Coronavirus, Technical Writing, and You

I was hoping to avoid this, but the worldwide coronavirus situation has required me to address its effect(s) on technical communicators. I’ll try to keep this short and to the point.

Actually Quarantined?

If you’ve been quarantined because you actually have the coronavirus illness, take care of yourself first. I’ve seen a lot of friends’ employers being flexible in the face of what has become a truly worldwide crisis. Be sure to inform your employer if you’ve been specifically diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus. They will likely need to perform extra cleaning/sanitizing of the places where you’ve worked. I don’t need to repeat the hygiene warnings you’ve been reading/hearing everywhere else; just follow them until you can get to a doctor.

New to Working from Home?

It’s taken me a while to get used to working from home, but hopefully my experience can help you.

  • The first thing I would suggest you do is treat your work from home the same way you would at your office, meaning simply that you:
    • Get up at your regular time.
    • Get dressed and attend to your personal hygiene as if you were going among other people.
    • Work your regular hours.

The point of these behaviors is to keep you from sliding into an attitude that says you can slack off. Okay, no, you don’t need full business attire, but “letting yourself go” sartorially or hygienically can also carry over into your mental attitude. This happens to me, anyway, so I get up and act like I’m “going” to work.

  • Set up a designated work area, ideally not your bedroom and do what you can to enforce work boundaries with significant others, offspring, and pets. They might think it’s fun/convenient to have SO/mommy/daddy at home, but they need to understand that you need to work.
  • Avoid multitasking: e.g., cleaning, doing dishes, etc., while trying to attempt work tasks.
  • Leave the television off.

Communicating Remotely

I’ve addressed this previously, but my condensed thoughts today include:

  • Make a phone call instead of sending an email. As I’ve repeated from a NASA customer many times before, “Emailing is not communicating.” Hearing a human voice on the other end of the line can be a comfort if/when you find yourself isolated. I know my own reactions to this situation have been less than calm at times, and I need to hear a comforting voice on the phone just to know I’m not alone in this mayhem. You are not alone in this.
  • Substitute video calling for voice calling. It’s not just hearing friendly voices, even introverts like me can crave the sight of human faces after prolonged periods of isolation.
  • If you’re a leader, you might want start conducting daily teleconference meetings to provide updates on current events and what the company is doing in response to them as well as the status and expectations for work currently in progress.

Other Self-Care Suggestions

  • Take a break from the news. Personally, I find television news especially stressful and crazy-making because there’s only so much I can stand to hear of bad news. I am taking my news via text, where I have the time to absorb and process things quietly, at my own pace, with no “This just in” bulletins adding to the cacophony.
  • If you’re not sick, just quarantined, continue to mind your health: diet, sleep, stress levels, and exercise.
  • Once work is done for the day, get in touch with or communicate with close friends and family–anyone who can offer encouragement, joy, and humor.
  • Restrain the urge to vent anger on strangers in social media. There’s no need to make a bad situation worse. Thanks to electronics and international jet travel, we are all in this together.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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