We’ve talked before about the pros and cons of the growing telecommuting trend. But what happens when you’re suddenly a full-time telecommuter, not by choice, but by circumstance? We chatted with several office goers in the New York City metro area (including a few of our own from Herman Miller) who found themselves having to work from home after Hurricane Sandy struck the region. Now that their routines are getting somewhat back to “normal,” we asked them what they learned — and found that their combined experiences offer a few gentle reminders on how you can try to find the balance you need to successfully work from a home office (in less extreme situations, we certainly hope!).
1. Consider creating a dedicated workspace that offers few distractions.
Jennifer Evans, VP Marketing at Southern Living in Manhattan, lost power at her home in Morris County, New Jersey—one of the top four hardest-hit counties in the state—for two weeks. In turn, she and her husband Jeff took their two boys and their dog to her mother-in-law’s home. Jennifer, who already telecommutes when she can, knows she needs a space that provides little disruption while she’s working, so she usually hits the library or Starbucks. With the power down everywhere, however, neither locations were options. Instead, she found a way to her company’s outside office in Parsippany, NJ. “I just showed up on the doorstep and said, ‘Hi, I work in New York. Can you help me?’ They were great—they set us up on different computers and gave us server access.” Jeff, a high school teacher whose school was out, even ended up joining Jennifer at the office. “When you have to get work done, you just go into makeshift mode.”
Fortunately for Cristina Luna, an Art Director who works in Manhattan and lives in northern New Jersey, her home had electricity and running water. But with family and friends nearby who didn’t, she and her husband welcomed several people into their house to take shelter. Transportation difficulties kept Cristina away from the office for four days, however, and work deadlines were still looming. “With everyone there, it felt like a party—like I needed to be a hostess. But I was the only one who could do my job remotely, so I was also the only person working. And while I was more than happy to help everyone out, it was also unfortunately distracting since my work still needed to be delivered on time.”
2. Be prepared to make an extra effort to interact with people during work hours.
Working from home means more alone time—and everyone we interviewed mentioned missing out on regular connections with coworkers. “I missed the interaction with my colleagues and also the team environment,” explained Rob Jarschke, a contract senior interior designer for Herman Miller, whose Soho studio in Manhattan was without power for almost a week. “Collaboration is important in what I do each day.”
It only took Brooklyn resident Zovig Garboushian two days out of the office before she found a way to leave her apartment for the change of scenery her midtown Manhattan workspace could provide. “I had power and was able to work from home, but I very quickly felt stir crazy. So as soon as I heard that our office had power, I got approval from my manager to get a car service into the city,” she said. “I needed to talk with people, to laugh. I needed those day-to-day interactions again.”
3. Kids at home? Remember that that’s another job in itself.
With the power out in her Manhattan apartment, Randine Pastrovic, Herman Miller’s Marketing Lead for Specialty and Consumer, spent the week of the superstorm in a Times Square hotel room provided by her husband’s company. With her husband continually having to work and their regular daycare without power, Randine had to take on baby duty for their small daughter. “When she was asleep, that was the only time when I could jump online and take part in conference calls,” she explained.
With schools out everywhere, childcare was also an issue for Jennifer Evans and her husband, who were only able to spend working time in a satellite office after their nanny was able to pitch in again. But it was Cristina Luna’s full household that proved positive on the babysitting end. “I already work from home one day a week, and when I do, I know to have a sitter on hand for my toddler. So while we did have several people in our house during that time, at least I had lots of help with my daughter!”
4. Be sure to take a breather, move around — and step away from the desk.
Weather, power outages, and lack of transportation left many temporary telecommuters stuck inside with not much to do except work. “It made me restless. I really hated not being physically active,” stated Zovig Garboushian. Her first stop after getting to her office right after the lights came back on? Her nearest gym location. “I needed a break from not being able to really move around.”
Randine Pastrovic let breaks from work in her midtown hotel room turn into much-needed exercise — and regular check-ins on some people who needed it most. “I took my daughter for walks down to our apartment in Union Square,” she said. “Our next-door neighbors are older, and one can’t walk well, so they weren’t able to get out. We were able to bring them a transistor radio and other things they needed. We made sure to take that walk every day.”
Did you learn anything while working from home during Hurricane Sandy? Let us know in the comments section.
There are still many victims from Hurricane Sandy that need aid during this recovery period. To learn more about how you can help, click here.
Photo: Gabriela Herman