If Virus Concerns Have You Working From Home, Here’s Some Advice from the Pros

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Michigan Ross Professor Sue Ashford and colleagues have identified strategies that help independent workers succeed.

photo illustration of woman working at home

As impacts from the new coronavirus / COVID-19 continue to spread, more employees may find themselves working from home due to health concerns. 

Sue Ashford

It can be a difficult adjustment, but Michigan Ross Professor Sue Ashford has some insights that might help: proven coping strategies used by independent and freelance workers, who often conduct business at home or in other nontraditional environments. 

Ashford and her colleagues, Gianpiero Petriglieri of INSEAD and Amy Wrzesniewski of the Yale School of Management, researched how these “gig economy” workers learned to thrive without the support system offered by traditional workplaces. Although their situation isn’t quite the same as workers told to stay home due to virus concerns, their experiences can still offer valuable lessons, Ashford said.

Ashford and her colleagues identified four specific strategies that independent workers use to maximize their happiness and effectiveness:

  • A connection to other people, which provides reassurance and confidence. “The more they could set up routine contact with other people — an agent, an editor, other coaches or consultants — the better off they were,” Ashford said. This element may be particularly important as much of your routine contact with people will be limited. Could you set up a regular Zoom call with a coworker also working at home, set up a Facebook group to share challenges and successes, or begin texting with folks you haven’t texted before to support them in their offline work?

  •  A connection to place such as a studio, a home office, or a coworking space. “They were very thoughtful about where they did their work. A physical work space can reinforce identity,” Ashford noted. Can you take small steps to make where you work at home inspirational for you as well as functional?

  • A connection to routines that bring structure to the work schedule. “This can be a ritual to start the work day, an action to transition out of work at the end of the day, or a favorite trick to get past a work obstacle,” Ashford explained. The virus has significantly disrupted our routines, but this can create an opportunity if you are thoughtful about what you substitute in their place. What new routines can you put into place to support your work and you in doing it?

  • A connection to purpose, or understanding the deeper calling that motivates the work. When this is present, “the work doesn’t change, but their feeling about the work changes. It helps them keep going when times are tough.” For many, there is a “why” behind what they do. The more you can articulate this for yourself and then remind yourself of it on a weekly or daily basis, the more emotional stability and grace you can bring to your work, Ashford said.

“The next several weeks may require a more radical self-management from all of us if we are quarantined, or begin to work much more from home. We will indeed face some of the challenges that many gig workers typically face, and their ideas for how they manage their situations might be of use to us all,” Ashford said.

Sue Ashford is the Michael and Susan Jandernoa Professor of Management and Organizations, and chair of management and organizations, at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

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Media Contact: Bridget Vis, Public Relations Specialist, visb@umich.edu