Making the best of remote work – Coronavirus blues

My employer told everyone to work remotely to protect the employees. I understand and appreciate the announcement. Having worked remotely for five years for my previous employer, I am a bit apprehensive about it. In this post, I hope to describe the challenges we had, what to anticipate, and how to cope.

1. A feeling of isolation and cabin fever

When I worked remotely for five years, working from home seemed nice at first. The feeling of isolation kicked in fairly quickly, however. I felt like I needed to get out of the house.

Luckily, back then, there were no coronavirus-imposed quarantines and business shutdowns. I was able to go out for lunch with local friends or even sit at the diner bar on my own. I was also able to go to Starbucks or the library and work from there. Obviously, none of that is possible if we are told to “socially distance” from one another.

2. Not knowing who is working on what

One problem I encountered at my last employer was waking up each morning, not knowing what I will be working on that day. The reason for that was because no one really knew what others were working on at any given moment in time.

I observed an approach to this problem when I worked with a vendor that was 100% remote. They had a Slack chat channel called “standup” where all employees were required to check in each day at the beginning of the workday. The check-in window was flexible up to something like 10 AM. Everyone was supposed to say in 2-3 sentences what they are working on and what they need from others.

3. Naked pings

The term “naked ping” dates back to the IRC and BBS days of the 1980s and 1990s. Naked pings are my personal pet peeve.

A naked ping is when someone has a question and goes to a chat channel and types, “Hi!” without stating their problem. By doing so, they pinged everyone on that channel for no good reason. The sender of such a ping makes the situation worse by not responding for a long time afterward.

Niceties and politeness standards of in-person or email behavior don’t translate well onto texting platforms. If you have a question, ask. If you want to be polite, you can be polite, but follow your greetings with an actual statement — in one message, not two.

4. Respecting boundaries

When everyone is in the office and then goes home at the end of the day, it is clear what the boundaries are. It is easy to be friendly with your colleagues during the day, but when you get into your car and head home, you have a clear separation between work and life.

Working remotely, everyone will get that chat notification posted to a shared channel. It is essential to consider whether your message is important enough to ring or vibrate those two dozen phones during off-hours.

5. Understanding the limitations of the remote work tools

Stop using “ALL CAPS” — it comes across as yelling. Stop using snarky, sarcastic comments as well.

When you are talking with someone in person, you can tell by their facial expressions that they mean well. Online, however, the same behavior can come across as mean-spirited.

Some final thoughts

The key to working from home is patience. Everyone is under pressure to stay productive in new ways while dealing with the stress of quarantine. This period too, shall end. As for me, it can’t end soon enough.