Working From Home In The Time Of COVID-19


Working from home through covid-19

Fifteen years ago, just after SARS but before the GFC and COVID-19, I opted out of full-time paid employment and started a consultancy business, working from home. This was an era when many large organisations did not want their employees working remotely. The resistance was hard to understand, given that even in 2005, the technology to do so made it easy, particularly for people in the communications industry.

Now, in plague-ridden 2020, many employers have made working from home mandatory. A Morris dancer friend, whose work often takes her to places like India, has her office set up in one corner of the house. That’s K’s home office above.

“Contrary to others perceptions of this period, I am finding that I am extremely busy (hence the short note), because I have to carry out my usual job achieving the same minimum number of hours. I also have to work out a family timetable and supervise and enforce the online learning that the children have been given.  It is a real handful, and with limited computing resources in the house, we are packed like sardines into the office and dining room space. This results in a lot of distractions and consequently late hours of work.

“But I am finding this period more social because people are uploading virtual folk clubs, sessions and dance events I would not otherwise have the time to attend.  It is an exciting and vibrant time, full of possibility for musical and creative pursuits.”

Mr Shiraz, who recently attended a virtual board meeting via Zoom, said he has seen some inventive ways of setting boundaries when someone is working from home.

This can range from a sign on Mum’s closed office door “Mummy is at work,” to a friend who posted a list of possible answers to things the kids want to ask her (“Have you looked in the fridge?”).

Residential property researcher Michael Matusik, who has been working from home for nearly five years, has a few practical tips. The most important one is: “Put your arse in the chair” for a set time every day.

“You need to focus and the best way to do that is to be at your desk and sticking to a routine,” he said in a recent Matusik Missive.

”Make a to-do list for the day, week and month ahead and stick to it.

“It is easy to labour unproductively when working from home. It is best to set yourself timeframes to do certain tasks and to take set breaks each day.”

(see link below)

Freelance writer Lisa Southgate started working from home in late 2001 and loves it, so is intrigued to find that friends forced into it by COVID-19 are not coping.

“I was fresh from a job in a big newspaper office, and I knew, because I had a teenager on the spectrum, that whatever I did next it had to involve the late-ish start to the day we used to have in newspapers then. “My son was in his teenage years, and it took him forever to get to school.

“At the time I was getting heaps of freelance offers. I was working in property, tourism and business, and there was a property boom, a tourism boom, and an increase of interest in investment. So I called my accountant, set up an ABN and a business structure and went to it.

“It was great! I could get my son off to school – I could take the endless whingey phone calls from the school staff. And I could concentrate on work and not office politics.

“I didn’t have to spend so much money on clothes and makeup for looking presentable in the office. I sometimes wondered what my interviewees would have thought if they’d seen me sitting there in my Ally McBeal pyjamas.”

The key to working from home, Lisa says, is to work out when your brain works best and design your day around that.

Musician and instrument-maker Andy Rigby reports from rural Victoria that while there are no COVID-19 cases in the vicinity, he thinks it is only a matter of time. He is accepting that this (home isolation), will go on for some time, which might be a problem for his daughter, who is in Grade 6 and bored after day one.

For his part, Andy plans a re-union with the local bush (“which has been sadly neglected in our busy lives”.)

“I have several harp orders, plus whistles, and a fair bit of potential on-line teaching to arrange, so I don’t think I’ll be bored for some time yet.

“I reckon I would qualify for some Government assistance as a small business with most of my income (gigs and school jobs) denied by the virus.”

Self-sufficient people who live on rural properties have no shortage of things to do, although they don’t describe it as ‘working from home’.

Former Queenslander Marion lives on a 52ha farm, in Victoria, which includes about one hectare of ornamentals and vegetable gardens.

“I have no problem productively filling my day with just this work.

“I have had a vegie garden for the five years I have lived here and we have our own meat (cows and sheep) and chooks for eggs. So there is no shortage of food and we are relatively self-sufficient (except for the dreaded toilet paper which I am now rationing).” 

Marion, like so many of the kind readers who responded to my request for home-alone anecdotes, advised us to: “Stay well, stay safe and stay sane. This too will pass.”

Teri from the Granite Belt is not troubled by isolation, keeping in touch with friends and family via group messages test and phone calls. She prefers the latter because “hearing someone else’s voice is the next best thing to a face to face visit.”

Because we live on a bit of land, we love being at home. Nature is good company. There is always plenty to do here, both practical and creative, with veggie garden, repairs and decluttering top of the list at the moment.”

Ralph from South Australia says staying at home is something he has become used to in recent years and offers some tips.

“I go for days without utterance sometimes, but I am never bored, because there is so much to do. There is the variety of household chores, the cycles of gardening, getting dirty with weeds and compost, harvesting and house repairs.  

“There’s writing the letters you’ve long forgotten to send to old friends and rellies, learning poetry, reading the world’s best speeches, playing chess and, can you remember the rules for cribbage and euchre?”

On a serious note, we know people who are at various stages of chemotherapy or have compromised immune systems. For them, self-isolation is literally a life-preserving strategy.

David, who has just finished his last round of chemo, is susceptible to coronavirus and understands that he needs to self-isolate, along with Mrs David. He tells me, in a fairly neutral way, I thought:

“(Mrs David) is doing her choir practise in the kitchen on her iPad for the first time ever, and it is working.’’

Peter from the Hinterland speculated that there is an important-sounding future PhD thesis in: “Priorities in Panic Buying as an Indicator of National Character.” 

“Data I have noted to date (according to impeccably reliable newspaper reports):

  • Australia: toilet paper, then alcohol
  • Britain: toilet paper, then all groceries
  • Italy: pasta and tickets out of the country
  • USA: more guns
  • Argentina: viagra

Or as another Pete friend said, in a postscript to an email sent when we were travelling:

“Drive safe and keep your bum clean.”

More reading: Wise words from travel writer Lee Mylne

Lisa Southgate’s tips:

Michael’s tips


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