Coronavirus BRIEFING

#WFH Is Our New Normal: Views From the Home Office


A mere month ago, the idea of working from home seemed like a sought after luxury—no commute to deal with, 7 to 8 hours of golden silence to write, edit, or brainstorm in the comfort of my sunny kitchen, happily work away. The old adage, be careful what you wish for, is now front and center in my newfound world. And in an eerie way, the concept of working remotely is no longer something that is looked upon as an option—it’s a directive that’s been thrust upon us. Today, a large swath of the U.S. population is working from home (WFH) and have been doing so for a month or more. The pandemic has changed everything, even the way we work.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey,  four-in-ten working-age adults ages 18 to 64 report having worked from home because of coronavirus concerns—a figure that rises to a majority among working-age adults with college degrees and upper-income earners.

About three-quarters of working-age adults with a postgraduate degree (73 percent) say they have worked from home as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, as do 62 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree. Far smaller shares of working-age adults with some college (35 percent) or with a high school diploma or less education (22 percent) say they have worked from home.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of WFH

Working from home on a regular basis might not seem so terrible if we were able to still be out and about but the restrictions that go hand in hand with social distancing can make us feel even more isolated. I don’t know about you, but I vacillate between feeling satisfied and productive while working remotely to longing for the days when I could go to New York City and have actual face time with my co-workers that didn’t include a phone, a PC or a videoconference call.

Don’t get me wrong, there are real benefits to working from home. I’m saving a cool $423 a month in commuting fees. And my financial planner just left me a message about suspending my life insurance premiums for 90 days—states have recently announced executive orders to allow this. And since we can’t go out to restaurants or bars any more, (or anywhere else for that matter, like concerts or weekend getaways) the credit card tabs are mighty low these days. Cha Ching!

Truth be told, I am grateful to have a job where I can work remotely, and I am even more thankful to still have a job. None of us know how much longer these restrictions will remain in place but I am determined to make the best of it for as long as I can.

All of this got me wondering how other people were faring with being at home so I reached out to a few optical industry folks to get their take on working remotely. Here’s what they had to say.

Maureen Beddis
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
The Vision Council

The best thing about working from home is less time rushing around to accommodate a work commute and various drop-offs and of course, every day is now casual Friday. The worst

thing about working from home is the lack of personal interaction. I miss the ability to walk around the office and see team members, impromptu brainstorms and casual conversation.

In the current environment, I feel incredibly productive. However, it’s a different type of productive than I experienced when working from home before. I find that my calendar is completely full from the beginning to the end of the day with meetings ranging from various types: 1 on 1 conference calls to 30+ people video conferences. With all the meetings, there is less time for independent work and/or impromptu discussions with team members.

It’s all too easy to feel shackled to your home office desk, table or wherever you’ve set up your home office. During the first week, the days were slipping by and I’d realize I wasn’t stopping for meals and was relying on others to bring water to me in my office. The biggest challenge is remembering to stand up, walk around, take a break and at the very least, get your own water.

We are fortunate to have so much technology and an array of solutions for staying connected from traditional email and text to things like Zoom and Teams. However, those solutions can also present challenges—for example, when to use each.

As a team, we are still working through which solutions work best for the group. As a manager, I’m trying to remain sensitive to individual working styles of each team member all while trying to help my entire team feel connected through virtual meetings using some of those technology solutions to our benefit.

The most obvious silver lining about working remotely is that I’m even able to work remotely at all. I know that not everyone has a job that can easily transition to remote. A full calendar means that my thoughts and ideas are sought and (hopefully) appreciated. And perhaps the best silver lining … my three children can sneak into my office at any point during the day to give me a hug and then quietly slip away. I have never felt so fortunate.

My advice for working at home: establish guidelines for yourself and those on your team—how and when will you communicate, meet, etc. Embrace the technology that is available to you, but don’t let it run you. We are human beings. We need to walk away from our computers and devices and come up for air every now and then in order to keep our minds fresh and clear.

Rob Maser
Vice President of Sales
EnChroma, Inc.

The best thing about working from home is I don’t have to commute. The downside is other than not seeing most EnChroma people every day, I miss the energy in the building and the impromptu hallway discussions that can lead to great ideas. That being said I do find I am more productive when working independently, but less productive when needing to collaborate with others.

