out for an errand, or procrastinate with chores.
Popular advice includes:
• Making sure you set firm work hours — it can be easy to slack off in the privacy of your own room or lose track of time and work too long.
• Keep up with personal hygiene, which you might become lax on when you’re not interacting with anyone for the whole day
• Create a dedicated work space. Do not work from your bed, no matter how loud its siren call is.
• Remind yourself to get up and stretch, or even take a short walk around your block.
• Make an effort to be more active in communicating with your coworkers and managers
People will have to adapt to situations they're not used to:
And some are even arguing that well, actually, working from home could be bad:
Corona is causing this massive experiment in WFH.— Sriram Krishnan (@sriramk) March 5, 2020
On one hand it might accelerate the move to fully-distributed workplaces.
On the other, I'm already hearing from many on how they don't like WFH - missing people/social rituals, running up against limits of tools, etc.
What Will Happen When People Can Go Back To Work?
As more Americans figure out the kinks of work-from-home life, we may begin to more deeply feel the lag in communication that comes with leaning our whole weight on apps like Slack and Zoom. There will be frustrations and misunderstandings, and problems may take longer to solve as a team. But maybe we’ll also find out that it goes surprisingly smoothly — that our suspicions were right, and our office jobs could be done entirely from outside of the office.
Because this is so new for many of us, people are also discussing its potential consequences and some long-term perspectives to keep in mind:
Theory: Working patterns during the Coronavirus outbreak (videoconferencing, working from home, cancelling events) may be no less productive than normal. They simply reflect what the business world would do naturally if it weren't dominated by bloody extroverts.— Rory Sutherland (@rorysutherland) March 6, 2020
I appreciate companies being like "fortunately we are a ~tech~ co so due to the corona virus, we will wfh, where we can continue to be effective"— ✨ kf ✨ (@kf) March 3, 2020
imagine if they had wfh policies all the time! so they could hire disabled people! for whom public health is not a passing concern!
While U.S. workers are just beginning to stay home, many in China have been working remotely for over a month. Some are actually beginning to return to their offices this week. In the past couple of months, the use of technology for work has adapted at hyper-speed in China. Quartz has reported instances of workers being surveilled by their managers, including location tracking and being asked to livestream from their homes — and also that, on a lighter note, a Slack-like Chinese app called DingTalk has updated with a face filter you can use during video conference calls.
Last week, Twitter’s chief HR officer Jennifer Christie told BuzzFeed News that coronavirus would change how Twitter employees work for good. “People who were reticent to work remotely will find that they really thrive that way. Managers who didn’t think they could manage teams that were remote will have a different perspective. I do think we won’t go back,” she said. Working from home saves companies and employers money, and studies have shown that productivity increases. As more bosses and CEOs see these metrics unfold for their companies, will more of us be asked (or at least given the option) to stay out of the office even when there’s no longer a public health need? Will companies realize that there’s a shrinking number of reasons to go to work?
At the very least, the threat of future outbreaks could spur us to rethink how we arrange our physical work spaces. The city of Beijing is currently requiring all workers to be seated at least a meter apart from one another and requiring companies to have only half their staff come in at a given time. How will coworking spaces, which have seen huge growth and popularity in recent years, be impacted? How will the sudden isolation change our communication and collaboration styles? Will we start checking our emails and even more frequently? There are plenty of questions about how coronavirus can impact the future of work, some more serious and urgent than others. What’s certain is that the outbreak is forcing us to confront whether the way we’ve been working is actually working for us.