Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Working from home: How the young workforce is responding to COVID-19 pandemic

There are numerous work from home challenges that young professionals are dealing with during COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some inspiring stories of how people are coping with shelter-in-place/stay-at-home new norms, and sage advice on successful remote work opportunities.

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I recently participated in a Google Hangout with 50 of my Salesforce colleagues, talking about social distancing and working from home challenges and opportunities that we all faced, as we continued to engage our stakeholders -- employees, customers, partners, and communities -- using only digital channels.

Also: Best video conferencing software and services

At the start of our meeting, John Taschek, senior vice president of Market Strategy at Salesforce, reminded all of us that many young working professionals are facing unique challenges that some of us may take for granted. John's daughter was attending James Madison University, a 22,000 student community that had to shift from in-person to online-only learning model within only a few weeks, and she closely represented the challenges that the younger workforce would face as they employers shifted to a distributed digital-only work environment.

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John Taschek, senior vice president of Market Strategy at Salesforce.

John asked all of us at the meeting to consider the following: 

  • What if a person didn't have a home office?
  • What if the person had roommates?
  • What if the person was in a new country or separated from families?
  • What if they had a very recent social status change? 

John was genuinely interested in how people were coping because social media tends to blur people's feelings and expressions that aren't rants or happy images. In the spirit of fully understanding the impact of COVID-19 on the younger workforce, John conducted several interviews on this topic. Here are some of John's findings as told by people who are doing their best to cope with remote working conditions during the pandemic:

Brielle Nikaido (Director of Market Strategy at Salesforce)

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Brielle Nikaido, Director of Market Strategy at Salesforce

I had moved to London a year ago from San Francisco. I had lived in California my entire life prior to moving here and was interested in exploring life in a different country and having the opportunity to travel throughout Europe. On average, I was going into the office for about three days and working from home two days a week. 

Then COVID-19 happened. In the UK, we can leave the house to pick up necessities like groceries, to exercise once a day, and for any medical need. Now, I'm communicating with everyone I care about a lot more. Everyone I know is struggling in some way and I want to be there for the people I love.

Living alone in a 500-square foot flat halfway across the world from my friends and family, I have been struggling with loneliness. I've struggled with my mental health in the past and know that my psychological health will suffer if I don't proactively reach out and connect with the people I care about. I know how hard it is to not have in-person human contact for weeks on end so I especially try to check in on other people who I know are also living alone during this time. I think it's so important to check in with each other and create a sense of community during this time so we can support each other. 

The days have become much more fluid during this time. I realize I need to take more breaks throughout the day to exercise, move my body, or just take a break from looking at a screen. I've been starting to work earlier and end later because I'm adding more breaks into my schedule. There have been days where I know I wasn't as productive as I would have been normally. I know that taking time to take care of my mental health on those days when I'm struggling is more important in the long haul. It's important to have compassion for ourselves and hold our experience with understanding during difficult times.

The loneliness and lack of in-person human interaction is the hardest part. That said, I'm thankful for this opportunity to learn so much about myself during this period of isolation. Each morning I start the day by thinking about how I want to use this situation to help me become the person I want to be. I refuse to allow myself to feel like I am a victim of these circumstances. 

Consider how this challenging situation can bring out the best in you. 

"And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world." -- Joseph Campbell

Alec Pombriant (Musician)

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Alec Pombriant

In March, as the virus was heating up in the US, I was on a North American tour with an indie rock band. We were able to play about half of the shows before it became too dangerous. Now I am back home in Boston teaching zoom music lessons and baking sourdough bread. 

In Boston, we are compelled to wear a mask and socially distance in public. If you are a non-essential worker, you are expected to stay inside as much as possible. 

Everything anyone else does on social media that looks remotely productive feels like a direct slight against my own productivity. I kid. Somewhat. I have been using the time to write, finish old projects, and poke around some music areas I've always procrastinated checking out. It's nice to have the space to create. It's definitely a luxury. 

I heard George Saunders read a letter he wrote to his graduate students recently, it was a real call to arms for anyone who is a writer. His advice was to be as open as possible during this period because if you're a writer it's your job to document the moment. People 50 years from now will look back at this as history, and to us, it is real life. We need to have our senses tuned and vacuum up all the details so we can shape how this moment is perceived for those future people. I try to have his advice in the back of my head when I make songs these days.

But I think everyone would do well to be as open and perceptive as possible to other people and their experiences right now. We've all suffered this collective trauma and I hope there will be a large sentiment to do some good and lift everyone afterward. 

Teresa "T" Sorano (Executive Assistant at Salesforce)

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Teresa "T" Sorano, Executive Assistant at Salesforce

I live and work as an executive assistant in San Francisco. I go to the office Monday through Friday and rarely worked from home prior to the COVID-19 shelter-in-place. Since the strict social distancing and quarantine rules in San Francisco, I have adopted the use of text, phone, email, Instagram, FaceTime, Google Meet/Hangout, Zoom, WhatsApp, Marco Polo, and Houseparty.