Our team has regular work from home schedules, so we're somewhat accustomed to it. However, managing in today's environment has a different feeling to it. The unusual pressure and influence the virus puts on people and their families can't help but seep into mindsets and stress levels. Because of that influence, group video conferencing without any face to face interactions mixed in throughout the week is less effective, less free flowing and seems more arduous over time.

On the bright side, working from home I get to see people's children and pets during video conferences; and seeing families out walking whom I've never seen before!

It can obviously be easy to get distracted at home. So set a disciplined schedule each day for the hours you'll work. And if you get distracted during the day, create a set amount of time for focused work before you let yourself be distracted. 25 minutes of strict focus and 5 minutes off can work. Be disciplined about it.

Susy Yu, OD, MBA, FAAO
Director of Business Strategy and Operations Support
Vision Essentials by Kaiser Permanente
Southern California Permanente Medical Group

The best thing about working from home? No commute! Sitting in traffic for hours each day, I often dreamed about all the “extra” time I would have if I didn’t have to spend so much time driving. Now I have it, at least temporarily, although I’m not sure I am using that time to exercise and meditate as much as I thought I would.

The worst thing about working from home? No commute! Surprisingly, I miss the down time that my commute generated. With business in crisis mode, we’ve been working nonstop, every waking hour, and work seems to have overtaken my personal life. I like working hard, and I’ll have to figure out how to incorporate time and space for my personal responsibilities into this new schedule.

Prior to the pandemic, I rarely worked from home. Once in a while, my travel schedule would allow me to spend a few hours at home to focus on work. And, of course, there were hours of uninterrupted flight time to work on a project. I miss that. However, I always felt a little guilty about being less accessible to my team when not in the office.

Initially, we were in pure crisis mode. Information was changing hourly, and our entire team was connected non-stop, trying to navigate the uncertainties. Now that we’ve settled into a more steady work from home mode, I definitely feel more productive. While the hours have been longer, I have been able to focus time on important work that had fallen lower on my priority list.

Working from home blurs the boundaries of work and personal responsibilities. I’ve been fortunate to have an understanding husband and relatively independent kids who can manage their own school assignments and household duties. I have the luxury of a computer setup, space, and fast internet at home. My biggest challenge is maintaining discipline to focus on work when I need to, and being present for my family when I should be. I don’t want my kids to remember me as the mom who wouldn’t stop working when they deserved my attention.

Managing staff is never easy. I try to accommodate each individual’s needs and style, while moving the entire team in a common direction. Forcing my team to work from home has created interesting changes in how we interact. Before the crisis some people were in their element in the office, with constant meetings, dialogue, and person-to-person interaction. Others are more reserved and are thriving under these new circumstances, where everyone is equally accessible through online chat or messages.

Phone calls are even coming back in style. These shifts in communication channels are changing the team dynamics—in an interesting and positive way. I needed to reset my habits, consider the various modes of communication and make sure all voices continue to be heard, literally and virtually.

Spending more time at home together as a family has definitely been a luxury during this time. We’re usually so busy running from soccer game to school event to work travel and personal travel, that we have appreciated the opportunity to “slow down” and focus on our time together, even for a few minutes each day. I’ve actually baked cakes and we’ve had family tea time in the afternoon.

I make sure I maintain a schedule and routine. I wake up at the same time every day. No conference calls in pajamas! When I lead a remote meeting I have my team turn on their cameras. Seeing everyone, and being seen increases the level of engagement and attention. We’re less likely to multi–task and benefit from seeing each other’s facial expressions.

Our team is learning how to work as a team offline. In the office we have visual cues. We see our co-workers in the office. We know when they are busy or when is a good time to talk. Working remotely without those cues there is an assumption that everyone is constantly and immediately available online. That is not always the case and perhaps an unrealistic assumption in general. Our team is learning that conversations can easily be asynchronous and perhaps more efficient that way, giving the responder the time to think through a more thoughtful response.

Virtual meetings also have a slightly different cadence than traditional face to face meetings. In the beginning, we conducted our meetings the same way we would in a conference room. However, we quickly learned that two people cannot speak at the same time. Even with the best online technology, there’s a slight lag in timing and degradation in sound quality. This forces everyone to pay attention and listen closely to the person who is speaking. There are fewer interjections and less back and forth. Responses are now more concise and direct. Our team has become more efficient with our discussions and reduced the length of each meeting by two thirds.

Finally, as much as possible, at home we separate work time (and school time) from family time. I try not to interrupt the kids when they are focused on their school work, and the kids respect my work time. These are unprecedented times, and we all need to make the best of it.

