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About the guest: Shelly Palmer, CEO of The Palmer Group, hosts the Think About This podcast and has been named LinkedIn’s Top Voice in Technology. He has 23 years of experience working from home and is a regular contributor to Fox 5 New York, CNBC, and CNN. The following is an edited version of the conversation.
Q: What tips can you offer for people adjusting to remote work?
SP: Create a workspace for yourself. It could be as simple as the cupboard under the stair, like Harry Potter, or a shelf in the kitchen. Then, you need a couple of rules for everyone cohabitating with you: “When I'm in this space, I'm working. When I'm not in that space, I'm on a break.”
In the earliest part of my work-at-home career, the biggest failure, and the greatest learning, was with my young kids. They would come into my home office with an emergent problem like they had to color a picture. I wanted to be a good dad, so I stopped what I was doing and colored with them or whatever it was. I found I was not a particularly good dad and not a particularly good worker. So I gave myself real office hours in the house: 9-to-5. I told my family, “I'm not home. I'm at work. I’ll take out the garbage or move the car during my break, but it can't happen while I'm at my desk trying to conduct business.” Once you set those boundaries, everything else takes care of itself.
Q: Do you think this sudden shift will have a long-term effect on any industry?
SP: There are some sacred cows that are being questioned pretty mightily right now.
For example, as COVID-19 was ramping up, I had a doctor’s appointment. It was just for a consultation, so I asked if we could do it via email or videoconference. My doctor had all kinds of reasons for saying no—he couldn't get the insurance to copay, there was malpractice insurance liability around any email, and so on. I had to go to the office for that appointment.
One month later, I had another appointment and assumed it would be in his office again. He said it would be over Zoom. Within a few weeks, a virtual visit went from something that could never happen to boom - done.
As another example, I have clients in London. They still want to talk to me, even though I can’t travel. From now on, those will be virtual meetings. They have no interest in dropping $11,000 on a first-class ticket twice a month like they used to. The airline industry had already taken a full day out of our schedules on each side of every trip. Do you think my clients are ever going to let me pillow three days for a one-day meeting? They're going to sit me in front of my laptop with my camera and my headset, they're going to put a whiteboard on the screen, and we're going to have the meeting. Who in their right mind would allow those meetings to return to in-person? That doesn't make any sense.
Q: What’s your advice on technology and working from home?
SP: The simpler the better. I'm a major proponent of just using the webcam on your computer. The content is more important than production value.
Some decisions will come directly from corporate, or your IT or HR director, but so many of us are working from home with no direction. We are just trying to interface with our teams and our clients and our friends, and we're trying to have one common way to do that.
Understand how your company wants you to work and collaborate with your team. Will you use Slack or Microsoft Teams for internal communication? How will you share files most efficiently? Are you going to use Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive? If your company is regulated by the finance or health industries, you might have constraints.
Your internet bill might increase to $300 a month to support the bandwidth you now need. The good news is some corporations are stepping up to help people pay for that. A lot of people don't realize that the upload connection is more important for video conferencing than the download connection. It's important to ask the right questions of your providers.
Q: How can people mentally work through this?
SP: I can tell you what is working for me and my family. First of all, acknowledge that it's a very stressful time and give people a little extra room to freak out once in a while. It's not about some extra papers on the table or someone not cleaning up the kitchen. Everyone is a little more short-tempered than usual, but everyone's scared out of their wits. This is anything but normal.
I can't make it normal, but I can make it normal-ish. I have a morning ritual. I go for my walk, I have my coffee, I have my breakfast. I'm a musician, so I practice for a half-hour. Then, I sit down at my desk and I do my work. Create daily routines for yourself that are sustainable.
A lot of people talk about Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Everybody shorthands that book as “survival of the fittest,” and that is completely and absolutely not what the book says. The book talks about the survival of the most adaptable. People adapt to external forces and survive long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation.
Human beings are amazingly adaptable. Whether we know it or not, we’re naturally selected to be that way. So let’s be that way. The best advice I can give anybody is, you can't control anything from the outside, but you can control how you respond to it. Be adaptive. Understand it. Do the best you can and move on.
We have friends, and we have the ability to reach out to one another. Imagine how much worse this would be if we couldn't all be together right now, as we are. So let's take advantage of the fact that we are alone together. Let's take advantage of the fact that we have the technology, and everything we need to get through this is online, and it's free. I'm not telling you it's going to be great. I don't know the future, but I know that right now, this minute, everybody's okay.
As remote work becomes the new normal, Staffing.com has created a dedicated space to offer insights and tips. On our Rise of Remote pages, you’ll find the Remote Playbook, articles, podcasts, and live streaming videos with experts in the world of remote work. Watch new Rise of Remote Live episodes each Wednesday at 4:30 ET on our Staffing.com LinkedIn page. Visit and subscribe to stay connected.