Coronavirus and remote work

The perspective of an introvert on coping during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Coronavirus and remote work

Currently, the world is gripped in the tentacles of an epidemic. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taken hold across the globe inspiring panic in some, fear in others and general inconvenience and hardship for most everyone else. As a result, governments across the globe are taking action issuing sweeping mandates to help stem the spread of the virus. Many companies have had to shut down operations completely. Some companies have been spared the full effect of shutting down by utilizing alternative working arrangements with their employees. Accordingly, many personnel have been suddenly thrust into an environment where they are working remotely.

I've worked remote for approximately 4 years so none of this has been terribly disruptive to me. I don't leave my property very frequently and that suits me perfectly well.  It has been interesting, however, to observe the reactions many are having to the "new norm". One thing that stands out quite starkly to me is the dichotomy between those clearly comfortable with working remote and those who aren't.

Here are the two personality types I've identified:

A) People who are independent and generally more introverted  

B) People who are dependent and generally more extroverted

Those in Group A find working remotely to be a positive experience. Those in Group B have a hard time being remote.

I don't have any direct criticism for either personality type. It's not something individuals usually have a lot of control over and most of the time there is an appropriate outlet for both groups. However, in the new remote environment, these personalities are clashing.

I've observed a sharp increase in meetings since all of my peers started being remote. I've also observed a sharp increase in meeting-marathons, where meetings are back to back to back and there are no breaks in the day. At the org level I've seen individuals passing around how-to's on working remote, with some even authoring guidelines on best practices. In the beginning, I thought these behaviors were symptomatic of people adjusting to the abrupt change of working remotely, but as time has progressed it's become clear these behaviors are being established as new habits, which is alarming.

With that in mind, I'd like to offer an alternative opinion on the whole how-to perspective of working remotely, written from someone firmly rooted in Group A:

1) Don't increase your meeting load just because you are remote. I know you're feeling a little alienated with not seeing people face to face, but everything is going to be ok. Most of those meetings you had weren't constructive uses of your time anyway.

2) Don't ask your team to do stupid things that you think will build morale. No, I don't want a crazy shirt contest. No, I don't want additional meetings with the team just to chit chat. No, I don't want to exchange ideas on how to cope. Those of us in Group A are fine with the whole thing. We aren't struggling with coping. in fact, your additional meetings and suggestions put us in an uncomfortable situation because now we either play along with something we don't find value in or we have to play Negative Nancy and say we'd rather not participate.

3) Don't overreact to this whole thing. Fundamentally our work has not changed. There is no reason that the way in which we interact needs to change either.

4) Adopt async modes of communication (Here's a good one to help avoid burn out). When you are remote, you usually communicate via chat. Because people are not face to face, it is hard to know if the person you want to communicate with is already busy with something else. Unfortunately, unless they have turned off notifications, chances are that when you message them you are going to interrupt them. Instead, ask yourself if your question can wait. Ask yourself if the question is absolutely necessary. If you aren't sure, then the answer is it isn't. Things that are pressing should be immediately obvious. If it isn't pressing, wait till stand-up to bring it up or shoot it to the person via email. If you have to chat, try to avoid just sending the message but instead first ask the person if they are available for a conversation. Always favor async (email, project management software, etc.) over synchronous (chat, text, video call, etc.) for two reasons: 1) less interruption to those deep in thought and 2) active "paper trail" which is less easily misplaced.

5) Do what you need to do without burdening others. Some people are going to need specific things in their schedule like a walk or a bike ride or time talking with their friends to feel ok about being remote. Others will not. Do whatever you need to do to feel the best you can but make sure that remains within your own personal sphere and doesn't bleed out onto others. You don't know how you are making them feel with your personal struggles.

In closing, many of us are perfectly fine working alone. If it makes you uncomfortable, I am truly sorry but please don't pull everyone down into the misery you're experiencing by trying to enact inappropriate coping mechanisms. It's stressful for us Group A people and it defeats the whole reason we like to work remote. Please stop.