Working as a Remote Coder During COVID-19
If you find yourself struggling to rapidly adjust to the ever-changing environment of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. Many of us have family members who have lost their jobs, children are now home for the entire day because of school closures, and some of us now find ourselves (and others in our household) working from home.
To many coders, working from home sounds like a dream job. But it is not for everyone and can be especially challenging during this time.
How to Adapt to Your New Situation
I have worked from home for several years. My spouse is a professor, and is now also working from home, so I have had to adjust my work setup to share my office space. I have also had to adjust my work schedule while the children are home from school. If you find yourself in the same boat, you may wonder how you can successfully manage this unique situation. Here are a few tips that may help.
- Keep a Calendar: A simple calendar schedule will make blocking out time to work easier. No need to run to the office supply store either — Word has many calendar formats available for daily, weekly, or monthly planning. In addition to blocking out time to work, make sure to also block out time to spend with your children and to accommodate your spouse’s schedule. Creating a calendar relieves stress and helps pull everyone in the household together. Make calendars for the children, as well. Use grammar and number lessons when helping young children create their calendar, and use different color blocks for screen time, reading, meals, and homework.
- Stick to a Routine: You may suddenly find that you don’t have to wake up at 6:30 every morning to get yourself and your family ready for the day, but don’t fall into the bad habit of staying up late and sleeping in past your normal schedule. Although the location has changed, your work situation has not. Sticking with the same schedule you had before the pandemic will make it easier to transition outside the home again when life returns to normal. Continue to make lunches for the kids each morning — this allows children to eat when they are hungry instead of having to interrupt parents while they are working. Leave out approved snacks for the family to eat during the day, as well, to minimize interruptions.
- Stay Flexible: This is new territory for offices, providers, and coders. With most school systems closed, many parents are now teachers as well as employees. While adjusting to the new schedule, confirm your required hours with your employer. Finding eight straight hours to work during the day may not be possible — you may need to work in several blocks of time. Assure your employer that you will be able to work the required time, but it may not be consecutive hours. Confirm times with the employer to avoid conflicts with computer server backups and system availability. This is an unusual situation, so employers are likely to be generous with scheduling and appreciate your devotion to finding a solution that works for everyone.
- Involve Your Children: Enlist the help of older children in your family to monitor the younger children. Creating a chart for future reimbursement can be an incentive to help, since teenagers cannot work right now and are not allowed to congregate socially. Offer Xbox points or gift cards, add money into their savings accounts, or chart points that can be turned in for movie tickets or sleepovers when the bans are lifted.
Look to the younger children for their creativity. For example, ask them to make an “I’m working” sign for your office door. Younger children can also have a reimbursement chart of stickers or gold stars for good behavior while you are working. When the ban is lifted, they can turn in their points for ice cream or a picnic in the park with friends.
- Manage Your Stress: During this uncertain time, you are probably experiencing a lot of emotion, commotion, fear, and stress. You may be sharing space with another family member, both trying to get work or schoolwork completed. This situation is the biggest hurdle for myself, as my spouse and I share our office space. He is trying to teach his students with lectures and phone calls, while I am trying to concentrate and complete my work quietly. Creating a curtain to divide the area or wearing headphones with comforting music may help you successfully share your space.
Being cooped up in one house, no matter how large it is, is very taxing. Take a few minutes in the morning and evening to sit on the porch, enjoy nature, and calm your nerves. Or, since gyms are closed, take a walk alone or with your family to de-stress. Try to keep little minds engaged: Cleaning out old boxes of paper and magazines to provide materials for creating posters or paper dolls is a fun idea. Many craft stores are also offering videos of crafting activities; schools are offering free learning websites; and some libraries are offering more online language and reading resources during this time.
With a little organization and preparation, the quick transition from office to remote worker will be less stressful. Reach out to your AAPC local chapter officers to see if others in your area can offer additional hints to help turn this temporary situation into a success for you, your family, and your employer.
Jennifer Sanders, MBA, CPC, CPB, CPMA, CPPM, COSC, CPC-I, AAPC Fellow, has been involved in the medical industry since 1992, specifically orthopedics. Her passion is in education, working at the collegiate level in health information management programs. She serves as president for the Southern Maryland local chapter.
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