As we all scramble to adjust to a new way of living and working amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, telecommuting or teleworking has become the “new normal” for many. Not to be confused with the buzzing topic for early interventionists of tele-intervention or tele-health (that’s a topic for another blog, perhaps), Merriam-Webster simply defines telecommuting as,” to work at home by the use of an electronic linkup with a central office.”
Schools, agencies and businesses are struggling to support educators, students, and employees to adapt to an entirely new way of distance working. As a professional telecommuter for the past 18 years, I am paying close attention to concerns voiced by colleagues via emails, social media posts, and conference calls. As I have listened and observed, this blog sort of began to “write itself” in my head and I decided to put “fingers to keyboard” to provide some perspective and tips.
When I was offered the opportunity to telecommute, it was a scary consideration. Naturally an extrovert, I wondered how I would cope with far fewer personal interactions. I also had to combat (for myself and others) telecommuting misperceptions. Oh, the questions and comments I’ve received or heard:
Question 1: “Do you roll out of bed and work in your jammies?”
Definitely not a morning person, I decided almost immediately that I could not afford to ease into my day differently than when I went into the office. When my alarm goes off at a set daily time, I shower, dress, and yes, I also “do my hair” every morning. While I don’t wear the kind of clothes I would wear for an in-person meeting, I’m always dressed in appropriate clothes if my video camera is ever on, which it frequently is! My girls used to laugh at this and asked why I went to the trouble when I wasn’t seeing people. Why? Because I’m a professional.
Question 2: “Do you watch TV or Netflix?”
It actually never crossed my mind to have the TV on during the day. I wouldn’t watch TV if I was in the office so why would I ever do that while at work, even from home. Overtime I created a home office space that is really my designated work area. I go to my “office” just as I would go to my agency office. There is no TV anywhere close. Why? Because I’m a professional.
Question 3: “Aren’t you tempted to eat all the time?”
While my kitchen is very close to my home office, I quickly decided that I would adhere to a typical work meal schedule. I eat breakfast before I go to my office. Most days I take a lunch break and go to my kitchen or sit on my porch for a change of scenario. Just like in an office job, I do spend probably far too many days eating lunch at my desk. I’ve never really been tempted to add a lot more snacking or eat more. Why? Because I’m a professional.
Question 4: “I would be on social media all day. Are you?”
Answer: Again, nope
We are all using probably far more social media to stay connected during these uncertain times. I am, too. One thing I caution is to be very careful what you are posting during your typical office hours. People are watching. Your supervisor may be watching as well. It may be a good time to think about what you are posting during business hours. Are the posts job related? If not, might be a good idea to hold off posting until after work hours. I am NOT discouraging posts that uplift your colleagues. I just have seen some posts about what folks are “binge watching” while I know their agency has required telecommuting. This kind of post, unfortunately, supports telecommunicating misperceptions and diminishes the effectiveness of distance working.
So basic questions answered, I want to take a moment to think about the great things regarding telecommuting. I am fortunate to have a job, one that is allowing or promoting my telecommunication. I have great “officemates” with my two dogs. I am able to practice social distancing. I have great technology to connect with colleagues via web-conferencing tools and phone calls. I am contributing to the well-being of friends, colleagues, and larger communities.
Has your agency modified your working situation or required telecommuting? What has been difficult? What is going well?