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Working from home has come a long way

COVID-19 has millions working from home. As a longtime teleworker, let me offer some advice. Working from home has many upsides: no traffic jams, office politics or need for business attire.

But a month-plus into this pandemic, many are realizing teleworking’s downsides.

My morning commute goes from my bedroom to the kitchen (for coffee) to a small den in the back of my house.

Every morning, though, one rubbernecker (me) blocks my commute by looking longingly at his unmade bed – and frequently climbing back into it.

Maintaining focus on work is challenging at home. Snacks in the fridge, Netflix on the tube, funny videos on Facebook all compete for attention.

I’ve been an adult for a while now, but send me a video of talking dogs and I’d hang up on the company CEO to watch it.

Another challenge is hardly ever seeing other real humans during the day.

Sure, we see clients and colleagues on monitors, but, being social animals, we long for small talk. That regrettable need is straining my relationship with my postal carrier.

Me (head covered by a green wool sock with eye holes cut out): “I hear it’s going to rain tomorrow.” Postal carrier (sitting in his vehicle by my mailbox): “You’re wearing a sock for a mask?” Me: “How about a cup of coffee?”

Postal carrier: “But you look like Gumby.” I used to hang up on telemarketers. Now I look forward to their calls. Extended-car-warranty guy: “It’s only $2,000 for three years’ coverage.”

Me: “My truck’s still under the manufacturer’s warranty. How’s the weather where you are?”

Those of us able to work from home – able to maintain income while much of the country’s shuttered – are incredibly lucky.

Thanks to innovation, we have powerful smartphones and laptops, plus super-fast fiber-optic lines at home.

We can collaborate with colleagues all over the globe, share large files and run complex financial reports – as if we’re in the office.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the 1918 Spanish Flu killed 50 million people around the world and 675,000 in America, when our population was a third of what it is now.

Working from home wasn’t an option for most back then.

Though the telephone had been invented four decades earlier, only about a third of U.S. homes had one, FastCompany reports. Still, the telephone offered some hope.

People were beginning to order groceries by phone. Newspapers and magazines remained the primary forms of mass communication – the first radio news broadcast wasn’t until 1920 – but phones offered opportunities to share news.

However, phone calls required operators to manually make connections – operators who couldn’t practice social distancing.

They “sat at banks of switchboards in tight quarters, elbow to elbow with any infected coworkers,” FastCompany says.

Many operators became sick and phone systems couldn’t keep up with demand – making the 1918 pandemic all the worse.

Despite many unpleasant setbacks, lots of positive storylines are arising from the current pandemic. One incredible silver lining is that millions of Americans can still work productively as it unfolds.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news: When all of this is over and the sock comes off my head, my postal carrier isn’t likely to accept that cup of coffee.

Maybe I’ll give the FedEx driver a try.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.

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