By Enid Naranjo, J.D.
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Public University
What do you do when you are suddenly cast in the role of having to work remotely? It had never occurred to my friend Liz that she would face such a radical change.
After graduation from university, Liz finally found a job she loved as a project manager for an international marketing company with a branch office in the city where she lives. The physical workplace, the up-close interaction with her colleagues, and the pace and flow of the workday were just what she had hoped for in a job. She was developing friendships and collaborations that went beyond the office; it began to feel like the framework for a kind of new extended family.
Liz had been working there for six months and was feeling settled and in tune with the rest of the group. Then came COVID-19.
COVID-19 Immediately and Radically Changed My Friend’s Job Scene
Liz’s job scene underwent an immediate and radical change. The news reflecting the escalating layoffs and closures of businesses nationwide was disconcerting.
Also, Liz’s sense of having taken a successful first step in her career path began to fade swiftly in light of the new COVID-19 reality. She felt as if her plans had been swept away by a global tsunami.
Two days after a statewide stay-at-home order was issued, she was called into the manager’s office. Liz held her breath as she entered the room. She had conferred with him on several occasions, but this situation was entirely different.
He invited her to be seated and began by explaining that, owing to the state lockdown, corporate headquarters had made some changes that directly affected her. The company was going to operate primarily on a work-from-home basis for the foreseeable future and some positions would be eliminated, hopefully temporarily.
Her manager then said that he had observed her work and noted how well she managed projects, team members and deadlines, and he was impressed by her work ethic. He had decided that she would be just as productive working remotely.
Liz exhaled. “Well,” she thought, “I still have my job and now a definite target around which to plan.”
Coping with the Challenges of Remote Work and At-Home Child Care
Liz remembered her friend Carla and her husband. Both are government employees, whose two small children complicated their decision when they also faced the same situation of working from home. Their daycare center had closed, and they both shared caring for the children.
But Carla’s husband’s job as an engineer also required him to work onsite from time to time. There was no set schedule for site work, however.
So Carla, who writes computer software code, had to watch the children while working remotely. She found that it was challenging to maintain her concentration while also keeping an eye on her toddlers.
To complicate matters, Carla’s contract restricted her from having any children in her care while working. Therefore, she could not bill the government for the hours that she worked while her husband worked on site.
Carla felt that to be an imposition. After all, she was getting the work done. Liz suggested she renegotiate her contract and become an independent contractor so the emphasis and pay would be based on results, rather than by the hour, as was currently the case.
Working from Home during COVID-19 Caused Liz to Make Beneficial Adjustments
As Liz considered her situation, she became aware that she was being forced — or perhaps encouraged — to re-evaluate her career and adjust her situation accordingly. Working from home had not been a part of her original career projection; she felt more suited to working as part of a face-to-face team than at home alone. Thinking about it on a broader level, Liz began to see where she might benefit in ways that she hadn’t previously considered.
Under the new scenario, the company would provide computers, software and mobile phones. Liz’s project team would be reduced by half, which meant that her workload would be significantly increased and she would continue to be a salaried worker. However, her salary, based on her new responsibilities, would be renegotiated.
In creating an office in her apartment that would be conducive to productivity, Liz would also need a better internet connection, a desk, a chair and a shredder for starters. She had the space, just not the components. She negotiated that these work tools be provided by the company, and the company agreed.
Liz initiated a meeting with her employer to discuss the company’s expectations relating to her projects and whether certain practices might be modified in order to accomplish them with a reduced team. There would be occasions when the team needed to brainstorm and situations when Liz might have to access information that had to be kept in the office.
Remote Work Has Provided Liz with More Freedom and Control during COVID-19
Setting up her home office turned out to be simpler than she anticipated. Once she actually began working remotely, Liz became aware that she had not lost her desire for up-close interaction and the office environment. But she had acquired a true appreciation of the sense of freedom and control she now had with this new mode of working.
Liz looked back on her initial doubts about whether she could actually work remotely. She also began running every morning before the workday began and implementing the healthier eating habits she had abandoned while at the office.
No one can predict how long these COVID-19 changes will last. But my friend Liz now knows that she possesses the flexibility to make the necessary adjustments in this new world of work.
About the Author
Enid Naranjo is an adjunct instructor in the School of Business at American Public University. She has been teaching online classes in English and Spanish since 2009. Her academic credentials include a B.A. in history from the University of Puerto Rico – Rio Piedras Campus and a J.D. in law from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. She is a multi-faceted business executive with over 15 years of experience. Enid has worked for several women-led enterprises, including the Hispanic Radio Network and Colon Enterprises, Inc. She is an avid small business enthusiast and enjoys providing legal counsel to budding entrepreneurs.
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