The novel coronavirus has, as of Friday, infected more than 100,000 people and killed more than 3,400 globally. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are pervasive. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but it’s safe to assume that whatever it is will be a shitshow of historic magnitude—it’s already a tragedy for thousands of families and a lesson in the fragility of our globalized world.
Most of us, so far at least, are experiencing this ballooning catastrophe in the low-hum vibration that precedes any potential impending doom—the kind of energy buzz you get before a big storm hits mixed with the odd, dull nothingness of waiting. We scramble for something tangible—something we can do: wash your hands properly, don’t touch your face, buy canned food and toilet paper, check on your elderly loved ones and neighbors and ensure they’re stocked up with food, water, and medicine.
For those of us lucky enough to remain untouched by the direct horrors of the outbreak, the most tangible mass disruptions are what we can’t, or shouldn’t, do. Don’t travel internationally, or perhaps don’t travel at all. Avoid crowds. Conferences and events—canceled. Schools—closed. The University of Washington has closed its classrooms for more than 50,000 students in the state, which currently has the highest concentration of confirmed COVID-19 cases, and is going entirely remote. In what is likely to be one of the biggest shifts in workplace norms in recent history, companies in the state and elsewhere across the U.S. and the world are asking employees to work from home or closing their offices entirely.
While I am as clueless as anyone about our coronavirus future, I do at least have some perspective on working remotely, something I did almost exclusively for seven years before joining Gizmodo. Everyone’s situation is going to be different—some are going to love working from home, others are going need to get the fuck out of this apartment already. So I’m speaking only from personal experience, but I hope it’ll add some perspective as an increasing number of us hunker down and wait for this all to blow over. Here are some things I learned from my years working remotely.
- Not commuting is awesome, just an absolute pleasure.
- All teleconferencing software sucks, and you just have to get used to it. You will feel like an asshole when your connection gets shakey. Just plow forward and move on as best you can.
- Wearing sweat pants is great. Wearing them all the time makes you feel like a piece of shit.
- If you’re lucky enough to have a home office or other dedicated workspace, that is helpful, even essential for some people, but it’s kinda nice to sit on the couch sometimes. When it’s warm, sit outside, maybe with a nice glass of iced tea.
- Showering is still necessary but less urgent. Not showering has a lower risk of shame.
- When you get a little stir-crazy, it’s important to remember that you are one of the luckiest people on the planet. Some people have to work from home always due to health or disabilities.
- Speaking of lucky, a whole hell of a lot of other people can’t work from home, either due to the nature of their job or the fact that they still lack broadband internet access—as is the case for an estimated 19 million people, according to the FCC.
- Meanwhile, your broadband provider is a cruel overlord. For four of the seven years I worked from home, I only had DSL—it was expensive as hell for a 5Mb connection and the hatred still in my heart from my internet provider at that time still burns bright. (Fuck you, G-Tel.)
- You can only reboot your router so many times. At a certain point, you’re just going to have to suck it up and call the cable company.
- It’s probably a good idea to take a break and eat lunch sometimes.
- Make sure you respond to emails and Slack (or whatever) messages quickly, or your boss will definitely think you’re fucking around. Your worst nightmares about that are real.
- If some people are still working in an office while you’re working remotely, you will feel out of the loop sometimes. Try to not let that turn into paranoia where you think everyone is talking behind your back.
- There is joy in solitude.
- Your dog(s), cat(s), and other animal friends are going to be psyched to have you around. Take a few minutes out of your day to just pet them a bunch.
- You’ll probably turn into kind of a weirdo after a while! Given that I live in the woods and mostly commune with my cadre of critters, I temporarily lost my ability to speak to human beings.
- Doing chores while you’re working from home sucks almost as much as doing chores when you’re not supposed to be working.
- Never tell your co-workers that you didn’t respond to them for 20 minutes because you were in the bathroom. Nobody wants to know that. Make up another excuse.
- Because of little tell-tale signs like your status icon, autocorrect, and auto-capitalization, people will be able to tell if you’re actually out doing other stuff and just responding to Slack messages from your phone instead of your computer.
- A sudden electrical or internet outage is true hell that will send you into a mild panic until you can tell someone at your job what the hell is happening.
- Looking at the internet gets boring after like 40 minutes, so you might as well get some work done.
- It’s perfectly fine to work from bed if nobody knows that’s what you’re doing.
- Setting specific work hours is great in theory, but we all know we’re already working 24/7 and there is no true escape.
- Stock up on snacks you like.
- There’s only so many times you can say, “Sorry, I was on the phone,” without seeming like a fuckup.
- Get a second monitor if you can afford it (even better if the company will pay for it).
- Daytime television sucks. Cable news is worse.
- It’s nice to be home to accept packages during the day—but remember, the person delivering those packages never gets to work from home. Be nice to them.
- At a certain point, it’s going to seem absurd that offices exist at all.
- If you have children at home with you, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Good luck.
- Take a little walk sometimes. (Just tell your boss you’re afk.)
- Eventually, you’ll yearn for human contact. Suppress that desire as best you can.