Working from home in the time of Coronavirus

Updated: Jun 30

Newly graduated MBAs from across the globe share their experiences!




Although we would love to see it disappear, Covid-19 is here and probably here to stay for some time. After an intense year, spent studying, laughing and living closely together, many MBA graduates are now back at home, and working from home, alone. We caught up with five MBAs from across the globe to hear what their experience of working from home during the time of Covid has been like.

Name: Brittany Walker

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Company & Role: Senior Manager of Digital Partnerships at Target Plus, developing the go-to-market strategy and acquiring brands for the launch of the apparel and accessories division of Target’s marketplace.


What has been your experience working from home under lock-down measures

Target shifted to WFH (working-from-home) in mid-March. I am extremely grateful to be working for Target during the pandemic due to the way leadership has managed the situation, taking an employees-first approach. Working in the digital space, the shift to a WFH setup didn’t impact my team’s day-to-day work or our business adversely. Our team took this time, and the shifts in consumer behaviours, as an opportunity to become laser-focused on our priorities and buckle down on the immediate work that needed to be done to ensure our platform’s and partners’ success.


Practicalities of working from home

Living by myself, I have the luxury of being comfortable in my space and the ability to be productive working from multiple locations throughout my apartment (moving from my desk, to my balcony, to my kitchen counter). There are a few practicalities of working from home that make my schedule easier to manage in a remote environment. For example, some mornings we have 7 am meetings with our Target in India team. Taking the meeting from home without the need to get ready and commute to work is a welcome change for early morning calls. Another adjustment I’ve made is setting a lunch hour for myself. At the office, I typically grabbed lunch and ate at my desk verses now I block off an hour of my day to make sure I can get away from the screen for a period of time to eat and try to do something active so I can come back and be engaged and productive for the afternoon.


Challenges:

While my team and I have been extremely productive during this time, there are implications to our partner relationships that come with this model and the current travel restrictions. Previous to WFH, I traveled and was out in the market meeting with brands and attending trade-shows or conferences. Being out in the market was how we introduced our platform to the brands and sold the concept while building relationships. We’ve had to find new ways to connect with brands and lean on technology, specifically video conference, to stay as connected as possible without the option to travel and build relationships through in-person meetings.

As we grow Target+ there are many moving parts and ongoing projects that involve cross-functional teams across the entire enterprise. Being prepared, organised, and over-communicating has been important to overcome the challenge of not having the same flow of communication during WFH as when the team is in the office. There are no “in the aisle” conversations where information is passed, and meetings need to be planned far in advance to account for each individual’s calendar, which are less in-sync and fuller than ever during this time.


Working remotely has its pros and cons, but overall, I have been fortunate be able to adjust to the new setup with the full support of Target and minor impact to my day-to-day work. I look forward to seeing how companies take the learnings of this time period, with employees working from home, to adapt company policies and work models for the go forward.

Name: Marks (Jing Xu)

Location Shanghai, China

Company & Role: WE Red Bridge as Marking Consultant, analyzing the marketing environment in China and helping overseas clients China-driven marketing tools to fully engage with their target audience.


Experience working from home under lock-down measures Fortunately, life in Shanghai is now back to normal and I go to office every day. However, from February to April, the office was shut, and everyone was requested to work from home. As most of my clients are based overseas the lock-down didn’t really impact my daily work. E-mails and Zoom meetings became routine. The biggest difference was my dress, I wore a hoodie and pajamas when working from home!


Practicalities of working from home Honestly, I enjoyed working from home. I didn’t need get up early or get on crowded subway.

Challenges The downside was sometimes it was hard to focus on work. There are so many distractions around the house, TV, bed, games, junk food, etc. In addition, the internet is not as stable as in office.

Name: Debashree Chatterjee

Location: London, UK

Company & Role: Deloitte, Senior Consultant in Technology Consulting


What has been your experience working from home under lock-down measures:

Initially it was difficult to get used to the new ways of working, especially since I am working on a Platform Re-Architecture which involves collaborating with various other teams in the organisation. However, it has been more than two months since I have been working from home so I am more adjusted to this routine. It means during the working hours, I have to spend most of my time collaborating with my team and colleagues over various meetings using tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc . Given these uncertain times, I have been lucky that there has been no slack in projects allocated to me hence keeping me fully engaged.


Practicalities of working from home:

Logistically It has been seamless for me to transition to this new way of working. There has been immense support by my organisation for all employees to adjust and maintain a work life balance including online workout classes, mental health support and social mixers.


Challenges:

The biggest challenge has been to draw a line between work time and personal time. While before COVID, a lot of discussions with team members were quicker when done face-to-face in this new way of working, a lot of time is spent in engaging with team members over meetings which leads to a fully packed calendar.


