March 11, 2020. That’s the day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and life was upended. Schools shut down. Travel of all kinds was halted. Public gathering spaces like restaurants and bars were closed. “Flatten the curve” was on everybody’s lips, a reference to efforts like social distancing guidelines that were introduced to slow the virus spread.
Three months down the line the number of cases continues to climb worldwide. No confirmed cure or vaccine has been found so far for the coronavirus disease. Layoffs, lockdowns, and massive public measures are a stark reality in many countries.
The world all over is adjusting to a “new normal.” But what does that look like?
Adjusting to Life During The Pandemic
COVID-19 has disrupted daily life in a way that no one could have predicted. “Without preparation or permission, we are all participating in the greatest social experiment of our time,” acknowledges Jeffrey Cole, a professor at the University of South Carolina.
Here are some examples of activities that have been severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
- The Way We Buy Groceries
The global pandemic has turned grocery shopping—what was previously a very routine task—into a nerve-wracking, anxiety-producing activity that has many people fearful of contracting the virus.
Ordering food online is viewed as the safer option. Several stores offer curbside delivery, which goes a long way in minimizing the number of people going into stores and touching products.
Note: The United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) announced that currently there is no evidence to suggest that food packaging is associated with the transmission of COVID-19. Those who feel the need to take extra precautions are advised to wipe down product packaging and allow it to air dry.
- The Way We Stay In Touch
Twitter user Rach Clegg provided hilarious comic relief when she shared a screenshot of her boss, who accidentallytransformed herself into a potato due to a filter mishap during a company videoconference.
Such are the hiccups of Zoom calls. Thanks to Facebook Live watch parties, Skype, and all the other apps and platforms that have become popular during the pandemic, virtual gatherings are becoming the norm.
“The whole notion of how we interact, socializing, has been affected in a pretty profound way,” says Cole. “Videoconferencing…makes people feel connected. Plain phone calls now feel sort of shallow. We’re getting used to seeing people.”
- The Way We Work
The global pandemic changed how we do business overnight. Stay-at-home orders saw more employers instructing their employees to work from home; a move that health officials said will help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Telecommuting (which is sometimes used interchangeably with remote working) appears to be the new work world order. “People will change their habits, and some of these habits will stick,” says Susan Athey, an economist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. “There’s a lot of things where people are just slowly shifting, and this will accelerate that.”
How are workers around the world adjusting to telecommuting?
Benefits of Working From Home
Fewer distractions. No more office politics and chatter around the copy machine. New heights of productivity can be achieved by working from home.
No commute. According to a survey carried out in 2018, the average American spends close to an hour on their daily commute (the numbers have gone up since then). Working from home adds an hour to each workday, and there’s the bonus of not having to deal with traffic hassles and train delays.
Potentially more savings. Working from home means that you don’t spend as much on expenses like daycare, travel, and car maintenance. Research-based consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics estimates that telecommuting half of the time can help one to save between $2,500-$4,000 a year. The savings doesn’t just apply to employees. With fewer people having to come into work every day, companies can save on what they spend on office rent.
Tax deductions. This only applies to those who are self-employed and are working from home. If you meet the criteria, you can claim the home office deduction and write off other business expenses like running up your electric bill and upgrading your Wi-Fi. If the benefits outweigh the risks, you can consider converting from an employee to a contract worker to take advantage of the tax benefits.
Drawbacks of Working From Home
Distractions. TV, chores to be dealt with, kids who are attending their classes online. Office distractions may no longer be an issue, but working from home comes with its own challenges.
Lack of motivation. Many factors can make it hard to stay motivated when working from home. Anxiety over the continued impact of the coronavirus on the world as well as worry for family and loved ones can impact motivation. If your job future appears uncertain, the drive to keep working can be greatly diminished.
Reduced accountability. For those who thrive on extrinsic factors such as performance management, promotion, and the energy set by co-workers, the reduced accountability that comes with working from home is a significant drawback.
Loneliness. Telecommuting can feel like being on a remote island if you’re used to face-to-face meetings and the connectivity that comes with being in a workplace environment. Loneliness can have severe impacts on your mental and emotional health. Also, it can potentially trigger Alzheimer’s disease and harm your immune and cardiovascular systems.
Staying Productive While Working From Home
If you are telecommuting, it’s vital to learn how to work from home without compromising your overall well-being. Here are some tips on how to successfully work from home.
- Have a dedicated workspace
Choose a specific surface or room as your work area; you want an area where there are little to no distractions. A room would be best because you can shut out the world. Choose a chair that you can sit on comfortably and for long periods (a couch is designed with leisure in mind and might not be the best place to work from). Personalize your space using custom lighting, a whiteboard, fun posters, a desk pad or family photos and keep it neat and tidy.
- Set working hours
Just because you don’t have to get up in the morning and leave for work doesn’t mean you don’t need working hours. To stay productive, choose what time you will start and stop working. Stick to those hours and dedicate them to work. This is not the time to throw in that load of laundry or clear the sink. Choosing to do non-work related activities during this time will kill your productivity.
As much as possible, resist the temptation to let your work continue past your assigned hours to prevent the chances of burn out.
- Create a work routine
A daily schedule can help you boost productivity and avoid distractions. Take some time at the end of each workday to figure out what you need to do the following day and assign time to each task. This way, you don’t take up too much time in the morning figuring out what you’ll do.
Find activities that can help you transition from “home” to “work” and vice-versa. This gives you the mental space to clear your head and adjust to what you need to do.
Include regular breaks into your daily work routine to help you stay energized and focused. Get away from your workspace and meditate, take a walk around your home or grab a healthy snack.
- Get ready for work
Working in your pajamas feels great, but it can hurt your productivity. Research by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that you can experience a mental shift when you wear certain clothes.
Ditch the sweats, take a shower, and find a comfortable look that lets your mind know it’s time to work. It’s never been easier to find appropriate work from home attire with online fashion stores following the trend and making available a plethora of options. Brands like Betty Basics do this casual work from home look well that go beyond slacks and oversized tees.
- Hold yourself accountable
Have checks in place to ensure that you accomplish what you set out to do each day. Set an alarm to get you up (don’t hit snooze!). Allocate time slots for checking your phone. Use productivity apps like Trello and Calendar to create to-do lists and focus on the things that matter most. StayFocusd is a Google Chrome extension that aims to increase productivity by restricting the amount of time you spend on distracting websites (the iOS version of this is called SelfControl).
- Stay healthy
Your health has a direct effect on your productivity. Taking the time to plan your meals and preparing them ahead of time ensures that you eat a healthy and well-balanced diet. Work out regularly and try to exercise outside of your home. The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be stressed enough.
COVID-19 has drastically changed what everyday life looks like, especially when it comes to how we work. But if we remain open to change and adjust to what is the “new normal”, we can stay productive while working from home.