By Sean O’Leary, Vice President, Susan Davis International
In this article series, SDI presents helpful hints for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and offers observations on a world turned upside down.
For those lucky of us to work from home, it has now been a little over a month since we retreated to our home offices. And we never, ever left.
When our great migration home began, there was a wave of advice about how to properly work from home. They all gave the same advice. Keep your routine. Shower every morning. Treat your home like an office. Advice that became outdated by your third consecutive day at home and you went to Google to figure out if it was Thursday or Friday, and it ended up being Wednesday.
I have several friends and former colleagues who worked remotely every day before the coronavirus pandemic hit. As one of them from Michigan told me since, “My work day is the same, but I can’t leave the house.” Ah yes, that minor difference.
Her insight inspired me to share some of the lessons I’ve learned about working from home, and what it reveals about us.
We All Hate Pants
Possibly my favorite Simpsons line ever came during an episode where Krusty has become a “shock” comic and railing about society. He looks to the audience for things they hate and Homer yells out, “Don’t you hate pants?!?” The scene ends with a disgusted Homer throwing his pants at the stage in rage.
Apparently, Homer saw the future. None of us like pants. On every video call, we know everyone else is wearing shorts or sweats. Every local newscast makes at least one reference to a lack of pants. My favorite consumer story of the pandemic was Wal-Mart reporting sales of shirts increasing dramatically, with sales of pants falling through the floor. We love our elastic waistbands.
We All Hate Our Commutes
If there’s been a common theme from people I talk to about working from home, it’s how much they enjoy not having a commute. Living in Washington, D.C. means that just about everyone I know has a miserable commute and working from home has saved them hours per day. But it’s not just limited to big cities.
One of my good friends up in Connecticut had about a 45-minute commute every day, without traffic, just because he lives out in the woods and his office is not in the woods. That’s 90 minutes every day that he has picked up. He said he’s never been more productive, and I believe him. He’s way more up to speed on this year’s NFL Draft than usual.
Zoom The Way You Want
Remember all the advice in March about how to properly Zoom? What a waste of words!
Video calls have evolved over the past month into an expression. Who’s the one on your team call with a skeleton background? Who’s the one taking their call from their backyard and making us stuck in apartments feel extra terrible?
When this started, we were also told to definitely not, under no circumstances, let your dog or cat into the shot. You are a professional, act like one! Yet any time an animal has made its way into a video call, the other participants have acted like Peyton Manning just surprised their communications class. It’s all good. If the work is getting done, we’re allowed to smile. I think that’s still allowed.
Brainstorming is Challenging
The top drawback, in my opinion, to working remotely is the lack of an opportunity to get into a room and just brainstorm ideas. Especially working in public relations, we spend a good amount of time locked into a room and shooting ideas back and forth to come up with messaging or story ideas. That’s nearly impossible now.
I say nearly because it is possible, but only if there’s one person who is focused solely on facilitating. Without that lead person, you’ll end up with an hour brainstorm consisting of, “Well I,” “Oh sorry,” “No you go ahead,” “No, you go,” “Okay,” “Okay,” “Oops sorry,” “I’ll wait,” “This is Bill, can anyone hear me?”
Email’s Triumphant Return
In the before times, email’s star was fading. Who emails coworkers in the same office? Either pick up the phone or get up and walk over to them. As most prepared for working from home, platforms like Slack became even more popular as we worried about what we’d do to stay connected.
Turns out, this email thing is a pretty darn effective way to communicate. You can copy multiple people. You can forward requests. You can organize your incoming emails into different folders. You can set it up to alert your phone. It’s a pretty neat platform, no?
Drinking Way Too Much Coffee
I believe my bloodstream is about 45% caffeine as I type this, and that may be a low estimate. In the office, my coffee intake is limited by things like needing to walk across the office and not wanting coworkers to see me inhale a gallon of coffee. At home, all bets are off! There’s no one to judge, since my wife is chugging coffee along with me. Well, except our dog, but he seems annoyed in general when I’m working and ignoring him, so he’s fine.
And it’s not just coffee. My dad is a tea guy and my mom reports to me on a weekly basis, “All your father does all day is drink tea.” I’m not even sure how that’s a complaint but it’s annoying my mother, and her being annoyed about something inconsequential is a nice slice of normalcy.
Men Love Their Beards
I had a video client call last week where the first 10 minutes was spent discussing the beards of the men on the call. For those who usually shave, this is an opportunity to see what they could produce and, frankly, the results were impressive. For those who have a beard normally like me, this is an opportunity to see how much of a lumberjack we can become.
I want people to look at me and think, “That man is a lumberjack who brews his own beer.”
Work Remains Pretty Much The Same
My friend from Michigan was right. For those of us with jobs that allow us to work from home, the work ultimately remains pretty much the same.
We’re still securing interviews for clients. We’re still helping them respond to inbound media requests. We’re still planning events and outlining agendas. We’re still writing articles, updating messaging, and posting on social media.
We’re just doing so in our shorts, with overgrown beards, after drinking too much coffee. It could be much, much worse.