CAITY Weaver, a time-management columnist, answers readers’ remote work questions.
Q: Everyone at home (me, my partner, plus two roommates who are siblings) is practising social distancing and working from home, except one of us has a job that is location-dependent and therefore has nothing to work on. How do we avoid murdering her and each other?
A: Two points. One: Being fortunate enough to have a job that allows you to work from home right now doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to gripe about work. My mom always says: “All feelings are allowed. Not all actions are allowed, but all feelings are.” By always saying this, my mother created a child loath to perform any action that might get her in trouble, but who complained constantly.
Two: People in this cohort must take extra care in the coming weeks to remember that they are lucky to have work from home to complain about, and to be healthy enough to do so. Many of our neighbours are putting themselves in harm’s way by performing the non-remote jobs that allow society to function. Others have had their income abruptly stripped away altogether.
Work-from-home people should actively remind themselves to be compassionate and generous with anyone who cannot work from home.
Some practical advice for your household: Establish boundaries and an agreed-upon everyday routine. This will require a quick meeting of all household members. If you aren’t comfortable sitting down in person for health reasons, do it over video chat. Everyone should feel that they have been consulted. People will find fault with the most perfect plan in the world if it is emailed to them fully formed.
Your plan, which you should call a game plan because it sounds fun and temporary, should establish people’s schedules and preferred working locations. If these include common areas, one person probably shouldn’t commandeer the best one every day. Figure out a way to share and regularly disinfect it. With four people cooped up together, some level of disturbance is unavoidable and some level of friendly interaction should be encouraged to benefit the general atmosphere. Use your roommate conversation to establish what is fine and what is distracting. Are you best reached by instant message while working? Are you able to ignore a TV if it is on mute?
It might be useful, if you can, to plan to break for lunch around the same time, so people can check in with one another and clank plates with impunity. Once a schedule has been established, stick to it. You can’t demand extra quiet hours because you decided to take a 90-minute Netflix break in the middle of the day. Hopefully, your roommate will accommodate the group’s requests to avoid becoming a pariah. If she resists, do your best to be empathetic. She didn’t cause the pandemic and it is very likely that every other minute she is experiencing a full-body panic freeze wondering if and when she will be laid off from the job she is unable to perform through no fault of her own.
Q: How can I adjust to the newfound intimacy of video chats and Zoom meetings? I can’t handle staring into everyone’s wild eyes.
A: Please, if you value your dignity, take the time now to put a sticker, some tape, a chewed-up piece of gum – anything – over your computer’s camera. I was recently talking to a group of professional women across a wide range of ages and geographic locations. Two had first-hand accounts of witnessing someone appear fully or partially nude while dialling in to a work meeting because he or she was unaware the call featured video and audio.
Don’t assume that because you can’t see someone, they can’t see you. Believe me when I say it is worth the hassle of removing a small obstruction from your computer lens every time you want to appear on camera. Do not let your webcam catch you unawares. You can look to this hellish time as an opportunity to rebrand yourself to your colleagues. Shed your reputation as the office slob by removing all the garbage from one corner of your home and fielding work calls from there.
If you are vain, position yourself so that light hits you from the front, rather than from the back or a side. If you are vain, conduct all meetings on Zoom, which allows users to apply a subtle retouch filter to their appearance.
This article first appeared in The New York Times.