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Working from Home During COVID-19

Stephanie C. Payne

Ph.D. – Professor, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Texas A&M University
Stephanie C. Payne

In evaluating the best work from home infrastructure, what are the top 3 indicators?

  1. Fundamentally, the work to be completed must lend itself to the home environment. Some work simply cannot be done from home (e.g., driving an ambulance, janitorial services, waiting tables). Also, the organization must be receptive to letting employees conduct work from a different location. Some employees work with top-secret documents and some have access to highly sensitive and confidential data that are regulated and have to be protected. If the organization cannot ensure the security of this information, understandably the organization is unlikely to permit working from home.
  2. For most employees to do their work, they will need access to a computer, internet, and software. Oftentimes, the organization will provide the employee with some or all of the corresponding equipment. Some employees use personal equipment. Ideally, the employee has a physical workspace conducive to conducting work. For many, this is a separate room with a door to limit distractions and interruptions, but many employees make do at a dining room table, kitchen counter, or a couch. For long-term arrangements, it’s important to have a set-up that is ergonomically-sound to avoid repetitive motion injuries.
  3. The organization leadership and direct supervisor must support working from home. This means they are receptive to supervising a remote worker and adapting to more technology-mediated communication. It also means the supervisor trusts the employee to get the work done and can evaluate performance based on outcomes and results and does not need to monitor the process.

Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, what are the steps that an individual can take in order to successfully transition to a work from home environment?

People are creatures of habit and we thrive on routines. Many who work from home regularly find it important to establish a work-oriented routine at home which may be quite similar to the one they had when they worked away from home. This might mean waking at the same time, going through the same morning routine, and beginning the workday at the same time each day. Right now this can be difficult given there may be children and other family members at home that need attention. Another important thing for the employee to do is to communicate with his/her supervisor and colleagues about expectations for work and communication. Many dual-career working from home parents are taking turns working and caring for children/helping them with their schoolwork. Some employees are working at nontraditional work hours to be available for the family during traditional work hours. It is also important to acknowledge that not everyone enjoys or wants to work from home. Some employees prefer to have physical boundaries between our work and our home lives. Some employees also really enjoy the social interaction that our jobs provide to us.

Should companies invest more of their resources in establishing a functional work from home alternative for their employees? Will remote jobs be easier to come by after the Coronavirus crisis has ended?

Unfortunately, crises and emergencies are likely to continue to create the need for working from home on occasion. Correspondingly, organizations may find it in their best interest to keep this option open to their workers. Many organizations have adopted formal telework policies and market this as a family-friendly benefit. Yes, I think that organizations may be more receptive to working from home arrangements (full-time or part-time) after the Coronavirus crisis has ended.

What are the most important advantages and disadvantages of working from home?

There are also a good number of advantages to working from home periodically like a reduction in commute time and expenses, a reduction in carbon emissions, and escaping distractions and interruptions in the traditional work environment. Many employees report that working from home gives them more flexibility to meet nonwork demands (e.g., being home for a contractor/repair).