Local professionals are adapting to California's stay-at-home orders by carving ad-hoc offices out of their homes, learning new communication technologies and otherwise getting used to a new workplace reality some observers say may end up outlasting the coronavirus pandemic.
Internet-enabled communication has suddenly become vital, along with maintaining a reasonable level of productivity at home, blocking out household distractions and keeping a healthy work-life balance, according to people with experience in what's also called telecommuting.
The experience has dramatically altered the way people work and interact during the last two weeks, sometimes for the better. And while some staffs have been better prepared for the change than others, people going through the shift say they generally view the situation as workable over the long term.
MAKING IT WORK
A spokeswoman for Bakersfield-based Aera Energy LLC said employees who have been ordered to work from home have generally kept up with productivity expectations, even as the change has required substantial effort on the company's part.
The oil production company has had to increase its information technology staffing levels and pay for employees to purchase home-office equipment to ensure they do not suffer ergonomic injuries, spokeswoman Cindy Pollard said. The good news, she said, is that it's working.
"We're not seeing any indication of a relaxation or a slacking in productivity," Pollard said. "We know that we have a bunch of very can-do, resilient people that want to get the work done."
On Thursday, Cal State Bakersfield's Small Business Development Center put on a free, noontime webinar offering tips for setting up a successful home office space.
A series of speakers suggested specific equipment, such as email alternative Slack, teleconferencing software Zoom and project management system Asana.
One recommendation was to buy a headset geared toward video gaming, rather than the less expensive models used in corporate environments, for enhanced comfort and noise control.
Presenter Heather Berry emphasized the importance of keeping a daily routine that includes making your bed first thing in the morning, getting a dose of sunlight before work and then "faking" a commute home by getting outside after work to decompress.
She urged telecommuters to establish a workspace where young children at home will know they are not to interrupt their parents at work.
"Setting boundaries (is) going to be really important,” she said. "Your children are always going to see you as a parent. They’re not going to see you as an employee or employer."
Efficiency sometimes suffers, said Pacific Commercial Realty Advisors Executive Vice President Jeffrey Andrew. Employees working from home miss their large keyboards and dual monitors back at the office, he said by email.
He has also learned just how important social connections are during the stay-at-home order Gov. Gavin Newsom put into place last week.
"As we all work from home I have found it interesting when talking with clients that they just want to talk," he wrote. "Not so much about future business but just to talk about the unknown and how all this may play out in the long run."
Laura Hill, CEO and executive recruiter at Pinnacle Recruitment Services, said she expects to see more businesses allowing their employees to telecommute after the virus subsides.
"My prediction is that far more workers will be telecommuting regularly after this event and what is currently a strange situation will become the new norm for workers at home," she wrote in an email.
Working from home with children under the same roof, she has found the experience "peaceful and relaxing." But lines have to be drawn, she said.
Companies should establish a policy for working from home, one that ensures accountability while also recognizing that home influences can affect efficiency, especially for employees with children in the house.
Cheryl Scott, executive director of the Kern Economic Development Foundation, said by email she is getting used to working from her kitchen table. But that doesn't mean she prefers it to working at the office.
"The novelty has worn off, and I can see where it will be a challenge to balance work time and personal time," she wrote, adding that she misses her office mates.
Nyakundi Michieka, who as assistant professor of economics at CSUB is teaching up to 80 students at a time over the internet, said by email one of the bigger challenges of telecommuting is learning new technology platforms for communication. They take time to learn.
But he, too, suggested working from home may be the way of the future for some people.
"This experience will shed light on which jobs can be done from home and vice versa," he wrote.
Another outgrowth of the sudden need for widespread telecommuting is extended work hours, said residential real estate developer Austin Smith, co-owner of Bakersfield's Sage Equities.
He said and his wife, Sage co-owner Anna Smith, have set up an office in their rear guesthouse. He sometimes returns there after their two young sons have been put to bed for the night.
To remain on track the couple draws up lists of tasks to be accomplished, he said by email.
There are certainly trade-offs, he added. Home feels more important than ever, he said, but there's also a sense of isolation that he doesn't care for.
"It is an odd feeling to be cut off physically from each other," he wrote, "but we’re grateful to have so many ways to connect virtually. We’re all in this together."