Why Working From Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic isn’t Normal

Coronavirus work from home

In what felt like an instant, our daily lives completely changed.

Billions of people all around the world were told to stay at home.

Even before states and countries began to shut down, companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google mandated that employees work from home.

Now nearly everyone has been forced into it.

Companies and employees are reeling.

Most of us aren’t used to working from home.

Remote work is supposed to be amazing, right? Freeing. Uplifting. Happiness inducing. Contagious. Absolutely lovely.

People are so in love with remote work that 96% of remote workers would recommend it to their friends. Remote workers never even want to work full time in an office again: Ninety-eight percent of remote workers want to work remotely in some capacity for the rest of their careers.

Then why does working from home feel so terrible, inefficient, and distracting right now??

We’re not working from home. We’re hiding from a virus and still trying to get some work done.

And the old remote work best practices don’t apply like they used to.

We’re all making it up as we go and here’s why working from home is different now.

WFH or WTF? I say WTF.

We’re forced to be at home, 100% of the time

Remote workers have a setup for working remotely. They have their own office or quiet space to work. A favorite couch or a nook in the corner of a room. Some go to coffee shops. Others favor co-working spaces.

Now, we’re all co-working from home, and our office mates are our spouses, kids, significant others, roommates, and pets.

Suddenly the dog is anxious because he can sense all the stress and doesn’t understand why you’re not taking him on hikes as often as before. So he needs extra snuggles during your most important meetings, of course.

The kids are running around the house yelling at each other fighting over something. They aren’t able to get outside so they’re feeling stir crazy and bored. Suddenly your house is like a scene from Lord of the Flies, except you’re trying to have your 1:1 with your boss and you can’t keep the mute on during your Zoom call forever.

On top of that you’re home schooling the kids, making sure they stay in place long enough to get their assignments done. The teachers are new to it too, so everyone is scrambling to learn what to do on the fly.

And your significant other is home too, there’s barely enough room to work and you’re constantly featured guests on one another’s video calls.

Or maybe you’ve got a few roommates who you used to get along with, but now that you’ve all descended into madness from not leaving the house in so long it’s nearly impossible to keep from getting annoyed at them.

You can’t even go to the coffee shop to get away from it all. There is no savior.

This all makes working from home more like working from hell. And all the remote work tips in the world won’t save us now.

Companies aren’t used to remote work

One day, everyone is working in an office and things are humming along. Maybe a few people were already working remotely.

Literally one day later, almost everyone was working from home. Companies weren’t – and aren’t – ready for it.

Companies are being forced to create new processes on the fly, after people are already all working from home. Many companies don’t even know what processes to put into place. They’ve had no time to prepare and are scrambling to find information about remote work but are running into work from home advice that has nothing to do with our situation today.

Great remote work isn’t dependent on people. It’s dependent on the organization. And if the organization isn’t ready, the people are going to feel it.

On top of that, the people who are new to working remotely have no idea how to do it.

Managers don’t know what they are doing, so they can’t really help advise their team. CEOs don’t know what they are doing, so it’s challenging for them to help make sure the remote work processes that get built are right.

Suddenly no one knows what’s happening. They can’t walk down the hallway to check in on a project. They can’t have a quick coffee chat with their reports. No hallway conversations to spark ideas.

We all have grown to expect instant responses in person. But what about when we’re all distributed? What’s the etiquette? How long should it take for someone to respond to an email or a Slack message? How do we keep entire teams on the same page? How do we communicate at different levels of the org? What times are calls acceptable to schedule? How do we deal with timezones?

The rules haven’t been written, and everyone is scrambling to figure them out.

Everyone is using Zoom, but not everyone knows how to use it

In normal remote work circumstances, video calls are a breeze. Everyone knows the etiquette, the process and the settings. People set up meetings quickly, and mark them as private. On the call, they stay muted, don’t have their video come on unexpectedly and don’t forget that it’s on. Mostly people wear pants.

But we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Zoom went from 10 million daily meeting participants in December to 200 million in March.

That’s insane. 20x growth in a single quarter.

Zoom was built for enterprise customers. People who took the time to understand how to change meeting settings to suit their organizations. Settings like adding passwords to keep trolls out. Or saving files to secure servers.

Now, throw teachers, kids and people who are new to Zoom into the mix, and suddenly things are going sideways.

I’ve been on numerous calls these last few weeks where people couldn’t get into Zoom meetings because they didn’t know how. Others have had problems with their audio not working.

Some people get surprised when they join calls with their audio and video on.

There are even people finding Zoom meetings and dropping in on them in what’s being called Zoom bombing. So many people don’t know how to set their meetings to private, and thus are at risk for interruptions.

Many, many embarrassing Zoom fails are happening. This is not your normal remote work.

