Tips for working from home during the coronavirus pandemic

Tips for working from home during pandemic
Tips for working from home during pandemic 04:44

For many during the coronavirus outbreak, the new normal will be working remotely from home as workers practice social distancing. But that brings new twists to telecommuting, as examined by CBS News contributor Derek Thompson in his recent article for The Atlantic, "The coronavirus is creating a huge stressful experiment in working from home."

He joined "CBS This Morning" on Monday to discuss some of the lessons to keep in mind when working at home in a time of COVID-19, to make the process less stressful.

And while many people swear they are productive while working at home – Thompson has done so off and on for several years – it may not be effective for everyone. "Is that because of the fridge, the couch and the television?" asked co-host Tony Dokoupil.

 "I think in general when you think about the benefits of remote work, you want to leave the bad stuff about the office at the office, and take the good parts of the office home," Thompson replied.

He explained key issues to keep in mind for those working remotely:

Over-communicate with colleagues

"Managers aren't judging you by the proxy of how often you are sitting in your seats," he said. "Rather, when you work for home, you can set explicit goals and they can judge you by what you achieve."

"I talked to a lot of researchers in the last few days, the last few weeks, about our remote work future here with the pandemic. And two words kept coming back to me: information and isolation. They said, at the office you have a lot of information, and you have low isolation. You're surrounded by people. You can see what they're like. When you're home, however, you have less information about your co-workers, and you feel more isolated.

"So, I think what's really important for managers and workers to get right – to make remote work work – is they have to over-communicate. If you're getting up and going for a walk, let that person know."

Thompson is also a big fan of teleconferencing.  "If you want to have a conversation with your boss, don't just make it a text or make it a slack, maybe actually see their face so you can see their expression when you give an idea and they say, hmm, I need to think about that. You can see exactly what hmm, I need to think about that, what it means. When people type it, hmm, I need to think about that, you think, they dislike me? They're criticizing me?"

Be aware of isolation

"Loneliness is a huge issue. That is a word that kept coming back to me when I was talking to people. When I said, 'What's the most surprising thing you have to tell me about remote work experiments that you've seen other companies try?' They kept saying the most surprising thing is the loneliness factor, it's the isolation. Of course, that's going to be so much worse in a pandemic when you're not allowed to leave your house in many cases.

"Where it becomes really difficult to do anything outside of your own home, you're going to have real isolation, real loneliness problems, and I do think that as long as we're evaluating the degree to which remote work works, we need to separate what is specific to the pandemic and what is specific to remote work. Specific to the pandemic, you're going to have a lot of extreme loneliness, a lot of forced childcare at home. In remote work generally, the schools are going to be open, restaurants will still be serving food. You can go out and work at a cafe. So, you want to keep those two issues [pandemic and working remotely] separate.

Create a boundary between work and leisure (Don't work from the couch!)

"I've written a lot for The Atlantic [before the pandemic] about how the boundary between work and leisure was already becoming extremely porous," he said. "Once you work from your couch, and your couch is where you watch Netflix and where you talk to your manager and where you write articles, that boundary between work and leisure completely falls apart. …

"The office is not your couch. You have to leave your couch and go to the office in order to work. And that sort of division between work life and leisure time is really difficult to import back to your own living room, your own kitchen counter, your own bedroom. It's especially difficult right now, I should say during a pandemic, when you have schools canceled, the kids are home, the restaurants are closed. It's a very different situation right now than you might typically have. But theoretically the benefit of remote work is that you have time to focus on your own. You have time to structure your time as you want."

Create a work routine

"It's important, I think, to set up routines: What are you going to accomplish in the morning? How are you going to take breaks? When are you going to stop working?" Thompson said.

Take breaks, and build physical activity into your day

"You're going to go crazy if you don't do anything inside, if you keep pacing between the refrigerators and the kitchen counter. Trying to build physical activity into my day is a challenge, but one that I try to do," Thompson said. 

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.