COVID-19 has presented many new and unique challenges. Oklahomans are navigating the alien waters of not only the virus but social distancing, masks and for some, the undiscovered country of working from home.

Since early March, which seems like a lifetime ago, many employers and employees have teleworked for the first time. Most of those have since returned to the traditional workplace. But for others, like the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services , working from home has become the new normal.

Caden Cleveland, Director of Legislative & Public Affairs at OMES, said that 80 percent of the OMES workforce has transitioned into a telework schedule.

“A few of the benefits OMES has seen from implementing a telework schedule include financial and cost saving incentives, increased employee work satisfaction, and improved employee day-to-day communication through online platforms,” Cleveland said. “Specific performance metrics were put into place for OMES employees to ensure quality and work outcomes remain in place.”

Cleveland said the department intends to take these measures even further by combining some offices into centralized locations.

“OMES is currently in the process of consolidating our division offices away from multiple locations and into one main centralized location at the Will Rogers Building in Oklahoma City,” Cleveland said. “In addition to the clear benefits of increased communication between divisions that will occur from this move, there are projected to be significant potential financial savings of up to $500,000 this fiscal year.”

While local businesses didn’t take telework to the level of OMES, the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce helped several local businesses transition to teleworking on a smaller scale while expanded small businesses capabilities.

“Many businesses have had to adapt to the unprecedented situation,” said Brandi Simms, vice president of Communications & Membership for the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber was able to help by providing businesses with the tools necessary to transition to a virtual workplace and develop an online presence that they may not have had before.”

Jerrett Phillips, Cameron University’s vice president for Enrollment Management & Student Success, was quarantined after traveling to a restricted area during the early days of the pandemic and spent most of spring and early summer working from home. Phillips said from a technological standpoint, the university was able to prove the concept of working from home was viable, but the social aspect of it was almost impossible to address.

“Social disconnect was the biggest challenge or the unique thing that we really couldn’t address,” Phillips said. “Yes we utilize technology like Zoom to be able to do video conferencing and have our meetings and engage with staff and students, but it’s not quite the same where you are used to being able to walk down the hall and say hi to someone.”

Phillips said the transition of working from home from working in the office, while not difficult, did have its differences.

“All of my actions were probably a lot more intentional,” Phillips said. “Something that would take 10-15 minutes normally, would now take 25-30 minutes, so I had to plan for that.

“Even though I had the equipment at my house already, it still took me a good two to three days to get acclimated.”

Phillips also discussed the importance of attitude in conjunction with maintaining a set schedule.

“A rigid schedule is very important. It’s also symbolic to our student experience with them taking online classes as well. When you’re accustomed to a real-life face-to-face schedule, like students going to class and all that suddenly changes, you’re completely accountable to make sure all that is working, it’s a bit of a challenge,” Phillips said. “You have to be disciplined enough to still get up like you’re going to work every day and treat it like you’re going to work every day and keep that ritual as true as possible.”

Some businesses, like Comanche County Memorial Hospital, couldn’t send doctors, nurses or other frontline employees home, but the hospital was able to transition many nonessential personnel to working from home.

“Our frontline workers, including nurses and doctors, couldn’t work from home,” said Nicole Jolly, Comanche County Memorial Hospital Director of Marketing. “However, our nonessential workers could, but we’ve always had the capability to do that. Most employees are back with some working a combination of remotely and on-site, but for the most part everyone is back in their offices using masks and practicing social distancing.”

Jolly said working from home is a great option and protected workers, it wasn’t something the hospital was looking to do long term.

“We can do it,” Jolly said. “But there’s certain things that can’t be done from home that require face-to-face. It’s also important to keep them in our culture here at CCMH.”

Teresa Abram, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Great Plains Technology Center, said she understood the importance of working from home, but would rather be at work.

“I worked from home during the pandemic, and while I feel I was just as effective at home as in the office, I didn’t like it,” Abram said. “I missed being around my co-workers and social interactions. It’s not something that I would want to do again.”

For a medical perspective, Dr. Matt Atkins, OU Medicine Chief Medical Information Officer, discussed the effects working from home can have on the body and mind.

“From the body’s perspective, you’re going to be a lot more sedentary when working at home,” Adkins said. “You’re not moving across campus, between meetings, between buildings, or even going from your desk to the breakroom. You’re going from your couch to the kitchen to the bedroom, and that’s a whole lot closer typically. So the number of steps that you’re going to get in a typical day are going to be less. So it’s important for people to be cognizant of that, and intentional about making sure that they’re getting plenty of exercise.”

While navigating the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, someone could find themselves working from home unexpectedly, due to case spike or quarantine. Phillips recommends maintaining a schedule and have the proper equipment.

“Look at your resources in terms of your technology,” Phillips said. “Make sure you have the right equipment in terms of computers, phones, everything else to do what you need to do from home. Make sure you have access to files and databases, but most importantly, maintain a schedule. You’re still at work.”

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