Office workers are supported by a technical team and colleagues but for those who are going it alone at home there can be a steep learning curve, says Clodagh Finn
THE box room is getting a little overcrowded. I’m in it. My husband is here too and now, as thousands of us work from home, a whole host of others have joined us through Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and Zoom to mention a few.
There are new voices coming in on hastily organised conference calls while WhatsApp is a-buzz with ideas on how to keep going when everything else more or less stops.
It’s a brave new world. Or rather a brave response to a new world order.
It’s been remarkable to see how quickly, and imaginatively, people have acted to minimise the disruption caused by Covid-19.
We already know the mind-bending capabilities of modern technology but now we also know that people, when plunged into a crisis, are quite extraordinary.
In these surreal days, I’ve been to a symposium in Cork without setting a foot outside my Dublin front door. I’ve exchanged greetings with a woman from Berlin on Microsoft Teams and I’ve been blown away by the efforts of the German Department in UCC to keep a conference on course despite uncertainty, cancellations and real health concerns.
Hats off to its organiser, Claire O’Reilly, who managed to run a day-long conference with virtual contributors, real-life speakers and an audience sitting at least one metre apart.
What harm that I beamed in at a 45-degree angle at first and later had to leave when the connection muffled and echoed. The point is: the day had been saved, or at least the lion’s portion of it.
All around us, we are seeing the same kind of innovation and determination as people in a range of jobs go virtual. However, taking it all online has its challenges. Expect a sharp learning curve and an introduction to new platforms and new tech.
Don’t be afraid, though. I say that as a person who has worked contentedly in the box room for some years now. If there is a technical glitch, I recall what one tech whizz told me while working on the introduction of a new computer system some years ago.
“There are only three things to say if someone is having a technical issue,” he used to say:
If you are new to working without the support of an IT department, you’ll be amazed at how often number one works. If it doesn’t, take a break. In fact, take as many breaks as you like.
Ah, therein lies the enormous challenge facing anyone working at home. When faced with a particularly difficult piece of work, you might find that the sudden urge to deep-clean the fridge is overwhelming. And this is a pre-Covid 19 phenomenon.
It can assume gargantuan importance and you can quite sanely convince yourself that you can’t possibly type another word/make that call/ write that email until you’ve put on the Marigolds and removed every flake of gossamer onion peel from the vegetable drawer at the bottom of the fridge. (Onion peel is the dog hair of the vegetable family).
Speaking of dog hair, as a person whose regular co-worker is a long-haired jack russell, there are days when the impulse to hoover up the wisps of white hair lurking on every soft furnishing in our house is overpowering.
The reverse, however, is also true. Sometimes, you fall down a rabbit hole and work right through lunch and/or dinner.
In the days and weeks ahead, perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing first-time home-workers is learning to keep home and work separate. In the same way that a fridge/ bathroom/ cooker in need of a cleaning speaks to you while you are working, the work that is incomplete speaks to you while you are trying to make or eat dinner.
The tasks that need to be completed have a way of whispering to you while you settle down on the couch to watch a boxset. It takes a certain degree of will power to resist the temptation to log on again to send just one last email.
It also takes will power to take note of the ergonomics of remote working. It’s too easy to curl up on a favourite chair with a laptop, well, on your lap. If you do, sit straight and put something like a cushion under your computer. Be warned: Those poor shoulders will keep score of bad home-working posture.
On the whole, though, I’m a big fan of remote working. And it’s less remote now that there are so many of us streaming into the box room. It’s nice to have a human co-worker for a change too.
It means I have someone to share coffee breaks with and someone to distract when I discover another great dog video on YouTube.
I didn’t mention the temptation to watch dog videos, did I? No harm because new-time remote workers will have all the time in the world to discover the multiple distractions of working at home.
That’s it for now. I’m logging off. It’s time for a cuppa and the fridge could do with a bit of scrub.