(Originally posted on Linkedin in early February 2020, when China was in the grip of COVID19)
Like most other non-manufacturing businesses in China, we’re observing a two week “work from home”. Since my wife and I just got back to Shanghai on Sunday we’re also trying to stay indoors for 14 days to make sure we didn’t catch the virus while away and then infect lots of other people.
Yesterday was the first day of working from home and it was very productive indeed. Some catching up on emails, answering questions and a client conference call. Of course, the advantage of working from home is that in between I made lunch (I must confess to choosing alliteration over accuracy in my headline – I’d omitted to buy tomatoes on Sunday so I couldn’t make chicken curry and had to make do with a breaded chicken fillet in alfredo sauce instead) and got to work out at home. I’m normally a regular gym goer but over the years I’ve accumulated bits and pieces of home workout equipment – a pull-up bar that lives on the balcony and fits just nicely over the more frequently used outdoor grill, a medicine ball, a kettlebell, jump rope, resistance bands and my newest love, an ab roller.
Now, I’m not a stranger to working from home. I ran my own consulting business from a spare bedroom for about 2 years when I lived in Singapore and always found it remarkably productive as well as conducive to work-life balance and health. However, I know a lot of people are experiencing this for the first time and by default, once everything goes back to “normal”, most people will want to go back to the office to work.
Which is where I want to say “Wait! Stop! Think for a moment!”
While most things about this coronavirus are horrible, one of the few silver linings in the cloud is this opportunity it’s given all of us to re-evaluate the necessity of having people commute to work every day. I’ve been trying to get my colleagues to consider letting people have 1-2 days of remote working every week and I keep getting told it isn’t practical – but now all of us are working from home 5 days a week for two weeks. I know that isn’t ideal either but surely there’s an in-between.
So use this time well, especially if you’re running an office or a team and everyone is working remotely. Pay attention to all the tasks you do. Figure out the bits of your work that are genuinely difficult to do remotely – some situations do require face to face meetings and interactions – and also see whether there are parts that are actually better done from home, with no distractions. For most people working from home devolves into just answering emails but try and do more than that – work up proposals, write presentations, do some of that desk research you need to do for your prospect pipeline.
When things get better and we’re all able to go back to work – see if you can experiment with some remote working days for everyone. It’ll improve their productivity, make them feel happier about life and as an extra bonus, give you more room in the office if on any given day some people are away – that means you can put in the table tennis / video games / massage chair you guys have been talking about for ages.
As for me, I’m going to order tomatoes online and see if I can make that curry today.