When you’re ordered to work from home during a pandemic

Chatham’s Maureen Ahmad utilizes dedicated home work space

Posted 3/20/20

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that Americans should be prepared to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country …

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When you’re ordered to work from home during a pandemic

Chatham’s Maureen Ahmad utilizes dedicated home work space

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Posted

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that Americans should be prepared to “hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing” in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

As reports of COVID-19 infections grow in North Carolina, some companies are instituting protocols to allow workers that can to work from home.

Chatham County resident Maureen Ahmad is one of them. Ahmad works for Lenovo, a global technology company with a headquarters in Research Triangle Park, and owns and operates Chatham Cider Works in Pittsboro with her husband, Chatham County Commissioner Jim Crawford. Last week, Lenovo sent out word to its North Carolina employees recommending anyone who was able to work from home or felt more comfortable working from home should do so, according to Ahmad. The company, which also has offices in China and Italy, offers a timely perspective on dealing with working while quarantined as they have already been doing so since the outbreak was first identified in China.

“Our team is global and we already flex our hours because of the difference in international time zones,” Ahmad said. “Everyone has everything they need because it’s accessible remotely.”

Dedicated work space

Having a space in the home for work can help both in maintaining productivity, but also allow for a proper work-life balance. Ahmad already had a dedicated work space at home. While she notes the change to working from home has not been as significant a change for her, things are different now since the couple’s daughter is also now working from home.

“We now have multiple dedicated work spaces at home so we can each have our space,” Ahmad said. “Having a dedicated space in the house for work really helps.”

Dedicating a work space in the home can be challenging when being a parent of a younger child who is now at home because of school closures. While some children may be old enough to entertain themselves during the day, younger children require more supervision. Schedules for children will help maintain a sense of normalcy and may require flexing work hours so that one parent is working while another maintains childcare responsibilities. Parents of young children who are working from home should discuss those challenges with their management and ultimately everyone needs to be flexible.

Connectivity

One of the important things for working from home, according to Ahmad, is finding ways to stay connected to fellow work teams. This includes dedicated messaging apps such as WeChat or WhatsApp Messenger. This is not just to keep up with workflow, Ahmad said. This is also to check in with your co-workers who may be having a more difficult time with the isolation of quarantine.

“Our teams in China and then in Italy,” Ahmad said. “We’ve all transitioned with them. Staying in contact, keeping other spirits up is important. It can get depressing, lonely and boring. We use messaging apps as a way to ping each other and let them know you’re there.”

Employers can help by making sure their employees have equipment and the tools to work remotely. This includes laptops, access to the company’s servers and methods for communication beyond just email. Workers who are working from home should also take time to connect to their employers on a regular basis to make sure that you are being productive as well as being responsive to any changes that may need to occur due to remote work.

Work-life balance

When working at home, Ahmad notes the life-work balance should be maintained.

“[When working at home] the days are flexible so you may work earlier or may work later,” Ahmad said. “It’s more fluid when you work from home. Work and life become more blended.

“Make sure you have something that is an end of day thing, whether it’s a walk outside or coming down to cook dinner,” Ahmad said. “It’s good to have something that says I’m transitioning from work to home.”

Other suggestions for preserving balance is to not use the dedicated work space when not working. As remote work requires a lot of connectivity, disconnecting from the internet to do other non-technology based activities may help. This could be working in the yard, going for a walk, reading books, and doing puzzles or crafts.

Protecting those who can’t work from home

Not everyone can work from home. Ahmad said, and there are ways to help support those workers as well.

“For anyone who can work from home, they should,” she said. “Workplaces can enable those workers with the tools to do so, whether it means connecting via online meetings or centralized data storage. Those things are really important because that’s how businesses are going to be able to keep working.”

For those who must go to work, Ahmad suggested that by reducing the numbers in the office of those who can work from home, it reduces the number of people with whom they come into contact.

“Businesses can also do more regular cleanings and perform deeper cleans of the workspace,” Ahmad said.

She also suggests that businesses practice protocols based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and local health departments. This means encouraging social distancing and moving meetings online.

During this time, Ahmad also said it was important for the community to remember those who have to work and do what each of us can do to help protect them. This means practicing good hygiene to not spread the virus to others as well as protecting ourselves. She also wants community members to make sure to check with those who may not have access to all the things they need during this time.

“It’s important that we show support to them,” Ahmad said.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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