Nathan Troxell
Director of Consumer & Market Insights
The Vision Council

The best thing about working from home is no commute. Gaining an additional 1 to 1.5 hours back to my day that I can spend with my family has been an incredible blessing. Pre-pandemic when the schools were still open, it was amazing to hear the stories about my boys’ daily adventures when they ran home from the bus stop at 4:00 p.m. Before I started working from home, the excitement of those adventures was long forgotten by the time I returned home around 6:00 p.m. The previous daily exchange of “How was your day?” “Good.” “What did you do in school today?” “Nothing.” is not missed!

However, the other side of the “no commute coin” is that it’s been much harder to keep up on my audiobook habit without the daily time-in-car. There is something to be said for having dedicated time to yourself every day to continue to engage in new ideas, experience new stories and learn new information.

I started working from home full time (other than a busy travel schedule pre-pandemic) when I joined The Vision Council in November of last year. So, I had a few months head start in establishing some healthy work-from-home rhythms and routines before my colleagues at The Vision Council and the majority of U.S. workers joined me in the new “WFH Workforce.”

Prior to the pandemic, I would have said that my productivity level varied based on the project and necessary level of broader team engagement. Many projects, meetings and team collaborations tend to be generally more effective in-person and being the solo “dial-in participant” created some challenges to that end. Now, post-pandemic, we are all in this new WFH paradigm together, and I have found a more consistent level of high productivity as we all lean in to establishing the new normal of “collective remote engagement.”

Forcing myself to take breaks is my biggest challenge. It is very easy to settle into the home office and not move from my desk for hours. Without the need to stand up and walk to a meeting in a conference room, engage in a conversation with a colleague, or even make the trek to the cafeteria, it has been a challenge to recreate the typical physical movement and mental breaks of an office environment.

Here are some of my tips for working remotely. It is even more critical to establish a healthy “work life balance” when working from home. Establish a general schedule or routine that allows you to get in to and, perhaps more importantly, out of your work effectively. Allow for flexibility and variation in that routine to help you reinvigorate and recharge from time to time.

And, during the pandemic, you may not be the only person working from your home, so communicating clearly and extending grace to your “coworkers”—both young and old—are critical. Don’t forget that not only do you have to work with them, but you have to live with them as well!

Lauren Candela
Public Relations and Content Marketing Manager

Because I am a New Yorker, living and working in the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best thing about working from home is having the ability for myself and my family to assist our local community in controlling the spread of COVID-19, and helping to flatten the curve.

I am grateful that my professional position allows me the ability to work from home, and I am finding myself “seeing things” that I miss every year in the hustle and bustle of juggling many different hats, as we all do in our personal lives. We have a large tree in our front yard that quickly blooms beautiful pink flowers every year. Being home every day has allowed me to really notice and savor that transformation. In years past, as I’m quickly running into the house after work to get dinner started, or moving around on weekends with errands/activities, I can’t recall a time I’ve ever actually stopped to appreciate how beautiful the natural landscape is where we live.

Given our current situation, I truly miss seeing my colleagues in person. We now have meetings every day via Zoom, and we are in constant communication with each other. But I never realized how much I take for granted those in-person conversations we can so easily have at the office, like those afternoon cups of coffee while we brainstorm a new idea together on a whiteboard in a meeting room. There’s an energy in those moments that I haven’t found to be replicated while we are all working in our individual environments and meeting digitally.

I believe I am as productive at home, although my day looks drastically different. In the office, I am able to focus for extended lengths of time during a traditional workday on projects, tasks, and so forth. At home, in our current environment, my attention is pulled in many different directions all day long, so I end up working for many more short bursts of time rather than one continuous length of time.

For me, juggling our current situation has been the biggest challenge of working from home. As the mother of a 19-month-old daughter, navigating the uncharted waters of working full time while simultaneously parenting full time has been a challenge.

My husband, who is also home with us, works full time as well. Our former lives, filled with structured days, have morphed into days of communication, flexibility and negotiation while one of us works for a period of time, and the other watches our daughter. We switch back and forth continuously throughout the day depending on who has meetings, calls and “fire drills” in their daily queue.

We both want to give our full attention to our daughter of course, and we are both also passionate about our careers and the work we do, so finding that balance has been challenging.