Everyone is stressed and uncertain about the future

Remote work is supposed to be more relaxing than working in an office. This is certainly not that.

Life is not normal right now.

The way that we live has completely changed.

We’re all stressed and feeling unsure. We’re worried about our families, our friends, our communities, mankind, ourselves. Everyone is being affected by coronavirus, and all across the world people are anxious and concerned.

We’re all stressed and anxious.

Glancing at the news or social media only reminds us of the perilous position we’re in: people are sick, dying and the economy is struggling.

Going for a walk means we’ll see restaurants and coffee shops closed, many with signs asking patrons to buy gift cards or donate to their gofundme pages.

And we can’t even distract ourselves from the stress of it all with the usual methods. We can’t go see friends or family, eat at our favorite restaurants, catch a movie, go to bars. Although people are drinking from home – alcohol sales were up by 55% during a week in March.

All of this makes business as usual challenging for many of us. It can be hard to concentrate, and worrying can take an emotional toll.

Remote workers are typically more productive. But during the coronavirus, it’s much more challenging to get anything done.

It’s harder to get your work done online

Working from home normally means blazing fast internet speeds. And since most remote workers work at smaller companies, there typically aren’t Virtual Private Network (VPN) hoops to jump through.

But now that everyone is working from home, things are very different.

Internet traffic as a whole is way up, between people watching Netflix, working from home, kids doing assignments in the house, and video calls with friends and family.

AT&T has seen traffic on its networks increase by 27% while Verizon saw a 22% increase in traffic on its fiber broadband and wireless services.

Companies like YouTube have been actively working to make sure our infrastructure holds up, by reducing the quality of videos across the world.

Download speeds have slowed down and some people are experiencing spotty connections. On the four Zoom calls I had today, I had to give profuse apologies about my internet connectivity issues. A month ago, I never had issues with my internet.

VPNs are exploding to facilitate working from home, with VPN provider NordVPN is seeing global use of its product up by 165% since mid-March.

For those that work for companies requiring VPN usage, suddenly they’re spending more time logging in and re-connecting. I’ve even heard stories of people giving up on the VPN process because it was so annoying and just going into the office instead (up until their state issued a stay at home mandate).

Things are slower, and there isn’t much we can do about it.

New software, new problems

Zoom. Slack. Google Docs. Dropbox. Confluence. Trello. Notion.

Remote workers are experts at using cloud collaboration tools, since using them is the only way to get work done and collaborate remotely.

It’s usually smooth sailing, these tools make remote workers’ lives easier.

Now, all of a sudden millions of people are using software they’ve never used before. Entire companies are signing up for services in days that they would normally take a year or more to transition to. Sales cycles are shortened. And so has the employee training time and getting those tools into people’s daily workflow.

But there’s a huge learning curve to getting up to speed and productive on these tools.

Slack, Notion, and Basecamp have all changed their homepages or marketing sites to include remote work. They’ve also quickly set up initiatives to teach people exactly how to best use their tools when working remotely.

When your document tools start expanding past the point of being able to wrangle them, try FYI. It’ll find every document in 3 clicks or less on any tool your team has started using. Sign up for FYI here.

Beyond the software that people are trying to use for remote work, new processes and ways of working are being introduced at companies all of a sudden.

To make matters worse, we don’t know exactly how long this will all last.

Uncertainty is at an extreme level. It’s a new world.

And the coronavirus work from home situation will have a lasting impact on how everyone gets work done in the future, regardless of how and where you work.

Normal remote work advice isn’t as helpful as it used to be. This situation is very very different. Here are a few of our pandemic work from home practices to help keep you sane in the midst of all the uncertainty.

  • The typical remote work advice is to get dressed in professional clothing for work. Right now, we advocate for wearing whatever you want to work. Even if it’s sweatpants or pajamas.
  • Showering every day is the conventional remote work wisdom, to mimic what you’d do if you were going to an office. Our take? Take a shower every day, unless you don’t feel like showering.
  • Wake up at the same time every day (early) so you can get into your work groove. But in these crazy times, if you can have some flexibility, take it. Sleep in a little later than usual if you can.
  • Zoom calls normally have unsaid rules – they should be taken in a quiet space with video on and no surprise visitors. With everyone packed into a house together, don’t apologize for Zoom interruptions anymore. Embrace them and even let your kids join the calls for a minute to say hi. It’s OK if they are in the back of a call playing games, and it’s also fine if your significant other walks by behind you.
  • Pause the call if you need to address crying, laughing or screaming kids. No one will judge you and it’s perfectly fine to do.
  • Don’t be embarrassed about your background. Whether it’s a messy house, a kitchen backdrop, the dog sleeping nearby. It’s OK to be unprepared for video calls in your house when there is barely enough real estate for everyone who is home.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira