Change is a constant, but these are unique and unprecedented times in our lives. And as things continue to shift and adjust in our greater world every day (or hour!) due to the coronavirus pandemic, I continue to shift and adjust within my personal world as well. As we hunker down, I realize there are many conscious changes I must make in order to separate my “virtual-work” self from my “shelter-at-home” self… all within the same walls of my house.
EPI has been a virtual team for nearly 18 years. To help others who are new to this way of working, we recently put together a resource for improving virtual leadership skills.
Although my team is used to working remotely, we aren’t immune to our normal routines and work/life balances being uprooted.
At our recent team meeting, we discussed these very changes and how we are adapting. I thought sharing the EPI team’s insights may help you as you adapt to the new normal. Whether you can simply relate to the stories some team members tell or find a new idea to try, we hope our own struggles will help you with yours.
Because we’re all in this together!
Deanell: Focus on managing energy, rather than time.
In the past, my husband left early for work, which created a rhythm and schedule for us; it also allowed me to feel like I had some time to do what I wanted before starting my own workday. Working virtually for 12 years has taught me the value of being very intentional about how and when I start my day — for both my work productivity and my overall health and well-being. As EPI’s VP of Leadership Development and a genuinely social person, I was always able to have face-to-face contact with friends, colleagues, trainees, and clients; that lack of close contact these days is a real struggle for me. But I do love still having the flexibility to craft my own days as a virtual worker. I learned a while ago that finding my work sweet spot is all about managing energy, not time. I work really hard during the times when I am focused and loosen things up when I am not.
Now my husband is working from home too…
To transition from a routine that I knew and enjoyed to a routine in constant flux is a challenge. To say the least. Accommodating my husband’s workspace and work routine needs, as well as the cancellation of my travel/engagements and not knowing the future, has created some anxiety and stress for both of us. I’ve found if I do the following, I can feel more in control and less anxious:
- It helps to call on many of the good habits I’ve established as a coach and leadership development consultant, especially managing my energy productively.
- I’m experimenting with and brainstorming how my work can evolve for the future.
- Nowadays I allow my mornings to have a more casual approach and I ease into my day.
- I “see” friends through different forms of communication, and enjoy this new type of connection with my husband.
- And I know that it’s okay right now to be doing the best I can and I’m good with that.
Heather: Be flexible and continue to celebrate!
With the COVID-19 school closures, I now have two school-aged kids at home. All. Day. Long. My house is no longer quiet, and focus is more difficult. I’ve come to accept that I will be interrupted by children, even when I have my door shut. Telling them I’m going to be on a conference call seems to attract them even more! I can no longer grab a quick lunch for myself and keep working; I need to make their lunches, check in with them throughout the day, and help with homework. The work-life lines suddenly are completely blurred!
For me, though, it’s not just about losing the structure and solitude. I also have to contend with my emotional health taking a hit as the coronavirus pandemic ramps up anxiety. It’s much harder to concentrate on work now. I’ve found that understanding these struggles, identifying them, and respecting them is key to finding a new balance.
It helps me to do the following:
- I continue to make a point to connect with my teammates and friends. Being able to check in quickly, share jokes, or ask questions is easy and fun because of the technology we have available to us. Tools I’ve used recently include Discord, Whereby, and Zoom.
- Find ways to manage emotional health and anxiety by listening to experts, controlling what I can, and educating myself on how to keep my family safe.
Still Celebrate! My daughter’s 10th birthday fell on one of the early days of the new social distancing life. We set up a virtual surprise party for her and created a memorable and fun birthday.
- Starting with a countdown and turning cameras on at the same time to reveal friends singing Happy Birthday was a special experience! To add to the fun, I compiled a list of scavenger hunt items that would easily be found in everyone’s home. Setting a timer and watching the frantic chaos of gathering the items was great fun. And would you believe, at the end of the day, my daughter said it was her favorite birthday ever? Things may be different, but there is still plenty to celebrate.
Anne: Maintain a routine amid chaos.
With housebound two-year-old twins and a husband also working virtually, I definitely find it more difficult to find any work/life balance these days. We have realized we’re working, in some capacity, 15+ hours a day.
Our breaks from work include kids. And breaks from kids include work.
Needless to say, there’s a lot of commotion! Here’s what’s helping me get through these times:
- I rely heavily on maintaining our routine as much as possible and am working to establish new habits.
- Connecting with my spouse regarding the next day’s “schedule” allows us to plan our days (sort of), communicate availability to our respective work teams, and figure out creative activities for the toddlers.
