Companies and organizations around the world have turned to telecommuting as a way to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) is no exception. Since the beginning of March 2020, SoftBank strongly encouraged employees to work from home, and with the Japanese government’s emergency declaration in April, all SoftBank employees began working remotely.*
With some exceptions for mission critical work related to the operation of telecommunications infrastructure.
While telecommuting has its benefits, it also brings new challenges. Some may not be sure how to track their work times, while others may wonder if their colleagues are slacking off or not. The mental effects of telecommuting is another source of concern.
To get some insight into how to work from home effectively and cope with the challenges of telecommuting, SoftBank News summarized the diary of Ms. Y, an employee who started telecommuting from February 2020. Please note that this story details the experience of one employee for illustrative purposes, and that every employee has their own style of working.
About Ms. Y
Ms. Y joined SoftBank in 2016. She’s in charge of programs that support the hiring of people with disabilities and the promotion of diverse workstyles. She said, “It’s already been two months since I started working from home in February. In this diary I’ve listed up the things that I think are important when it comes to telecommuting.”
The reason I started telecommuting early
I have a pre-existing condition that means I’m susceptible to the severe effects of COVID-19. When SoftBank issued its directive that encouraged telecommuting, I started to work from home.
Until about the middle of February, my routine was a combination of going to the office and working from home. I occasionally went outside for personal business. But with the growth in the number of cases mostly in China, I got a bit anxious about going outside. I gradually began to stay at home more.
Transitioning to telecommuting with the support of team members
From a work standpoint, I first got my superiors and team members to be aware of my shift to telecommuting. The meetings that were scheduled with other parties were switched to online meetings and I requested colleagues to take my place at meetings with visitors. While coordinating these and other matters, I gradually transitioned to working from home. This went quite smoothly, as SoftBank pro-actively uses digital tools for its work.
By not meeting people regularly, I was worried about becoming less motivated and missing chances for interaction, but since there were a lot of online meetings, everything was OK! My mind was put at ease since I could see my teammates’ faces during meetings.
To get a change of scenery during my personal time and to stay in shape, about twice a week I went to the driving range and practiced my golf swing at a safe distance from other people in a fresh air environment.
From about late February, COVID-19 started to spread in countries outside China, and there were reports of infections in Japan. So I stopped going to the driving range. But to keep myself refreshed, I started going for hour-long walks with my mother every night.
Telecommuting begins in earnest. Teamwork is key to overcoming the crisis!
In March, the virus began to spread in Japan, so I made a complete switch to working from home. My superiors and teammates were already aware of my status, but to make everyone else in my division aware, I created digital cards to fully explain my transition.
I started my days by activating a chat screen to communicate with colleagues on my PC and to report that I was starting work. By around lunch time, I finished checking mails and composing documents.
During my lunch breaks, I cooked my own meals (I think I’ve become a better cook!).
In the afternoon, I had about two hours of internal and external meetings. At other times I planned projects and created proposals. At the end of the work day, I let my colleagues know I was signing off by using a chat messenger and logged in my hours.
But I found some issues with the home work environment.
Other than during online meetings, it was hard to see how others are doing, so I placed my smartphone on my desk and configured it so I could see my colleagues’ faces at all times. That way I didn’t feel like I was separated from them. For instance, I could see if it was a good time to call someone or discuss a certain matter, and this was crucial to smooth communications.
After working at home for a long time, I found the lines between work time and private time became too blurred and I had trouble distinguishing between them. So I decided to apply a lot of makeup for my work hours. Since my colleagues were seeing me on-screen, they probably couldn’t tell the difference (laughs)!
The challenges of telecommuting
With online meetings, it’s hard to see the reactions of other participants, so the presenter can feel lonely. So we thought of ways to convey our reactions. For online orientations and presentations with a lot of participants, attendees entered “8888888” (as a way to show applause) and other comments into the chat screen to liven things up. It was much better than having a presenter continue to talk into complete silence...
But there are some good points to telecommuting as well.
When drafting materials, I couldn’t get immediate feedback from colleagues like I could at the office. So before I started, I thoroughly checked in advance what the outcome should be. This has reduced a lot of redundant revision work, and I feel that my abilities to create materials has improved.
Better time spent at home
While I used to go to the driving range to practice my golf swing twice a week, after the spread of the virus, I switched to hour-long walks in the evening with my mother. With the increased spread in early March, I began to refrain from these evening walks.
So that led to the question, what can I do at home for a change of pace?
I got my mother involved, and to regulate our body clocks we both began to do stretching exercises that follow radio calisthenics broadcasts starting at 6:30am, and we gave each other lymphatic massages at night (and sometimes did workouts). For the lymphatic massages we followed programs on DVDs (for about 30 or 60 minutes) to get relaxed before bedtime.
Even with those activities, I could feel stress building up sometimes, so I tried these stress-relievers at home.
- Making jam, bread and udon noodles at home on the weekends
- Working with my dad in the garden
- Thinking about what I could do for my grandmother, who I couldn’t meet in person due to COVID-19
- Started working on my six pack abs, a dream of mine
- Doing a major spring cleaning
- Completing video games
Posting my cooking on social media
My special dishes: Dutch oven whole roast chicken and ramen noodle soup. At my dad’s request, I ordered a chicken from Akita Prefecture’s Hinai region, which is well-known for its delicious, locally-raised chickens. While it was tough to prepare the chicken with its weight of 1.8kg, it also made for a great soup! I was delighted that family members enjoyed eating it.
Three important lessons to make telecommuting work
Here are three important things I’ve learned based on my own telecommuting experience.
1) Keep a regular routine
- Set constant times for waking up and going to sleep
- Establish a routine that switches between being “on” and “off”
- Keep track of how much you eat (use an app to do this)
- Make exercise a habit
...and stick to other regular habits to have a good daily life.
In this situation where we have to take care of ourselves, I find it’s important to manage my time in a comfortable fashion. By finding new ways to stay in good health, I’d like to enjoy even more comfortable days even after the COVID-19 crisis passes.
2) Think of things you can look forward to
By this I’m not talking about dangling a carrot as an incentive -- it’s about getting inspired about the future. Thinking this way helps me reduce my irritation about things I can’t do now and keeps me focused on the horizon.
3) Rely on those around you
Rather than keeping things to myself and thinking negatively, I rely on people around me. I have friends and family to do things for me, and thought about things we could do together. By making promises about things we’ll do in the future, we’re able to keep a positive outlook.
While keeping an eye on the situation and imagining how things could evolve, I took action early and managed my feelings. After we get through this crisis, I want to be grateful for the things we previously took for granted and to be more conscious of my thoughts and actions in the days ahead.