The Careerologist: ‘Misunderstandings can be more common’ — the perils of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic

LONDON — Last week, like many other workers in London and around the world, several of my meetings became virtual. They will now take place from the comfort of our respective desks, whether that is at home or in the office.

Across the City, companies and workers have been adapting to the spread of the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

The gravity of the unfolding crisis has caught up with companies, and employees are starting to settle into their modified working patterns. People are starting to wonder how long these measures will have to be in place and, further down the line, whether the traditional work setup as we know it — spending the majority of our time at an office — will disappear.

The most common measures companies have adopted so far include working from home, limiting the number of face-to-face meetings by changing them to virtual ones, as well as temporarily banning business travel unless crucial, and strongly advising against personal travel.

Google’s parent company, Alphabet

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asked staff in North America — 100,000 workers approximately — to work from home. Financial News reported last week on how banks in London have been moving employees to their disaster-recovery sites, with some splitting workers into teams who alternate between working from home and the office.

But what happens when the novelty of working from home fades away or when the joy of ploughing through to-do lists without interruptions wears off?

Working from home can be tough. You have to be extremely disciplined with your routine, it can be hard to disconnect at the end of the day, and it can feel like there is no difference between your personal and professional life.

As a former freelance journalist, I say this with a certain amount of authority; I desperately missed having colleagues and chatting about the weekend in the kitchen during a coffee break.

Also, all the things you take for granted in an office disappear and you have to work harder on communication, Sebastian Bailey, co-founder of the workplace-training provider Mind Gym, told me.

When you are not on-site, misunderstandings can be more common because you do not have the benefit of being able to gauge how busy a manager is, or who is having a bad day, or even how often to communicate with your colleagues or your boss. Questions like ‘Am I nagging them?’, ‘Why aren’t they picking up?’ start zooming through your head.

And if the ongoing crisis stretches out over several weeks, or even months, fatigue could set in among workers.

David D’Souza, membership director of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said bosses need to go the extra mile to reassure workers.

“It’s important that organizations keep abreast of the situation by the day and by the hour, and, importantly, communicate [on the subject] in a human manner,” he said.

When it comes to the coronavirus crisis at work, keeping in touch and talking is key — be it updates on the company’s policy, today’s to-do list or how your weekend was, over the phone or on G-chat.

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