geoffrey chaucer
This guy worked from home during the plague and changed the English language. What are you going to do?

If you’re suddenly forced to work from home and worry you can’t get anything done, imagine you’re stuck in Europe during the worst days of the Black Death/Bubonic Plague.  Now consider that some of the greatest works in Western literature came out of that time. And they had no WebEx or Slack to help.

Boccaccio wrote The Decameron. Chaucer practically invented the English Language with Canterbury Tales. Christine de Pizan became the first woman to make her living as an author during those awful days. Yes, bad things happened, but great work got done and the world changed forever.

Your work might not revolutionize the English language, but there are some significant things you can do right away if you are suddenly working from home:

  • Talk to your manager about what they expect you to (realistically) accomplish during this time.
  • Be very clear on what needs to be done. What are the “have to do’s” in order to keep the team running? Talk to your manager, customers, and colleagues.
  • Make sure that you and your teammates share priorities.  When you aren’t within shouting distance of each other it’s very easy to focus on your tasks at the expense of the big picture.
  • Set accurate status updates, along with the best ways and times to reach you. Let the world know your location has changed, and how best to reach you in a hurry. Set your Outlook out of office message (even if you will be working regular hours) to reflect your changed status and when people can expect to hear back from you.) Use your availability notifications in Slack, or Skype for Business, or Microsoft teams to let people know you are available or when they can reach you (the point is they ALL have this capability… use it)
  • Reach out to all your stakeholders, preferably by webcam. Discuss with your customers, teammates and boss what you’re working on, when you’ll be available to them and confirm that you aren’t missing any important deadlines or information. Being proactive will also help you maintain relationships and encourage everyone else to use their webcams as well. It will show a level of commitment beyond just a one-line message:  “I’m working from home this week.” And don’t roll your eyes at me. The sooner you and your teammates get used to using webcams for fast, casual conversation the less of a big deal it will be.
  • Stock up on office supplies, toner and whatever you’ll need to get work done. While toilet paper might be top of mind for you, it’s a good time to make sure you have at least one extra printer cartridge, a ream of paper, and all the contact numbers and emails you need to get things done. Remember, that if you lose internet connection (and it happens for even the most innocent reasons for short periods) and all your contacts are online, it can be problematic.
  • Build in time to take care of yourself. Sure, the gym might be closed and you feel like you’re under house-arrest, but you can still take walks (which don’t require person to person communication or touching surfaces) stretch and exercise in your home, and generally practice good physical and mental health. Stock up on healthy snacks as well.

Many people are stressing about working from home. It can be a stressful transition to be sure, but just stop and think: What would I be doing if I were at my usual desk, and how would I do it? Then take a deep breath and get to it.

After all, it might be rough, but at least you’re not writing a 300 page book in cursive with a goose feather for a pen. Look on the bright side folks.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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