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4 Tips on Working From Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Some companies are using telework to deter the spread of the disease

spinner image A woman sits at a table in her house while she works from home
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The option to work from home is usually thought of as a perk, something that companies dangle to attract talented workers who dislike the daily commute. But with rising concerns about COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, more companies are telling employees to telework to prevent possible infections from spreading in the workplace.

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"Over the last few weeks, CDC has been on dozens of calls with different partners in the health, retail, education, and business sectors in the hopes that employers begin to respond in a flexible way to differing levels of severity, to refine their business response plans as needed,” says Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some companies already have decided that one of the best ways they can deter the spread of COVID-19 among their employees in cities like Seattle, an early center of the U.S. outbreak, is to tell them to work from home. Many of these companies — Twitter, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, for example — are tech giants with employees who are already accustomed to working from home.

But according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, only 29 percent of Americans work from home on a regular basis. That means that if more companies temporarily increase their telework options, many employees might have to work from home for an extended period for the first time. Here are four tips on how to work from home effectively amid the coronavirus outbreak:

1. Map out a home office.

If you'll be working from home for a week or longer, you'll probably need more space than the kitchen counter. Try to carve out a dedicated work area that's free from distraction and offers a semblance of privacy from your domestic life. Also, be sure to consider whether the chair and desk you'll be working from are comfortable enough to use for several hours. Your employer might be able to provide ergonomically correct options and advice.

2. Talk with the IT team.

An extended period of telework will require more than just the laptop you might occasionally bring home. Make sure you have the correct power cords and adapters for your devices, of course. But you might consider adding other computer accessories: a mouse, for example, to make navigating your laptop easier, or a headset for videoconferencing. Check with your company's information technology team ahead of time to see if you can get set up. When you're discussing what gadgets and cords you'll need to bring home, be sure to also ask the IT team about how to set up and use some software on your computer when you're outside the office. Be sure to learn how to access your company's virtual private network (VPN), if there is one, as well as your work email account.

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3. Keep in touch with coworkers.

When you're working from home, all of the brief conversations that normally happen in the break room or after a meeting disappear. That means it's even more important to make the extra effort to keep your colleagues looped in about your progress on assignments and your schedule in general. Be sure to connect with coworkers frequently by email, phone, video chat or web chat. That means having an up-to-date contact list on hand, in case you have trouble accessing your company network or email from home.

4. Stick to a schedule.

Keeping a daily routine really matters when your office also is your home, experts say. Without one, it can be easy to get distracted by your surroundings. Establish one or two steps that signal you're about to start your workday — such as brewing a fresh pot of coffee or turning off the morning TV news. And schedule and time your work breaks to make sure they don't take over your day. It's also important to have a routine to signal your workday has ended, such as shutting down any computer programs you use for work or maybe going for a short walk.

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