Companies and their employees have changed operations overnight as cases of COVID-19 rise across the globe, causing many professionals to adjust to remote work and practice social distancing. While this is a significant shift and poses challenges, many enterprise IT professionals are equipped for this change, as some have already spent a number of years working remotely during their career.
As we move into a new phase of work, companies and employees need to keep their symbiotic relationship in mind and create space for the unexpected, as well as ensure the health and safety of their teams. We spoke with a few SHARE Editorial Advisory Committee members to get a sense of what this looks like.
Scott Fagen, SHARE director of industry influence, explains that his remote work has changed with a full house. “The biggest challenge is keeping the elementary school kid on task and still getting my job done during the day,” he says. “At the same time, there are no after school activities to shuttle to, so I’m adjusting to a longer workday with more interruptions (and in-the-moment frustrations). But it is a bit refreshing to have somebody right there to talk to.”
Mark Wilson, technical director at RSM Partners Ltd., explains that the firm’s business has changed significantly over a short time. Rather than work in an office, 95% of the shared services team is now remote, with just one or two members of the team who have very young children and still work from the office. “We’ve always had a flexible work policy, but given the nature of the work we do, we encourage people to be in the office regularly,” he says. “The current situation has tested all our communication and collaboration skills and has thrown up one or two challenges. For some, something as simple as a poor home internet connection has been challenging.”
Stay Connected at a Social Distance
Wilson remains concerned about the effects of social isolation on his team. “For us, client meetings will all be via conference call or WebEx, which is just not the same as a face-to-face meeting. Our own internal technical and management teams changed the way we communicate and collaborate,” he adds.
SHARE Project Manager Ray Mullins, who has worked remotely for more than two decades, says his work environment hasn’t changed at all, as many of his colleagues are remote workers. “We rely on WebEx, Jabber, and emails like we always have,” he explains. For colleagues who are newer to remote working, the firm created “a Yammer thread through which work-from-home veterans could advise those who are new to the environment.”
Reg Harbeck, chief strategist at Mainframe Analytics Ltd., advises remote workers to keep in contact with colleagues at work via audio or video connections and keep management up to date on their activities and achievements. However, he warns not to clog inboxes with too much email or to email too much at odd hours of the day. “If you do enjoy some beer or wine at home with those sharing your isolation, wait until tomorrow to start working again, and avoid emailing or otherwise messaging management or coworkers under those circumstances,” he adds.
Fagen agrees that keeping in contact with coworkers is key. “Chat with your coworkers. Maybe coordinate some of your breaks and use collaboration tools to just talk about non-work stuff,” he says. “The use of webcams to see each other makes it even more real.”
Mullins cautions, however, that the internet pipeline is limited and when working from home employees should limit the use of high definition video content by their family members during the day and avoid using video on conference calls unless absolutely necessary. He does say that if you’re used to connecting with colleagues at work, you should continue to do so through other means while working from home.
Tips for Telework:
- Create a designated workspace
- Chat regularly with coworkers/keep managers in the loop
- Eat healthy, don’t snack
- Take frequent breaks
- Get out of the house or exercise
- Take time to meditate or unwind
Security Is Still a Top Priority
Security and confidentiality also need to be top of mind when working from home. Harbeck recommends putting away confidential documents in a secure drawer or similar location and locking the computer when you leave it, even for a quick break. Never allow kids or grandkids to unwittingly make changes or perform actions on the computer during a work session, he adds, because it could violate security standards and be career limiting.
Beyond Remote Work, Take Care of You and Others
Most agree that working from home is a challenge. Wilson says, “Stay away from the fridge! I’ve heard stories of people walking over to the fridge, opening the door, and just staring longingly at the fridge contents several times a day.” Fagen agrees but takes it a step further. “Keep healthy foods around the house. Cut up some vegetables into single serving bags over the weekend so you can throw together a salad for lunch during the week,” he says. “Because the nearer you are to the refrigerator and pantry, the greater the temptation to snack,” which is never good for the waistline or the health of your heart.
Joe Gentile, a software engineer at IBM, adds that remote workers shouldn’t forget to move their bodies. One of his mentors says, “As we are adjusting to social distancing and working at home, don’t forget about daily exercise. It’s a lesson brought to their attention from teams in Italy and China where people have stayed indoors for much longer.” Gentile emphasizes, “Most IT roles are sedentary, so you have to make an effort to exercise. It can help you maintain a positive attitude and a healthy body.” Fagen adds, “I continue to be amazed at how quickly I can get stuck on some intractable problem and the simple act of exercising clears my mind so I can see a way to the answer, sometimes during exercise, sometimes in the shower afterward.”
In addition to taking care of your physical health, you’ll also want to address boundaries with your family if they are not used to you working at home. Harbeck says that some employees find it useful to maintain a semblance of their current routines, blocking out times for the “commute” to and from work and lunch breaks, while others prefer to work after hours when their families are in bed or before they get up. “Just make sure you’re not depriving your employer of the time and results they’re paying for,” he says.
Mullins adds that you should always make time to be “off the clock,” too, so you can connect through technology with your family, especially your elderly relatives who may feel very isolated during this crisis. “Do what’s best for you and your situation,” he says.
Harbeck says that the crisis also can be “an opportunity for mainframers to work on keeping informed and educated while working on internal projects that have been needing attention.” He says, “This can include moving off of obsolete in-house customizations to current-technology configurations available with the systems already running in their environments, and getting those systems to current maintenance levels.” Even when it has been business as usual, the mainframe has to keep running. “But most of the jobs that support it can be done remotely,” says Harbeck. “Those who are successful at working remotely over the coming weeks may be recognized by management and rewarded with the option of continuing to do so when the crisis passes.”
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If you’d like to contribute how you and your teams are navigating the COVID-19 crisis, or be quoted in a future story, email the SHARE editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.