Covid-19: Taking work home

Above: Remote work does not look like this. Image by GaudiLab/DepositPhotos.

BitDepth#1241 for March 19, 2020

Until at least April 20, 2020, businesses in Trinidad and Tobago will be challenged to continue to work productively in groups of fewer than 25 people.

For many businesses, it’s an opportunity to rethink the workplace by refocusing old routines on productive output and to reexamine the monolithic notion that people need to be at an office to show up for work.

I’ve worked in offices of my own creation for more than 80 per cent of my working life. Some thoughts about that follow.

Remote work for employees

Create a designated workspace.

A room dedicated to work is best, but at the very least, have a desk that is dedicated to the work that you will do. It puts you in the zone to do work and sends a signal to your family that you are at on duty.

Have what you need

There is no greater lure to work avoidance than having to find a pen, to buy some paper, to find something, anything that will justifiably lure you from concentrating on the work at hand.

At the end of each working day, list what’s needed for the next day’s work and spend a little time organising it and putting it into place.

Dress for work

No, you don’t need to put on a shirt and tie, but simply having work clothes, and comfortable ones too, sends a signal to your family as well as yourself that you’re crossing that invisible curtain between home and work.

Work comfortably, but not too comfortably.

There is work that I can do while watching Netflix. There is work I can do while listening to music. And there is work I must do in absolute silence, a zone in which even a door opening is like being splashed with cold water.

The demands of an employer will sometimes conflict with the demands of home, particularly when more people are present.

I’ve been doing this for more than three decades, so I know which is which. I also know the failures that can result from distraction. You are going to learn.

Work when you are at your best

I’m sharpest soon after a good sleep. I’m writing this after doing the morning’s taxi service, having breakfast and settling into my work chair at my work desk at my office at home. It’s going well. It can for you.

Have a schedule

Log into your workspace chat and say hello. That lets people know you are on the job. Carve out the time to do the day’s tasks and do the work in that time. It takes time to settle into work properly and get up to speed. Constant starts and restarts will take a toll on the quality of your output and your ability to finish projects on deadline.

When it’s time to end your day, end it. Log out of software. Turn off business phones. You were at work, now you are not.

Accept that working from home isn’t being at home

Perhaps the biggest challenge to working from home is creating a clear division between work and home.

It can be easy if you have a room with a door or a space that you can cordon off with dividers, but sometimes it’s an emotional wall, one that you can help build by dressing the space for work. Tape schedules to the wall. Tack to-do lists and phone numbers to a board.

Sometimes the tools you work with create the division. There’s a big difference between booting up Word on your home computer and logging into something like Citrix, which completely replicates your work system on the device you’re working on.

The demands of an employer will sometimes conflict with the demands of home, particularly now, when it’s likely that more people will be at home with you. Resolving that challenge isn’t easy, but with the right design and scheduling along with many conversations, it’s possible.

Remote work for employers

Hands on training at Citrix Synergy 2019. Image courtesy Citrix.

Test. Test. Test

Don’t jump into remote work. Consider the employees who are most likely to work well on their own and suggest a trial with them. Extra points if you happen to know they travel for more than 90 minutes to get to work each way.

Design a remote workplace policy

Don’t be draconian. Set out expectations that are in line with your actual business needs, including required presence at the office and the notice you will give, general understandings regarding remote presence and periodic review of performance based on output and engagement.

Let line managers create specific expectations for projects and deadlines. Policy should be general. Workplace expectations should be specific and task focused.

The tools are important

When employers think of remote work tools, they inevitably think about hardware and security. Those are important, as are policy decisions about minimum connection speeds and other technical details, but most important are the software tools that employees will use.

Is the company intranet accessible remotely and securely? How will employees maintain presence in the workplace and collaborate most effectively?

Suggest a virtual environment

Some employees will be ready to try working from home, but won’t be equipped for remote work. Design a working environment plan that’s realistic. Will they work with their own equipment or with gear supplied by the company? Will the company pay for an upgrade in connection speeds to ensure a minimum data rate or subsidise an existing connection that’s suitable?

Ensure that there is training available, either recorded or via personal chat, for employees on the tools that will enable remote work.

Have a hotdesk

Let’s say you have five per cent of your employees working remotely. You’ve converted their offices to other use. Where will they sit when you bring them in for the day for a meeting? Agreeably designed hotdesks, fully equipped workspaces reserved for meetings and visiting remote workers are one solution that makes employees feel like they haven’t been cast out of the building.


Remote employees will have questions. Issues. Challenges. They won’t be the questions that your in-house staff have. This will require a willingness to adapt the company to new requirements.