Working from home has quickly become the new norm for many workers around Ithaca as New York State has increasingly raised restrictions on group gatherings and workplaces to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
In times like these, we have to turn to experts of the field to guide us, and Scott Dawson is certainly that. The software engineer from Trumansburg has been working from home for 22 years and self-published a book in July 2019 called “The Art of Working Remotely: How to Thrive in a Distributed Workplace” that proved quite timely as less than a year later a significant portion of the American workforce has been sent home.
In response to the recent wave of remote-working, Dawson decided to publish most of his book online for free at www.artofworkingremotely.com. Dawson wanted to help people strategically, which inspired him to make the latter two portions of the book free. The first section, he said, is mostly based on his anecdotal experiences and personal routines, which make it less universally useful during this period of time. But the second and third parts are based around making sure people have the physical and emotional tools necessary to succeed in such a role.
“A lot of people put out prescriptive work remotely advice and a lot of it is just kind of an echo-chamber,” Dawson said. “So it was important to me to cast it in the light of my own story.”
Dawson expects the next few weeks to be a bit bumpy for people who have to transition to working remotely, but hopes that the parts of the book he has made available can smooth the adjustments a bit.
“Suddenly they’re having to learn tools, because tools are important to facilitate communication, but also different behaviors,” Dawson said. “Working remotely takes discipline and enhanced communication and empathy and there’s a whole set of soft skills that are really important. Not everyone is meeting everyone else at the same level. So it’s a question of ‘Do I have the infrastructure to make this work well?’ and ‘Are my staff, the people I’m relying on, equipped to do this well?’”
Unlike many today, Dawson began working from home out of personal preference. He told his boss at the time that, because he didn’t want to live in New York City anymore and wanted to avoid the hassle of a daily commute, he’d be looking for another job. But the company liked the work he had been doing so much that they decided to allow him to work remotely via telecommuting, and that has evolved over time.
Even after all this time, there are certainly still some obstacles Dawson has to overcome in order to effectively work without burning out or becoming morose. That was particularly apparent a few years ago when his wife, who had also been working out of their home while they both took care of their children, went back to a full-time teaching job.
“What I didn’t realize is when nobody’s around, how challenging that can be,” Dawson said. “Now suddenly I was alone during the day, and I really felt that isolation and loneliness kick in. Just not having that contact, and I realized you have to be a little bit intentional in seeing people, even if it’s just a few minutes of going out for coffee, or a co-working space, or a library. But even those things are off the table now, so you have to get even more creative.”
Dawson said things like Zoom video-conference meetings are valuable sources of that type of contact, whether they are work related or simply hanging out with friends or family. Regardless of the challenges, Dawson’s never felt the pull to get back into the office over the last two decades, even as he feels like he’s been treated unequally to some coworkers as a result of his work-from-home preference.
“There are challenges all around,” Dawson said. “A big challenge for managers is having that out of sight, out of mind mentality. It’s important to put everyone on the same playing field, and that’s hard for some people.”