Workers face challenges as they punch the clock from home

5 min read
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Courtesy of Christopher Wright

Washington resident Denise Kalakewich works from home.

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Courtesy of Christopher Wright

Washington resident Denise Kalakewich works from home.

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Jennifer Logan Bayline, chemistry professor at Washington & Jefferson College, is assisted by her 6-year-old daughter, Mallory, for an olfactory test.

Before the coronavirus began its inexorable creep across the landscape, Denise Kalakewich would begin her days driving to Pittsburgh from her Wolfdale home and working as an operations analyst for a transportation company.

Then, she would head back and clock in for a few hours at the Huntington Learning Center of Washington, where she is a tutor. In the hours when she wasn’t at either job, she was an independent beauty consultant for the Mary Kay cosmetics company.

Her routine, like those of thousands of others, came to a skidding halt in mid-March. She can’t get together in person with customers who might want to try Mary Kay products, and her two other places of employment told workers to quit coming to the office and work from home.

Now that Kalakewich has retreated to her house, that requires switching from one laptop to another as the day progresses.

“This is unprecedented,” she said.

Kalakewich has an awful lot of company right now. The shutdown of most essential services across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for many workers in industries like travel, restaurants and retail. But members of the workforce whose duties from 9-to-5 revolve around crunching numbers, sussing out the deeper meanings behind data, or slinging words around on a page have been able to stay between their own four walls and continue earning their daily keep, at least for the time being.

They’ve taken to their home offices, or set up laptops on kitchen tables. They connect with colleagues in online meetings, and stay in touch through email and text messages. It’s easier than at any other time in our history to be in contact and productive without leaving your abode. And setting your alarm clock a little later, not having to battle traffic and making every day casual day does have its advantages.

But working from home can pose some formidable challenges. Figuring out when to turn off the computer, switch off the phone and fulfill household obligations can be tricky. With schools and daycare centers closed, some parents are having to keep one eye on young children while working.

Jennifer Logan Bayline, an associate professor of chemistry at Washington & Jefferson College, has been using Mallory, her 6-year-old daughter, as a kind of lab assistant. In her perfume chemistry lab, she’s been making videos with her daughter to demonstrate experiments. During her online lectures, she shows the videos to students and goes over the procedure. The students are then given data to analyze for their lab reports.

Logan Bayline said she feels lucky she was able to get to know her students for half a semester before W&J administrators closed down the campus. If there’s an upside to teaching remotely, she said she feels like she is “learning a new tool” that she could use once the coronavirus is a safely distant memory.

Experts say people working remotely should keep a daily schedule, put a routine together, designate a specific workspace, and make sure that space works ergonomically. They also say workers should continue to “socialize” with colleagues via text messages or email in order to maintain a sense of camaraderie.

According to Heather Starr Fiedler, who chairs the Department of Community Engagement at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, a large part of our interaction at work is social.

“Our co-workers are a community,” she explained. “We feed off each other’s ideas and energy, not just for work-related items but also just to connect on a personal level.”

Many experts also advise wearing clothes you would normally wear to work even if you are toiling at home and no one but the people you share a household with see you. They argue that wearing something work attire will boost your productivity, much more so than wearing sweats and pajamas all day.

Kalakewich confessed that on her first couple of days working at home, “I was lazy,” but she soon found herself slipping into her work attire “just because it made me feel better, so I’m in work mode. I’m trying to have the same routine as I would. I’m trying to make it as normal as you can. It’s difficult. You have to get into that state.”

Claysville resident Brylyn Ealy is a caseworker for the Center for Community Resources in Washington, and she explained that being able to meet with and assess clients in person cannot happen while she is working from home. Nevertheless, “it’s going a lot better than I thought. It’s very convenient. It’s very easy to be at home. There’s no commute.”

Despite upsides like that, Kalakewich finds herself missing the in-person interaction you can’t have when you are working remotely.

“I miss meeting with the kids,” she said. “The personal connection is not there. You can see them on the screen, but it’s not the same.”


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