People are adjusting to working from home for the long haul

Meghan McCarty Carino May 22, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
After two months of working remotely, people are adjusting to the idea of working from home long-term. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

People are adjusting to working from home for the long haul

Meghan McCarty Carino May 22, 2020
After two months of working remotely, people are adjusting to the idea of working from home long-term. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been more than two months since stay-at-home orders sent millions of workers home, with kids and partners crowding houses and folks trying to manage scattered teams under challenging conditions. Marketplace has been telling workers’ stories since the early days of quarantine, and we checked back in this week to see how things have changed.

We first talked to Eric Ciesielski in mid-March, when the account executive for a software company in Cleveland was working from a card table in the basement playroom, the screams of his children frequently in the background.

Not much has changed since then. He still doesn’t have a desk, even though he’s probably going to work from home permanently. His company is doing OK, but it’s giving up some of its office space, which could make things tricky for a long time.

“The kids are much less respecting of my space,” he said — especially his 1-year-old.

“I think she just sees it as ‘Daddy’s home, Daddy’s not going back to work,'” he said. “She kind of just thinks of it as a big vacation.”

In Berkeley, California, freelance writer Allison Landa was chafing at her crowded workspace after just the first week of quarantine. Her husband, who works in quality assurance at Bayer, and her 4-year-old son were both packed into their small two-bedroom apartment and at each other’s throats.

“We haven’t killed each other yet, which is wonderful,” she said. In fact, things have gotten much better. The chaos has forced her to become more Zen about interruptions, like her barking dogs or occasional video conference intrusions by a pantsless child.

“I used to be much more uptight about stuff like that,” she said. “Now I just sort of laugh, and I’m like, ‘Well, meet my son.’”

She enjoys having lunches and going on midday walks with her family — time together they never really had before.

And the normal rhythms of work are starting to return for Eric Reddy and his sales team at human resource software company Reward Gateway in Boston.

Back in April, they struggled being sequestered at home, with the prospect of making sales pitches during a pandemic not too appealing.

“That’s an interesting place to put a salesperson to say, ‘Hey, don’t sell for a little bit,'” he said. But business has picked up since then.

“I’ve definitely noticed improvement in the engagement and the morale of the team,” he said, “because they’re able to have more conversations, people are picking up the phones when they’re giving them a call.”

The situation has forced him to become a better communicator, and he said he feels more connected to his team as they’ve gone through some hard times together. He said three employees had to take time off because they came down with COVID-19. They’ve all recovered and are back at work now … from home, that is.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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