Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Corona Virus and the Work at Home Environment

In observing recent news media and LinkedIn chatter, reaction to the Corona virus pandemic has been mixed. In the business sector of our economy the severity of of reactions range from calm, measured statements of guidance to varying levels of uncertainty sometimes punctuated in panic. Similarly, reactive response by LinkedIn netizens has ranged across the board. In response to the recent work at home/quarantine mantra I’m most surprised by professionals’ postings expressing reservations/displeasure about working at home. Many broadcast media personalities (and LinkedIn netizens) now appear on camera in informal attire in a home office environment (or in front of a green screen). We might interpret this as adaptive bravado or a genuine attempt to illustrate the realities imposed by work at home isolation. The Corona virus epidemic is real and must be effectively managed. If you are able to work at home make the most of this advantage. Many working in factories or public/retail venues are not as fortunate as they face the possibility/reality of layoffs.

As a career sales and marketing professional in the semiconductor industry (I’m now semi-retired) I spent much of my work week visiting customers. On the road travel was the norm. With sales responsibility for most of North America I commuted by air on a regular basis. Closer to home I spent many hours in my company car. Office? My brief case, cell phone and laptop were my office most of the week. At home I had a well equipped office from which I managed a multi-million dollar sales territory and several other remote professionals. As a regional team we met on conference calls, customer visits, trade shows and often got in a quick wave as we traversed airports. If you’re a sales and marketing road warrior you’re familiar with this work day norm.

Working at Home

Many professionals are quite comfortable with a mixed itinerary of travel and a home office/office at home environment. Working from home requires discipline. If the idea of working at home alone is new to you, I’ll provide some friendly but essential advice.

- I’ll forego the obvious concerns with children, pets and family. Make the best possible arrangements and accommodations.

- Be properly equipped; phones/fax, computer/video cam etc. Maintain a dedicated a work area if possible, ideally a separate room where a closed door provides privacy and a quite environment. If possible/convenient, forward your office work phone to your home office or cell phone.

- Rise early and be dressed for the business day. Be prepared to receive visitors (at home) or leave at a moments notice. You might be called to your company’s business office or customer site unexpectedly. If you receive a video call you’ll be camera ready. If you’re dressed for business you’ll feel and be more effective and professional. Wear a neck tie when required (on camera or customer site).

- Contract essential services. My company contracted a local travel agent a few miles from my home. When needed the agent could deliver airline tickets/boarding passes to my home within minutes enabling a quick escape to customer sites.

- Contract an air courier, Fed-X, UPS, or DHL for home pick up service and delivery. Be prepared to send/receive important documents any time.

- Telephone answering service or answering machine? One of my reps hired a remote telephone receptionist to take messages. The receptionist was a very pleasant lady and seemed very efficient. A few weeks later he canceled the answering service. While she was a gracious voice on the phone, she had difficulty transcribing the highly technical messages left by our customers. When transcripted, terms like molecular beam epitaxy and electron beam lithography became hopelessly garbled. We laughed and agreed an answering machine might be better suited for our communications. Make the choice best suited for your profession.

- Be proactive. Keep in constant phone contact with your customers. Call to advise them you’re working at home in spite of the Corona virus concern. Assure them of your availability and your company’s services. An advisory phone call to your customer also provides an opportunity to update your sales forecast, shipment schedule or other important information.

- If it’s after 5:00 PM eastern time, call your customers in the central time zone and work westward until 5:00 PM there (or west to east). I would frequently receive phone calls from the Santa Clara factory after 5:00 PM my time. If the phone rang I answered as I often received important shipment information for my customers. Amusingly, some at the factory would grumble if I called there after 5:00 PM west coast time (8:00 PM my time). Set your own best guidelines on telephone hours. If my customers called I answered 24/7.

- Lunch and food. I don’t eat breakfast but have one cup of coffee in the morning. Lunch is thirty minutes including prep time. Your lunch menu and habits may vary but don’t be distracted while working. Dinner is after 5:00 PM. With much to do there should be no idle time.

- I’ll conclude with my commentary on video calls and conferencing. Video calls can be very useful. Example: a hardware customer with a smart phone and Wi-Fi can show you his problem; if process equipment you can see dials, gauges and abnormal mechanical behavior. If a personal call it can be advantageous to better read/assure your customer while negotiating contracts or sales/service issues. Unfortunately many feel uncomfortable on camera (as a TV and radio production student in college I don’t). Many aren’t camera ready and feel self conscious (bad hair day, make up etc.). In addition, with the proliferation of nonsense on the internet many are afraid of being “Skyped”. The definition of the term ”Skyped” varies, some positive some negative or humorous. Resultingly many are uncertain enough that they call using audio only. Unfortunate. After years of Star Trek and the futuristic video calling depicted in movies many are reluctant to communicate via video or the “Skype apparatus”. Be comfortable and professional what ever your choice.

- Multi-task. As I type this post, I’m listening to CNBC audio. I maintain diversity by also surfing Fox News, Fox Business News, Bloomberg and C-Span. Be informed. They might eliminate the Corona virus and you’ll have to go to the office. 

Gotta go and check email/LinkedIn. It’s lunch time!

Be safe everyone.

Regards to all,
Thomas D. Jay

Semiconductor Industry Consultant
Thomas D. Jay YouTube Channel

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