Name: Mohanad Mabrouk

Location: Cairo, Egypt

Company & Role: Enterprise Marketing Senior Manager, with a telecom company. I am responsible for the marketing and commercial activities for one of main segments for the company.


Experience working from home under lock-down measures:

Before the current situation, in my previous roles I didn’t enjoy working from home as I believed it wasn’t effective for me; yet with the semi-lock-down measures in Egypt and being forced to work from 90% of the time, I realised that working from home can be effective. It is based on how you organize your day, so now with proper planning for the week and every day, I can achieve the maximum whilst enjoying the flexibility of working from home. I try to arrange most of my meetings early in the day so I can keep the rest of the day for working on actions and my priorities. Overall, I enjoy working from home except for missing the social part.


Practicalities of working from home:

The main plus is saving your commuting time, especially in my case where I must commute over 3 hours a day. Working from home gave me this time back to sleep little bit more. Second you need to make your home office a place where you will be comfortable while doing work, it took me few days to have the most suitable home office. You have more time to focus on what you need to do without distraction (although some family distractions will still occur), but even if you need to focus on an important presentation, you can do this perfectly at home.


With the need to communicate and a lot of new technology methods available, all meetings are now done through my phone or with an online meeting platform, so adopting new tools is key to perform work. Although technology helps communication, it is still not always easy to reach people when you need to, sometimes they do not pick up the phone for a quick question. Whereas in the office environment you can simply walk to their desk and ask them


Challenges:

As a new joiner to the company, my main challenge is meeting people because I didn’t have the chance to meet most of my colleagues face to face, so my first introduction to most of them has been either through the phone or online which is something I am getting used to. Sometimes you can work more than you planned to as there is no split between locations, you don’t need to leave or drive to go home, so you just continue working without noticing that the workday is over. Being isolated can sometime reduce your motivation when you don’t meet with your colleagues and change the scenery. I believe that office environment is important for maintaining motivation. In my role I work closely with sales and it is required to attend some sales visits yet with the COVID-19, I am not able to attend such visits which is crucial for my role.

Name: Suhina Banga

Location: New Delhi, India.

Company and Role: Bain & Company, Specialist of the Knowledge Associate program. I am responsible for the Junior Associate program launched 2 years ago, which essentially means mentoring/ coaching the junior associates in my team and also strategize on how to grow and improve the program within Bain.


Experience working from home under lock-down measures

Bain has had a work from home culture, so the concept was not new to me. However, the lock-down sure has made it a little different as it has gone from working from home once a week to working from home for over 2 months now. There have been days where I wished I was in office and working from home has surely increased the number of Zoom calls I have in a day. Something that would have taken 5 minutes to discuss in office, has turned into 30 mins zoom calls every day. Having said that, I feel my team and I have adapted to this new way of working very well as it has made all of us take more ownership of our work and we are definitely more productive.


Practicalities of working from home

My productivity has increased as there are less distractions. In the office, we spend time socializing during lunch/ coffee breaks which takes away from our time working. In a place like India where there is insane amount of traffic, there are employees in my office who travel for about 2 hours one way to get to work, every day. We have all saved a lot of time and energy not having to travel.


Challenges

One of the biggest challenges has been that there is no defined end of day. Working from home there is a lack of definite structure to the day. When I used to go to office, I knew when I walk out of the building my work for the day is over (barring the days you have late night calls). This is not the case at home, I might take a break at 5 pm only to resume work afterwards until I feel tired.


Secondly, the office provides a different mental and physical zone. It creates a professional culture, which is not the case at home. Being at home, I am in a more relaxed environment which influences my mood. Finally, you are physically more active at work since you are moving around, which is not the case for me at home. I get engrossed in my work and often forget to stretch my legs/ drink water etc.

It is safe to say that although these five MBA graduates come from five different countries they share several common experiences. First, working from home has provided major benefits in terms of productivity with less social distractions and less time "wasted" commuting in traffic or on a cramped subway. Second, it appears the lines have blurred between work and play-time, highlighting how significant "place" is to our mindset and actions. It is also fair to say that in the future employees may want to consider implementing clearer work and personal boundaries when working from home. Some ideas could be only using a specific room for work, or being firmer about not scheduling calls or reading emails after a certain time (much easier said than done!). Finally, not having that face-to-face contact has meant teams are relying evermore on technology and spending a lot more time on calls, with the consequence of a much fuller calendar! Overall, working from home has both pros and cons, including a lot less socialising, but if it comes with the trade off of remaining in your pajamas and answering emails from a sunny balcony, then I suppose someone of us won't find it to be too bad!


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