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Working Without Going To Work

March 20, 2020
photo of Gary Oppenheimer in a garden Gary Oppenheimer

In my prior posting about a week (now feels more like a lifetime) ago, when people were just starting to be asked to work from home, when cities were not yet ordering people off of the streets, and when toilet paper was still somewhat available, I wrote about my experience of “telecommuting” over the past 4 decades.

When I launched in 2009, there was no way I was going to set up an office when everything that needed to be done could be easily accomplished from my home office. My work involved helping two remote volunteers build the web site, creating partnerships with the Feeding America food bank network, reaching out to people who could give me critically needed input and advice, contacting media people who could help promote the program as well as gardening groups nationwide.

Give me a computer, a phone and (back then) a fax number, and I was good to go. Indeed, within 150 days of launching in May 2009, the first 1,000 food pantries had already joined – each eager for fresh food for their hungry clients.

Technology has moved on, better positioning nonprofits and companies to work with the best available people, not based on where they are located but on their skills and capacity to work on their own.  

Over the years, we’ve had amazing staff people from all over, working as a team as if they were in the same room. Indeed I did not know for three years that one of the people I hired, was actually taller than me (yes… lots of people are).

We developed a corporate culture (wearing hats at our weekly video staff meetings), a non-hierarchical structure enabling any staff person or board member to work together on their own, and, after some growing pains, moving shared information to the cloud (we use Google Drive).

An important part of making it work is having people who can work on their own.

Today, with millions of office workers suddenly working from home, there is a transition required for those used to being supervised as well as those used to hovering over the desk of their subordinates. Being on your own a bit as well as letting those under you work on their own may be at first, unsettling, but in the long run, if everyone steps up, things work better.

  1. People who suddenly don’t need to commute can get more sleep and therefore work better
  2. People can take a break when they really need it without “looking bad” to their boss
  3. People concentrating on something don’t get interrupted unnecessarily
  4. The cost saving in commuting and reduced dry cleaning (remember – you can now work in a tee shirt and torn jeans, or if on video meetings, a dress shirt and torn jeans) leaves a bit more money in everyone’s pocket.
  5. No one is late for work because they were stuck in traffic or couldn’t find a parking space
  6. You never leave important papers you wanted to review at the office (or at home)

It is also more important than ever to remember that when your work day is done, so is your work. Unless there is something important, stop checking your office mail, let the calls go to voice mail (I like Google Voice because voice mails come in as transcribed emails in case something urgent needs to be attended to), and live the rest of your life.

If you have it, you might even want to use a separate computer for office and personal stuff so that once your work day is done, you totally turn off the office computer and temptation to “look one more time” is reduced.

It is also critically important to make sure that your virus protection program is up to date, that your wifi password is strong (I actually use one wifi network for my computers and another just for home entertainment/TV as an added safety).

Working from home may be a temporary circumstance for you, or it may become the new norm. When the COVID-19 nightmare is over, the residual improvements in our society will result in more efficient business/nonprofit operations, a cleaner environment, a better economy, and I believe, more people experiencing work as piece of their life rather than trying to squeeze in living around their work.

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