(Updated Nov. 2, 2020)
Quarantined or just social distancing? This year, we have watched coronavirus infection rates skyrocket and a stock market on a rollercoaster ride. Education has moved off campus and online. Pro leagues and kids’ leagues have cancelled games and postponed seasons. Ski lifts have unloaded their last skiers. Even church meetings are being suspended, in some cases replaced with home church. In addition, many employers are now telling their workforce to work from home.
Nine months ago, most of us had never heard of #SocialDistancing. However, my career as a full-time #certifiedtranslator has been the perfect training grounds for this new COVID-induced reality of encouraged or imposed telecommuting. You see, most of my work takes place within the confines of my home office, and my translation clients can be anywhere—across town or an ocean away.
What’s it like?
I love working from hom. Office politics are not an issue. Commuting takes seconds with little traffic along the stairway. I can take a break and have lunch whenever I want (theoretically, at least), and I can prevent viral infections using antivirus software. (The federal courthouse -- where I provide my services as a federally-certified Spanish/English court interpreter a few times a week -- reopened last month for occasional in-person hearings in a strange new plexiglass landscape.)
For those who are new to working from home, below are a few tips:
1. Set a regular work schedule (if your remote boss doesn’t already do that for you). This makes it easier for your family – and you – to know when you are available for them. It also serves you as a reminder to clock out at the end of the day.
2. Make sure your family knows you are working. Ideally, you should be able to work just as efficiently at home as you would at the company office.
3. Don’t skip breaks and lunch. When working at home, it can be easy to forget to take a break. Regular breaks, including meal breaks, are important for your overall mental and physical health. They also increase your productivity. Avoid taking your breaks at the desk. Get up and move around in the house. Take out the trash. Walk or jog around the block. Shoot a few hoops or play catch with one of your kids. Feed the dogs, feed the kids, feed yourself, or ride your bike for a few minutes. I’ve even done 30 minutes of cross-country skiing and then returned to work!
4. Don’t work in your PJs. I have found that dressing professionally helps me remember that I’m “at work”. Business casual will usually do the trick. I don’t have a dress policy, and you certainly won’t find me wearing a tie in my home office – but usually I don’t wear shorts while working, either.
5. Create a home office. Depending on your living situation, having a dedicated home office can help maintain the needed separation between work time and family time. It also helps you get some tax deductions, at least if you run your own business (talk to your accountant about that).
6. Use proper Zoom etiquette. Make sure you look professional on Zoom. Mute yourself when not speaking – and remember to unmute yourself when chiming in. If you need to step away, turn off the video. A background featuring empty pizza boxes and piles of paperwork and books can detract from the message you seek to portray. I suggest using a virtual background – but choose one that enhances your professional image. A simple solid color will do.
7. What about the kids? This one can be hard to tackle, and a lot will depend on your unique family circumstances and the age of your children. My wife is a full-time homemaker, so naturally she manages our high schooler (the rest of the flock are in college) while I am translating on the computer or interpreting in court. The situation can be a bit more challenging for dual-income or single-parent households. This is where the added flexibility of telecommuting comes into play and may enable you to schedule your working hours around those of your spouse. If the other parent lives elsewhere, hopefully the two of you can coordinate childcare.
If regular school is suspended because of COVID-19, ideally your kids will attend school online (last spring, we had two telecommuting students at home). Depending on your kids’ age and level of independence, having them work on school projects while you take care of your job may be mutually compatible – even if the situation requires you to violate item 5 above.
Working from home can come with its own challenges, but it also carries many benefits. Exactly how you will make it a success will depend on your individual circumstances.
Stay safe and healthy as we all navigate this new world reality together.