|Posted on March 25, 2020 at 6:05 AM|
The entire planet, including the higher education community, has been rocked to the core by the COVID-19 virus and efforts to contain it. Many people are suddenly teaching and working from home for the first time in their lives.
I’ve been working from home for decades, starting when I was on parental leave when my children were born in the 1980s. Starting in 1999, my jobs had extremely long commutes, so I negotiated working from home one or two days a week. For the last eight years, I’ve been a freelance consultant working exclusively from home. My experience hasn’t been the same as yours, but I’ve got some suggestions that may help you.
1. Go easy on yourself. What many of us have been through in the past few weeks is akin to starting a new job in a new environment under incredibly stressful circumstances—simultaneously learning new job skills on an incredibly steep learning curve while simultaneously caring for children, supervising home-schooling, and dealing with debilitating anxiety over the health and safety of our loved ones and the practicalities of providing household necessities. No wonder we’re overwhelmed! But recognize that, in some ways, things will start to get better. You’ll figure out a routine; you’ll figure out how best to use your college’s learning management system; you’ll figure out how to adjust this semester’s assignments; and you’ll figure out how to use a gas pump without infecting yourself (tip I learned yesterday: put your hand in a dog poop bag). It will not always be this bad.
2. The hardest part of working from home may be self-discipline. Unless you’re facing an imminent, intractable deadline, home has plenty of distractions. There have plenty of times the laundry has looked a lot more appealing than the project that was facing me! I think the only way to address this is to appraise yourself honestly and build in whatever discipline you need. For example, if I have to read something deadly dull, I promise myself a cup of coffee when I’m done, but not before.
3. Carve out the right workspace. Again understand what you need to make working-at-home work for you. I’ve learned that I must be in front of a window, the bigger the better. So, though I initially created a workspace in a spare bedroom, our kitchen island has turned into my office, because it overlooks the biggest window in the house, with a great view of our backyard. I think I do some of my best thinking while looking out the window. But maybe you need that spare bedroom, so you can literally close the door and turn off work at the end of the day. When our children were young, my workspace was in the family room so I could be there for them.
4. Working from home is lonely. I’m an off-the-charts introvert and even I miss water-cooler camaraderie. Because most of my work is confidential, I can’t vent about that asinine e-mail to anyone. Here’s where technologies such as e-mail listservs, social media, video technologies (Skype, Face Time, Zoom), texts, and old-fashioned phone calls become really important. The ASSESS listserv has been a lifesaver for me in terms of staying connected with professional peers. I’ve also joined some Facebook groups focused on some of my outside interests. If you have friends or colleagues who have work-at-home experience, tap them for ideas.
5. Evolve into a routine that works for you. I’m an early riser, so my day starts early, in my PJs, before anyone else is up, with a cup of coffee, checking routine e-mails while the caffeine sinks in. Once I’m fully caffeinated, I tackle the meatier stuff. Because I start early, I stop most work by late afternoon. I do work on weekends, because that’s when e-mails, phone calls, and appointments die down and I can work on things that require blocks of uninterrupted time, like writing or preparing a workshop. But this is what works for me. The point is to figure out a routine that works best for you.
6. Keep e-mails under control. While meetings can still be held by conference call, Skype, or Zoom, your work-from-home life will probably have fewer meetings and a lot more e-mails. E-mails are the one thing I monitor 24/7, constantly deleting the ones I don’t need to read and replying to the easily answered ones. Otherwise, they balloon out of control, and I’ve learned an overflowing e-mail in-box stresses me. To keep my e-mail in-box under control, I also use a lot of e-mail folders. There’s one for each project, and when the project is done, the folder goes into a “Past Projects” mega-folder so it’s out of sight but there if I need to refer to it. I also have a “Read” folder for those interesting e-mails that I’d like to read…someday. And there’s a “Hold” folder for emails for which I’m waiting for an answer. Those folders really help keep me sane.
7. Stay healthy. Remember I told you our kitchen island is my office? I’ve gained weight since I started working from home full-time. Stocking only healthy food helps, but my problem is I simply eat too much—it’s easy to turn a work break into a snack break. Exercise is really, really important.
8. Celebrate the positives of working from home. You don’t have to get dressed up for work. You don’t have that commute. If you’ve had fixed work hours and now have a bit more flexibility, take advantage of it. Go for a walk when today’s weather is at its nicest point, and truly enjoy springtime. If you live in a region where stores are still open, weekday mornings are wonderful times to shop—the stores are empty and service is great (the staff so bored that they’re eager to help). Your dog loves having you home, and being around a pet is a great destresser. And, unlike millions of Americans, you still have a job. Working at home is minimizing your chance of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to loved ones.
9. Start a post-COVID-19 to do list. This will pass, though not without lasting hardship and loss. Most of those who contract COVID-19 will recover and, once they do, they’ll be immune, no longer contagious, and able to resume their normal lives. For the rest of us, there will eventually be a vaccine. Start a list of things you want to do after COVID-19 subsides: dinners with friends and family, concerts and museums you want to go to, vacations you want to take, home improvements that aren’t possible now, conferences you enjoy. It will give you something to look forward to, and that will help you get through this.
Categories: Musings & meanderings