For a healthy mind, body and business

Working from home: Remote working lessons from China

working from home alone, remote worker
Credit: Burst

Coronavirus is throwing many workers into an unprecedented situation. Organisations across the globe are putting together their business continuity plans for the Covid-19 pandemic. While we are seeing a mass transition to remote working, there are people in China who have been experiencing this online shift for several weeks now. Remote working tips are flooding the headlines but there are some immediate challenges that businesses need to address.

For millions in China, there was little preparation time. As the Chinese New Year holiday came to an end, people were not returning to the office but staying home and trying to establish a new work-day norm.

The Homeworker recently spoke with Rajesh Kripalani, an international educator based out in Suzhou, China, about his experiences of the sudden switch to working from home and how he has had to adapt to it whilst also having the children staying home as well.

Adapting to working from home

He admits, “The first two weeks were chaotic.” With no sense of how long this would go on for or how widespread this would eventually become, they were thrown into survival mode, having to get through day by day without the benefit of a prepared action plan. 

“There was a mad rush to find some kind of structure,” says Kripalani. They had to suddenly make choices on technology platforms and hope that they – and the connectivity – remained stable.

“We suddenly had to learn new skills… There’s a lot of online technology but this online teaching experience raised the stakes that much higher. It was a very steep learning curve for some; there were tech failures and connectivity issues, which have been common to most.”

Over the past month, Kripalani says he and his family have made the adjustment but it has thrown up several lessons and considerations for organisations who are about to implement a work-from-home policy. 

“There are times of the day where all four of us are in different corners of the house on different devices.”

Remote working tips

  • Technology is the lifeline but ensuring people know the basics is crucial. A small issue such as not being able to log in becomes a very big issue without immediate IT support. Checking that the whole team can access and use the technology adequately avoids lengthy delays. In the first few days, Kripalani says, a lot of “fires were being put out.”
  • Not everybody has the latest devices and fast connections. Whilst you can provide workers with laptops and equipment, Kripalani pointed out you’re relying on everybody to have access to the same Internet speeds and if using home devices, the right models. There need to be allowances for that.
  • Workers need a set routine to their day. “If there’s no routine, things go south very quickly,” says Kripalani. He describes the first two weeks as a “settling in period”  where they were figuring out a timetable to the day. “I think it was only towards the end of the second week that we began to feel a sense of the rhythm that was working for us… Without structure, we would have gone insane.”
  • Be mindful of enough downtime for everybody in the family. “You are multi-tasking at a pace you’re not used to before,” warns Kripalani. “For us, we’ve been intentionally aware of that and we try to mitigate it as much as we can. Part of our routine is to step out at least once a day, just for a walk to get fresh air. We don’t allow our kids to stay inside all day if we can help it.”
  • Be conscious of how much screen time you will be having, particularly if children are being remotely educated. “There are times of the day where all four of us are in different corners of the house on different devices… By the end of the day, people are exhausted.” He found that it was necessary to reduce screen time and limit their video calls to about three a day maximum.
  • Remember to have regular check-ins across the team. It can be a worrying and stressful situation with the health issues alone, as well as having to cope with an unfamiliar working routine.

Working from home with children

Although it’s unusual to find an entire family having to isolate in their home with everybody needing to work and live together, it’s a situation we may all face as Coronavirus spreads. Working from home when the children are around adds to the pressures.

“It’s a juggle,” admits Kripalani. “You have to make sure the kids are on task, you are running your own classes and food is on the table when it needs to be.”

He said getting outside every afternoon was a must, just for a short walk. They made it part of their daily routine and meant spending time together as a family as well.

For his seven-year-old, Kripalani says the issues have been similar for all families with younger children. “The biggest challenge has been giving him the attention that he needs, social interaction and the play.”

Setting a strict timetable for the entire family has been the only way around it. This ensures everyone gets individual attention, time for their work and family time.

He says the problems have been less technology-related and more down to the social isolation for the children. However, he again pointed out the issues that some families face with not having the latest technology. If you’re needing the most up-to-date apps and software but don’t have the correct model of device, it’s not a level playing field.

Future implications

Kripalani says it has shown them the importance of having an emergency action plan should this sort of situation ever arise again. It has also highlighted the positive applications for the technology and the scope to use remote working when you might ordinarily take sick leave. 

“It has opened up opportunities for students who are at risk or who need support because they can’t be in school for whatever reason… We’ve learned that I don’t have to stop teaching if I can’t make it to school. I can teach from where I am depending on my state of health.”

Some people who were reticent about using the technology are now “having fun with it because they’ve learned what can be done.” Skillsets have gone up as has confidence.

“The impact of this, we’ll only learn in time,” Kripalani says. “We’re too much in the immediate moment right now.”

About the author

Louise is an award-winning journalist and speaker who focuses on working from home, remote work and wellbeing. She is the founder of  The Homeworker, which is dedicated to helping you thrive when you work from home. The Homeworker publishes articles that are designed to keep you healthy, happy, fulfilled, and more productive in work and life.


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