Rachel Casanova, a former associate principal and senior consultant in our Planning+Strategies practice that lives just north of New York City, shares five major takeaways from her week of obligatory working from home post-Superstorm Sandy.
1. It’s worth investing in a generator.
When you’ve lost access to electricity, just being able to turn on an overhead light can be liberating. In my home, we have a single 12’ x 12’ room powered by a generator, which means we still have immediate access to outlets, a TV, internet (thanks to our above-ground fiber optic lines), and heat – which all added up to a huge difference. I recommend everyone hardwire a generator into their home for these increasingly frequent situations. As an NYC politician said in response to the storm, “This is not a political statement, but weather patterns are changing. We are seeing 100 year weather patterns every 2 years.”
2. A landline is a blessing, even if you have to share it.
My husband and I both continued working from home post-Sandy, which meant both of us were in that 144 square foot room interacting with clients around the world that still had business as usual. With the unreliability of our cell phone signals, he and I spent several days negotiating the home phone back and forth between us. While far from ideal, sharing our landline was a much better deal than crowds of New Yorkers that had to line up to make a single payphone call.
3. Real Time Communication Tools Keep us in the Flow of Business.
I have found a new love for instant messaging. The big difference between IM and email is that the former is synchronous and the latter is asynchronous (thank you, David Coleman, for the terms). With IM, I can have had truly live conversations with my colleagues in a way that email cannot match. When you add screen sharing capabilities to the mix, the formerly complex process of collaborating on editing a document becomes simple, even with a highly decentralized team. The questions, interjections, and minor interruptions that keep group conversations on track can be regained through IM.
4. When hooked up to reliable internet, your computer can do more than you ever realized.
While I continued to rely heavily on IM immediately post-Sandy, I was delighted to discover that I also have a soft phone on my computer. This means that I can plug my standard headphones into my microphone-enabled laptop, and treat it like my work phone. Even though my work phone number primarily connects with a desk phone at my office, now I can still reach people through that number while I’m on the run, which (for the most part) minimized confusion for the people that I was calling.
5. Parents, as much as we want to, can’t fully take on two roles at once.
“Working from home” is not a euphemism for “taking care of the kids while occasionally sneaking in work.” Children definitely need to be attended to, and adults who try to take care of their children and simultaneously do work from home are usually less effective at both. While I adore my children and also love what I do, I know my own limitations; these two passions simply can’t be done well together. After the first few days of Sandy recovery, my husband and I were able to secure a wonderful babysitter for a few key hours of the day. This meant we both got the opportunity to be fully ‘at work’, with the added bonus of quick smiles and hugs with our children, during the work day.