The COVID-19 lockdown has ‘forced’ millions of people to work from home. While some may enjoy this change, maybe its not what most people would have chosen to do on their own. Maybe some people like the routine of going to the office and working alongside their colleagues.  Many are feeling the pressure of the perception that this is the way things are going to be now. This is especially true for those who would never choose remote work from home as their preferred option.

The true idea behind remote work

The basic premise of remote work is that you are empowered to work from anywhere; that anywhere is a place most conducive to you delivering your best work – could be work from home or a co-working space or a full-fledged office with several colleagues around to draw energy from. It could be with a company based in your city or one based in the other side of the world. In a nutshell, remote work empowers choice.

As empowering as remote work is, the current work from home is quite different - its not a matter of choice, its the default and the only option.

People who have previously taken the initiative to become remote workers were already sort of ready for this change - they had set up the ideal work environment in which they can maximize their productivity while reducing distractions. For most other folks, this is a new world…

Challenges with work from home

Everyone embraced the so called ‘new normal’ of work from home initially despite the below challenges:

  • At the very basic level, most folks didn’t have the perfect internet bandwidth for highly-consuming long video calls
  • Some live in a joint family with older folks who were anyways mostly at home and have their own set routines
  • In large global metros where condos tend to be quite compact, there is no dedicated space at home to convert into an office
  • Kids are adorable but can also be distracting at times when you on that important zoom call
  • Pets are feeling the heat of being confined at home and need extra attention
  • There really is no ‘switch-off’ – some folks are confusing work from home with always available – more time than ever spent on video calls, emails, or Slack-like forums
  • Work is feeling more transactional as we don’t have access to the coffee breaks, casual lunches, and that Friday bowling outing over a few beers

How do we help each other

Not to sound pessimistic but the reality is that we are still a while away from getting back to the old normal and who knows what the future normal will look and feel like…

Today, perhaps more than ever, empathy is the trait needed the most. Folks not very comfortable with work from home are already feeling the pressure of the current format becoming the new future. Here is what we can do for each other:

  1. Listen and Acknowledge: Talk about the challenges of work from home openly with colleagues – some of them might feel awkwardly personal and you might not be able to solve all of them but listening and acknowledging them builds a huge sense of comfort and calm
  2. Provide Alternatives: A lot of companies have already announced permanent work from home – talk to folks who might not be all that excited about this idea – coworking spaces or even help setting up at home are some alternatives
  3. Lead by example: as lines between personal and professional spaces blur, show that its OK to run out for groceries, or take care of a cranky kid, or even go for a run to rejuvenate during what typically would be working hours. If you are in a leadership position, all the more important you lead by example and encourage others to be comfortable engaging in stuff that needs to be done at home or for themselves
  4. Avoid messaging at odd hours: Tools like Slack are so convenient that you can inadvertently message or tag someone when they are away – the reality is that messaging at odd hours during work from home feels more intrusive since the expectation of an immediate reply is higher – avoid this as much as you can
  5. Don’t force video all the time: Video is powerful and helps understand body language better so it might sound oxymoronic to accept switched-off videos during calls. But, the truth is that there might be days when folks feel uncomfortable – maybe you skipped breakfast and are eating a clumsy sandwich during the 11 am sprint or maybe your room is a mess and you don’t want to share the background  - yes, I am aware of the background blur feature on Teams and Zoom but for most folks including me, that feels weird - feels like you are detached from reality in your own bubble! I've also had someone tell me they are having a bad hair day - its OK!

The underlying theme is empathy and appreciating the challenges some of our colleagues are facing in this new world…

We are in this together and need to come out on the other side together as well!