- It makes my day a lot easier if I can exercise before the kids get up.
- I try to maintain an attitude of gratitude.
- I intentionally unplug at the end of the day.
- Leaning on my faith and prayer centers me.
Faye: Set boundaries and stick to them.
When I first started working from home, I found it difficult to set boundaries. Many times, my husband would arrive home after his workday and I’d briefly acknowledge his existence before solving the next problem or finishing that last piece of content. Eventually, he’d come in and ask what I’d like for dinner. DINNER? What? Where had the day gone? On his recommendation, I started setting an alarm for 5 PM and then, to get out of work mode, I’d take a walk around the block. These intentional acts have greatly helped me do focused deep work when I need to. And they also signal an end to my day, which allows me to turn my attention wholly to my downtime.
LaVonne: Be intentional with breaktime… and doodle.
Since many of the social outlets I relied on prior to COVID-19 are no longer an option, I’ve found it helpful to be very intentional with how I spend my breaktime during the workday. I try to alternate between activities that promote exercise, social interaction, and creativity. Instead of grabbing a snack and checking Instagram during a break:
- I might listen to a podcast to hear a human voice. (And if it’s a good episode, I’ll share it with a friend.)
- I love to walk my dog and wave at my neighbors who are social distancing themselves by walking on the other side of the street.
- I doodle—to give my mind permission to wander, be creative, and relax (it’s even known to reduce stress and improve focus)!
Katherine: Explore beauty, then have a virtual movie night!
One of the perks of working from home is the flexibility of getting out into nature for a brain break, creative recharging, and to de-stress. (The benefits to being outside are endless!) And this is more important than ever during this time. But I also love finding new ways to connect on a social level. I’d suggest that you:
- Intentionally explore the beauty around you. Living in Boulder, Colorado, I’m lucky to have no shortage of beauty to explore during breaks. It’s a great way to retreat from the screen and reset.
- Show your remote team that you appreciate and value them. A sweet and important thread that weaves our team together is how we value one another, not just as coworkers but also as friends. Our team culture is built around a high level of care and concern; I’m glad we’re already accustomed to practicing this remotely!
Find unique, meaningful, and fun ways to socialize outside of work. One of my favorites is a virtual movie night with Jami!
- We make sure our phones are charged so we can talk to each other and then we cue up the same movie. Okay, hit Play on three… one, two, three… We have it down to an art now!
Jami: Listen to your dogs.
I love many things about working from home. But when I get really focused, I tend to lose myself in my work. I become a slave to my desk and computer screen. Dogs have no patience for such nonsense. My hyperactive two-year-old beagle, Maggie, requires three walks a day to keep her (and us) sane. When she sits by my desk and stares at me, I know she’s ready to go. When the other two dogs join in, I know they’re saying, “Get off your butt NOW and take us out!” And I do. I love that I can be that flexible at work. But I also love that having dogs forces me to get outside and move. We walk every day—without exception—no matter what the weather is.
Whether it’s a brisk walk or a saunter, I always feel better when I get back. Sometimes I’m able to unconsciously work out a complex problem or find the words that were escaping me. Sometimes it just plain lightens my load to be out in nature, which feels essential now when I’m overloaded on coronavirus news. And, because no one could resist her when she was a puppy, Maggie has introduced me to many neighbors I had never even met before. Even now, I can still socialize by having conversations across the street with other people who are out and about with their hounds. So, if you’re new to virtual work, I’d give this advice:
- Leave your desk regularly and take daily walks—short or long. They’re all good for you.
- If you can’t always get out in nature, bring nature in with a plant, a window with a view, or even a picture of a beautiful nature scene.
- Get a dog. Or two.
Michelle: Focus on the future.
I certainly miss my face-to-face connections with our clients, my association meeting colleagues, and my team. Like my teammates, I appreciate the ability to work virtually and still connect with people via technology. And I’m very grateful for my beautiful Minnesota acreage that allows for easy social distancing (and good walks). I’m keeping positive during COVID-19:
- I am trying to keep supporting small businesses in my community so they’ll be there tomorrow and the next day and the next.
- I’m creating business plans for different contingencies.
- I’m ensuring we’re there to support our clients in any way they need during this unusual time.
- Maybe I can’t travel now, but I can plan a future trip so the details are all ready when we are.
How have you adapted to working remotely during COVID-19? Share with us whatever is helping you stay productive, inspired, and sane!
Michelle Kelly, CEO (Chief Enjoyment Officer)