By Janet Holsinger, Senior Historian
After I moved away from the Washington, D.C., area where HAI is based five years ago, I began working remotely. An advantage? I am much more efficient than I ever was while working in the office without all of the inherent distractions. A disadvantage? For me, the biggest is feeling socially isolated. I miss the camaraderie of being in the same space as my coworkers and can’t participate in group lunches or happy hours. With mandated social distancing, this is a struggle that many of us share. For millions of us, schools closing and kids being home is adding an additional set of challenges as we juggle working and taking care of our families. HAI, like so many companies across the world, has instituted a mandatory telework policy. Here are some strategies that may be useful as we navigate this new world of social distancing and remote working together.
- Set up a space for working. You can pick your favorite spot on the sofa, but a desk is preferable, especially if you are going to be working from home for a while. Plug your laptop into an external monitor if you have one available. Try to set up a workspace that is as ergonomically correct as possible. Your body will thank you.
- Don’t forget to go home. One of the dangers of working remotely is falling into the trap of feeling like you are always at work. Having a designated space makes it easier to “leave” work. Try to keep to scheduled hours as much as possible. This may not be your normal 9:00-5:00 schedule, especially given the added challenges of having kids and other family members around. Setting up some kind of work schedule may help you accomplish what you need to, while also leaving space for your non-work life. Many of us now have the added challenge of juggling work and caring for those little humans that need us. Having children out of school is new territory for me as well, and I am far from having it figured out. This week, I’m trying to start work earlier in the morning and coming back later into the evening so that I can be available to help them throughout the day. I may try putting in a few hours over the weekend to give me more flexibility on other days. I’m trying to prioritize who needs me the most at any given time—my employer and clients, or my family—and working to find some balance there. I wish I had some answers. Know that you are not alone in this struggle.
- Practice good remote meeting etiquette. It is incredibly frustrating to be on the phone with a large group of people and not be able to hear half of what is being said. The size of the group does not matter nearly as much as how people interact. I have been on calls with 20 or more people that have been very successful, and have also participated in calls with 4 people where everyone talked at once and had to keep repeating themselves. If you are having internet connection issues, try calling in with your phone for a more clear connection. Mute yourself when you aren’t speaking. Some conference call systems allow you to click a button and “raise your hand” when you want to speak, which helps avoid chaotic cross-talk.
- Pick up the phone. Feeling isolated is a real thing with remote working. After teleworking for more than five years, I’ve found this is my number one challenge. Social distancing makes this even more challenging. For now, picking up the phone and speaking with someone, rather than emailing or messaging, is a great option. Consider scheduling a watercooler chat with a coworker. If you have the option of doing video calls, give it a shot. Seeing other faces helps you feel more connected, and may help keep feelings of isolation from becoming overwhelming.
- Take breaks throughout the day. In an office, you are probably up moving around, speaking with colleagues, and taking lunch breaks. It is still important to do these things. If you can, get outside for a short walk or run to help clear your mind. Do as I say, not as I do, and step away from your computer while you eat lunch.
- Consider getting out of those sweatpants. Studies have shown that when people shower and get dressed, they are more productive. I’ve found that this helps start my day with more purpose, signaling my brain that it is time to get something done.
- Give yourself some grace. We are facing huge challenges right now, as our schedules, lives, and even the world seems to have turned upside down. We are all experiencing changes in how we work and interact with others. Experiment with different approaches to your work life and see what works the best for you. It takes time to learn new patterns, and everything isn’t going to fall into place immediately. Be patient with yourself, and with your coworkers, as we try to figure out how to continue moving forward.