Our marketing team at ClearVision is fortunate enough to be comprised of very flexible and hardworking individuals, so our transition to working full time at home has been quite easy. Oftentimes, I think culture can easily become lost when employees aren’t in the office. However, ClearVision has built a wonderfully rich culture within the organization, having been in business for 70 years, and seeing those core values continue to hold true even in our new work environment speaks volumes to the type of company CVO is, and the people that work here. As an organization, we pride ourselves on being committed to respecting others, acting with integrity, fairness and dignity. We still hold these values close to our hearts, even while working remotely.

It’s funny, my team and I have a 3:00 p.m. check in each day that we call our “Positive Polly” session. We each write to each other and list something we’re thankful for, a song that made us feel good, a sweet moment from the day, etc. Last week I wrote this to my colleagues, and I think it perfectly captures the silver linings about working remotely.

“Every single day I go into work I feel guilty. Guilty for being a woman who enjoys other things in her life in addition to being a mom. Guilty that I am not willing to sacrifice how hard I’ve worked to get where I am professionally in order to stay home with our daughter. Guilty about the inevitable soccer game that I’ll miss and the cupcakes I’ll buy for her class party, because I didn’t have time to make them. Guilty that I find my career fulfilling. As unprecedented as this time is, I am thankful that I have the opportunity to work from home, and that I can type an email while my daughter plays play-doh on my lap. I will never get this much time during the week with her again until I retire, and by then she’ll have her own life and career.”

Having the right technology in place to effectively work remotely is critical, from a productivity and morale standpoint. Especially during a time like this, where many of us have been working from home for about a month now. Put the technology and tools in place to enable your employees to get their work done as easily as if they were in the office, and they’ll be motivated and up for the challenge of working from home.

For me and my family, we have tried to keep as much of our “normal” life as possible, while the world around us has been in a very non-normal state. We make sure to get out of our PJs and into different clothing while we are working and maneuvering about our day. As silly as that sounds, the mental shift that occurs for us in consciously changing into jeans and a sweater, as opposed to staying in our PJs all day, allows for us to shift from our “free time” to our “work time” even though both of those are happening under the same roof.

Making our beds every day has kept us from grabbing our laptops and climbing back under the sheets, which has helped us remain productive and focused on our work.

Above all, I think giving ourselves a bit of grace during this time has been what’s allowed us to keep going. When we first started working from home I was experiencing continuous stress; as a mom, every time I gave my daughter an iPad to keep her occupied so I could work, and as a colleague, every time I had to ask my team to hold on while I changed a diaper or calmed her tears. I’ve learned to let it go, and be okay with knowing we are doing our best right now. It’s okay to not be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect employee, or keep my house perfectly clean. Not even a superhero could be all of those things. So take a breath, know that you’re doing great, we will get through this, and we’ll be stronger because of it.

Courtney Myers
SVP, Red Havas
Merged Media Agency

The best thing about working remotely is seeing the creative ways people are staying engaged and helping each other stay active. One person on our team has implemented Wellness Wednesdays where we have a virtual workout together, and like many we have weekly Virtual Happy Hours. Regular check-ins like these can go a long way to making us all feel connected.

Under normal circumstances, working from home is a great way to focus and avoid distractions. The worst thing about working from home right now, is that we could use a few distractions. We already had generous work from home policies in place, and I would work from home a few times a month depending on the projects I was working on.

As for being productive, it all depends on the day and what I’m doing. I already had a comfortable workspace and the infrastructure to work remotely so usually the less productive days aren’t because of working remotely, but because of the changing landscape we are facing.

I have to admit I miss the unplanned interactions. Overhearing a colleague talk about a topic of interest. Running into someone in the kitchen and striking up a conversation. As much as we are planning remote interactions spontaneity can help spark ideas.

We have flexible working hours so sometimes it is hard to know when someone is online and working or not. Regular check-ins and updates on schedules have been important.

My husband is also working from home, so we have lunch together every day. It’s been a great way to take a mindful pause in my day and recharge.

Here’s some advice about how to successfully work from home:

Turn Your Camera On. It really helps to take advantage of video conferencing to be able to see each other and connect.

Have a Routine. Some people find it helpful to get dressed like they are going to the office, personally, I find it useful to start my day right away and then take a break. Whatever works for you, create a routine to separate work from relaxation or family time.

Make Time for Fun. Don’t just connect for work, connect to share how your team is doing working from home—share tips for staying healthy, favorite shows or positive news.