The true lessons of working from home

What vast amounts of alone time can do, if you’re lucky, is make you think about others

Alec BruceApparently, the pandemic that’s gripping the world is also making many of us more productive.

I know this because 14 marketing companies (I counted) have sent me emails over the past week telling me that while self-isolation might be lonely, it’s actually good for business. That, naturally, makes it good for me.

In fact, it’s so good that experts wonder why we didn’t think of it before. Home quarantine means better results in less time. It also means less overhead on things like cubicles and coffee machines. Mostly, it means housebound employees are more creative and independent than their less fortunate counterparts still toiling under a supervisor’s nose.

I don’t know. Maybe. But I’ve been a professional journalist since 1983, and I know a thing or two about working remotely. Enhanced productivity isn’t the first boon that comes to mind. Self-discipline is a quality you train for, regardless of where you work: a busy newsroom or a quiet stairwell.

What vast amounts of alone time can do, if you’re lucky, is make you think about others. Consider Cindy Schultz of Halifax. Here’s how I wrote about her recently for Atlantic Business Magazine of St. John’s, N.L.:

“When COVID-19 drained the juice from some of her dearest clients, the suddenly idle Halifax copywriter, art director and branding specialist came face to face with the question that must surely confront all marketing geniuses at some point in their careers: What’s on TV?”

In fact, she told me, “I could have just, you know, laid around and watched Netflix. But what’s the point of that? Why not take those hours and actually help people who are struggling, who are in trouble? If there’s someone out there that’s hurting and can’t afford any marketing, then I would be happy to assist with that.”

I wonder what the productivity gurus make of that.

But people like Cindy aren’t actually rare. We just don’t hear about them – the local heroes who go about their private business – as much as we do the game-changers, the brass-ring chasers, the main-chance dreamers and doers whose stories tend to crowd our inboxes.


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We don’t, for example, hear enough about this sort of effort, reported recently in Euro News:

“As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to sweep the United Kingdom, an initiative has begun to support doctors, nurses and other frontline hospital workers. At the centre of the efforts to rally behind health workers, businesses within the food and hospitality sector are offering up their services to provide sustenance to exhausted caregivers. Fresh Fitness Food is a London-based company that specialises in daily meal deliveries to athletes and gym-goers. But in the face of the coronavirus crisis, its CEO, Caspar Rose, said they’re offering heavily discounted meals to worn-out medical workers.”

During this period of self-isolation, when we’re supposed to be “all in it together,” I don’t want to spend even a moment thinking, let alone bragging, about how productive I’ve become. That preoccupation now seems hollow and oddly passé.

“For your own profit lies in the profit of your neighbor, and his in yours,” somebody ancient and wise said long ago.

This may be our time to reassess the true and durable meaning of productivity, while time is still on our side.

Alec Bruce is a Halifax journalist who writes about business, politics and social issues, and editor of Troy Media Affiliate news site The Bluenose Bulletin.

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