The coronavirus pandemic has forced many public relations professionals, among others, to work from home. As it happens, I’ve worked from home—or WFH, as millennials might put it—for more than 20 years all told. Most recently, I telecommuted for my job with Weber Shandwick for 12 years. Decades back, I freelanced as a writer for 10 years.
So what’s new to many employees today is old stuff to me.
As late arrivals to working remotely will soon recognize, the WFH lifestyle has plenty of pros and cons. On the plus side, co-workers never have the opportunity to get tired of being around me. So technically, I can never overstay my welcome.
More tangibly, I save thousands of dollars annually on everyday expenses such as subways, clothes, dry cleaning and meals eaten outside. I can even maintain a regular exercise regimen without killing myself.
At home, too, I get to focus on my assignments undistracted as never before. At last I’m free of casual, drive-by interruptions from well-intentioned colleagues. I’m insulated from the chatter of a cubicle-mate overheard indulging in yet another loud personal phone call.
So, too, am I spared last-second “emergency” staff meetings about, say, wanton overuse of the copier. Such privacy as I enjoy at home endows me with a chance to be ultra-efficient and productive on behalf of clients and colleagues alike.
Oh, yes, and I always feel a certain mischievous delight in joining high-level conference calls with Fortune 500 clients even though unshaven and wearing a bathrobe, all with no one the wiser. At home, the dress code is always casual.
Then again, nothing as wonderful as having home as headquarters comes without a cost. In my early years, with no one around to see and hear me, I all too often felt tempted to goof off, visiting my sofa, refrigerator, TV or the local basketball courts more frequently than otherwise. I’ve also cloistered myself hunched before my computer screen in my pajamas long enough to forget, even if only briefly, any semblance of social skills.
More seriously, telecommuting as I do, I occasionally come down with an acute case of cabin fever. Suddenly I’m starved for those spontaneous encounters with a CEO or a peer or, for that matter, the cleaning person. I miss seeing whether so-and-so is smiling or scowling and hearing the tone that emanates from a directive given or a question posed. In the thunderous silence and all-encompassing solitude of WFH, I sometimes feel as if I’m the last person on earth.
Still, I’m lucky. I’m among the 29 percent of the U.S. population with the option to work from anywhere, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I’m also a homebody at heart and a loner by nature. My own company is often more than enough for me to bear.
My advice to WFH newcomers during our current quarantine even as we gradually reopen the economy? Amp up your efforts to get noticed. Communicate your enthusiasm. Establish your availability. Speak up forcefully on the phone. Call colleagues and clients for impromptu conversations. Send regular email updates on your doings. Stick to a schedule, too, with minimal woolgathering. Get out and about, especially if you’re feeling marooned. Take a brisk walk through a park or meet a friend for a catch-up lunch.
Of course nothing can ever replace the uniquely multi-dimensional experience of a day at the office – the camaraderie, the gossip overheard, the free coffee. But let’s be honest here. Neither can anything ever make up for the chance to work in peace and do what you have to do to get the job done.
Bob Brody is a public relations consultant, primarily as an editorial specialist and media strategist, in New York City. He is also a widely published essayist and author of the memoir Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.