Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein appears to be happy while working at her kitchen table Tuesday, but finds that doing her job from her north Everett home has its challenges. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Herald columnist Julie Muhlstein appears to be happy while working at her kitchen table Tuesday, but finds that doing her job from her north Everett home has its challenges. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Distractions, tech glitches, all part of working from home

“It’s an adjustment for sure.” We’re out of the office as a coronavirus caution, but still on the job.

The bright line is blurred. An imaginary wall between my home life and workplace is gone. A directive received at the office Monday meant that if we could we should — work from home.

So on Tuesday, my first day of it, I set up the Dell laptop I don’t use all that often. From the kitchen table, using a landline for interviews and my cellphone to keep my Herald email always in sight, I set out to write a column.

That story made it into Wednesday’s paper, but not without a glitch. Hours after I’d finished it, my editor called. He could read it, but the column was locked, supposedly on my computer. Or somewhere. All I know is that it inconvenienced someone on our news desk.

Absolutely, I know I’m among the most fortunate as the coronavirus outbreak claims lives, seriously sickens thousands nationwide, costs people their livelihoods, and disrupts children’s schooling. I have the luxury of doing my job at home.

I also have new respect for co-workers and others who do that all the time. It’s more challenging than I would have guessed.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld, a clinical psychologist with The Everett Clinic, said Thursday he’s getting firsthand experience with this new normal. He and his wife are now working from home, giving him insights that may help the rest of us.

“The first thing, recognize this is disruptive. Things will not go smoothly. Instead, expect it’s going to be rough going,” he said.

“There are more distractions and interruptions, especially if family is around — kids or a partner,” he said. “Kids are confused when parents are home but not available to play.”

Thankfully, I’m not also running a makeshift school. On Wednesday, the Everett School District hosted events where computers were checked out to students needing them, a reminder of the thousands of kids home due to coronavirus precautions.

How tough that must be, helping your children keep learning while concentrating on your own work. In Seattle, my daughter and son-in-law are doing that.

And oh boy, the technology. At home, it’s likely not as suited for work as what you have in the office — mine sure isn’t. “We don’t have our IT departments. When things go upside down, we get grumpy,” Schoenfeld said.

I’ve been plenty distracted, too — by my dog Oscar, chores around the house, the mail carrier’s arrival, lawnmower noise and Facebook. I posted a photo of my laptop in the kitchen and said: “Just speaking for myself … this is way, way harder than working from work. Guess I’ll figure out how people do it.”

One Facebook comment came from Arvell Stancil, who worked at The Herald years ago and now lives across the country. “It’s an adjustment for sure,” he wrote. “I find I get too comfortable to want to work, haha.”

My discomfort goes beyond the awkward way a laptop’s touch pad works when I’m used to an old-school mouse. What’s really hard is the uneasy stress of being on the job while away from it. I didn’t have that issue while working remotely in more normal times.

When Everett was given an All-America City Award in 2002, I wrote that story on a company laptop from a hotel room in Washington, D.C., no problem. This is different. I’m feeling like a slacker, but without the freedom to slack.

Schoenfeld said it’s important to allow yourself some freedom. “Make time to take breaks. Go outside, take walks,” he said. “For couples, go by yourself. You’re spending much more time with your spouse.”

We may need a little distance from family at home. But Schoenfeld said a call to a sibling who lives far away or FaceTime chats with a friend can combat the isolation we’re feeling these days.

“Don’t keep everything inside,” he said. “Make that extra effort. We need to reach out to each other.”

And we’re not alone in this. From my kitchen, I spoke Tuesday with the CEO of a company in Oregon. It was her first day working from home as well. She was dealing with a printer that needed ink.

The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey, in a March 11 article titled, “How to work from home like a boss in case coronavirus forces you to,” offered tips and encouragement. “Most companies are not set up for this,” she wrote in the piece that includes this admission: “Sometimes I fold laundry (gasp!) on company time.”

While some people “swear by showering and getting dressed as if going to the office,” she suggested you “wear whatever you want.” It’s more important to keep supervisors informed about what you’re up to, and when you’ll be on the clock.

Bailey keeps her to-do list simple: “Stay focused and get stuff done.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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