Overall, I feel like I'm communicating more, but there are particular times when it's significantly less. During March, I feel like it was a communication-overload. Between work and personal relationships, there were so many calls, texts, video chats, and virtual Happy Hours that it got a bit exhausting. In April, I began to limit myself to only a few "social calls" a week and even did some time blocks during the weekend where I took a break from checking my phone and emails completely.

Prior to the lockdown and up until recently, I heavily associated productivity with constantly working around the clock and responding to every ping, text, call, and email - no matter what time it was, what I was doing, or who I was with, even if the request was not time-sensitive. No surprise this mentality did not help my personal life and relationships (even during pre-COVID times). During the first month of the lockdown, I went almost into "fight or flight" mode and would be on my laptop all day, going for hours without getting up from my seat to take a break or eat. There was a period I went almost 10 days straight without stepping foot beyond my apartment lobby and getting fresh air. 

When the shelter-in-place orders were extended, I was exhausted and realized I could not continue at the rate I was going. With all the days blending and there being no distinction between home and work, I knew I had to force myself to create some boundaries. It's still a work in progress, but during the second month of the lock-down, I've been doing a better job at remembering to take breaks during the day to make sure I eat, get up and move around the apartment, and actually take "me" time after I log off each night and on the weekends. It was a struggle at first because I felt guilty taking time to be "unproductive" and choosing to relax, connect with friends or family, or binge on tv shows/movies, but I've already noticed the positive impact it has made on my well-being and mental health.

I'm most thankful for the amazing people in my life. I am very fortunate to have a strong network of love, generosity, and support, especially during times like this. There hasn't been a day since the lock-down started that I've felt alone or couldn't reach out to ask for help.

This is uncharted territory for all of us and none of us are in an ideal situation, but we're all going through this together. Learn to adapt and make the best of what you have. It's normal and expected to think and complain about all the things we're missing out on, but remember to take a step back and think about all the things you have to be thankful for.  

Emil Yeargin (Lyft)

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Emil Yeargin working from home office. 

I live in San Francisco so shelter in place is in full effect. We're fortunate enough to live in a very walkable area of the city so we've been able to get our weekly need of cardio and sunshine despite SIP.

I'm communicating more than ever. I consider myself an introvert with the luxury of a profession and hobbies that force me to get out of my comfort zone. Prior to COVID, I could count the number of times I used FaceTime on one hand. Now, I use it for seven days a week. 

From a work standpoint, I feel like I've been able to be extremely productive from an output standpoint. For me, the physical act of being at work comes with a commute, small talk, and frequent trips to the kitchen. However, I feel less connected to my colleagues and not as effective as a manager. Recruiting is an industry where you need to feel comfortable hearing no more than yes. Being able to celebrate wins, mourn losses, and talk to through situations in-person help morale significantly. 

The worst part of social distancing is not being able to see friends and family. While VC apps have been helpful, nothing replaces a hug or high five. I'm most thankful for three things: 1. Having a partner who continues to challenge and inspire me during Shelter in Place; 2. Working for a company that operates with empathy and continues to support me personally and professionally; and 3. Personal and family health.

Take solace in the fact we're going through this as a global community. We have an opportunity to build bridges in light of this shared experience.

Elena Faddoul (Market Strategy, Salesforce)

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Elena Faddoul, market strategy at Salesforce

Depending on the day/week -- I definitely have a lot more meetings via Google Meet and I even set up a time to catch up with teammates since there isn't regular office chit chat, which is something I deeply miss.

I can use the time I previously used to commute to do more work. I am busy work-wise which makes the days go by very quickly. Most days I can be very productive. When I find myself not being productive, I take trails on Trailhead to make myself feel more productive and step away from regular day-to-day work projects. (I was able to become a Ranger!) 

Although I am fortunate not to be living alone, I isolate myself in my room all day because I am on a lot of calls and trying to get work done. That's also the only alone time I get. I am living at my family home right now with my parents and my brother. None of them are currently working due to this pandemic. Since I'm busy with work, I don't have more free time than I did before, so the days are very repetitive.

Try to exercise and get fresh air. Aside from the fact that it's the physically healthy thing to do, exercising is a great stress reliever and it helps me get out of my negative head-space. 

William Kahn (College student, baseball player, Penn State University)

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William Kahn, College Student, Baseball player, Penn State University

I greatly benefit from structure in my life and not having my usual schedule is impacting my life a lot. I now have to get up earlier for classes and end up going right back to sleep once my classes are over. After that, I try to get my school work done, then workout and train, but I have yet to find a schedule I can stick to that works for me.

"Isolation is a gift. Everything else is just a test of your endurance." 

The above quote is by Charles Bukowski. Relating it to our situation now, we are all locked in our homes with family or by ourselves. As an athlete, I want to use this time to improve myself and I think everyone else should too. I want to come out of this a better athlete than I came into it. That means working on my mental game to make me mentally tougher and try to give me step-ups for when I play in a game.

My advice to others is to better themselves and prepare themselves for when this is over. I see the quarantine as a big opportunity to either jump ahead or fall behind in life. Take the time to truly invest in yourself so once this is all over, you will enjoy life even more with the changes you made.

This article was co-authored by John Taschek, senior vice president of Market Strategy at Salesforce.