Social distancing requires most of us to now live and work remotely. Here are a few tips to help you maintain mental and emotional health both at work and at home.
Those of us in Ohio have completed our first full week of “social distancing,” mostly by working from home and learning digitally. While the Ohio government only recently ordered us to shelter in place, most of the state has already been operating along these lines.
It’s a tough situation for everyone around the country right now, regardless of where you live and what your specific situation is. I know that I’m fortunate to be able to continue working — and with a company that is already comfortable with working remotely.
Our first week presented its challenges, though, as my direct physical contact has been limited to my family of six. Everyone at home is in a different situation:
- I’m continuing to work
- My wife was technically on her spring break but is now preparing to teach first graders “digitally,”
- My eldest’s college co-op ended early, so he has no commitments for a few months
- My high school junior is on extended spring break until Wednesday (after a trial day of digital learning before break)
- My high school freshman started digital learning last Wednesday
- My sixth grader participated in digital learning all last week
Last week was a bit crazy, but it will probably get worse when five of the six of us are back at work or school this week.
I’m sure everyone has seen many tips on things to do while working from home, but I wanted to put out a quick list of things that I experienced or observed in my first full week of social distancing that others can try out. Please feel free to reach out to me, and we can create a follow-up article with additional ideas in the next couple of weeks.
I’ve tried to adopt a number of items this week to adjust to the new normal. These include:
1. Scheduling Breaks During the Day
While I know this isn’t possible for everyone, I’ve found it beneficial to block a “meeting” during the day where I don’t work. I’ve generally done these in smaller increments (i.e., take 15 minutes to help with digital learning). However, I scheduled longer breaks on Thursday and Friday to play basketball and baseball with my sons because we knew the weather was going to be worse after “normal” work hours.
2. Getting Outside When You Can
The kids may have complained about this some, but we have been taking more family walks through our neighborhood. The fresh air feels great after a day confined to the house.
3. Playing Board Games
My kids previously referred to these as “bored” games. Still, we’ve pulled out some classics to play together, including Monopoly, Clue, Operation, Battleship, Apples to Apples, and Blokus (and we actually finished an entire game of Monopoly).
4. Embracing Meditation
I was fortunate that two fellow employees have been encouraging me to try meditation over the past few months, and I finally decided to listen to them a few weeks ago. In these extra stressful times, I’ve noticed how beneficial it has been to have 15 to 20 minutes to just focus on my mental health. I’ve been utilizing the Insight Timer application on my phone, but I know there are a lot of great options out there for you to consider.
5. Trying to Keep My Same Sleep Schedule
I’ve been doing a pretty good job of getting up at the same time. And since we don’t have to rush the kids off to school, I’ve taken advantage of starting my days a little bit slower than usual since the kids are still asleep. I haven’t been doing as well at getting to bed at the same time, which made me drag a bit at the end of the week. Regardless, having some sense of normalcy has allowed me to avoid adjusting to yet another change.
6. Taking Time for Myself
With all extracurricular activities canceled, I took the opportunity to actually watch a movie during the week (split up over two nights). I’ve also made good progress on a book that I was fortunate enough to get out of the library before it closed. Taking this time for myself has also been a great stress-reducer.
7. Ordering Carryout From Local Restaurants
Our Saturday night meal was from a family restaurant that has sponsored my youngest son’s baseball team for at least the past three years. I took this suggestion from someone else and recognized the need to take care of those businesses that need more support now after they’ve helped take care of our families over the years.
8. Helping Others Financially
If you can afford it, over-tip when you order carryout food (a $20 tip probably means a meal for a small family) and try to pay people who are unable to work (for example, lawn care, housecleaning services, and more).
9. Cleaning Up the Yard
I didn’t attack this until over the weekend, but I know many of my teammates have already started preparing their yards for spring and summer. One individual even broke out the chain saw to trim back the growth and managed to clean up the overgrowth while having an outdoor exercise session.
10. Finding the Right Balance With Electronics
We’re still experimenting with this, but our Friday plan to cut off electronics at noon and then not start them back up until after dinner seemed to work well. It may not have served its purpose of getting the older kids up earlier, but it was great to hear the kids playing together when I was still working and resulted in a much-earlier-than-usual dinner.
As I mentioned previously, my company is already comfortable working remotely. Even still, the current situation has forced us to make even more adjustments as we’ve lost out on opportunities to interact with each other in person. Some items that I’ve seen this week include:
11. Using Video More
There is absolutely a need to be cognizant of bandwidth issues, but it is great to see people (and often outside of their standard work attire). Also, video helps to keep everyone more focused on the meeting itself. I’ve primarily used Microsoft Teams but have also interacted with companies using WebEx and Skype for Business.
12. Being More Personal on Work Calls
The usual hallway, water cooler, or coffee pot interactions aren’t possible anymore, so I’ve tried to replace the usual silence waiting for everyone to join a meeting with more personal questions about how everyone is adjusting to the current situation. I have noticed that this is more difficult with some individuals I interact with outside of Centric that aren’t as used to working remotely.
13. Placing Individual Phone Calls
While brief chats on personal items on scheduled calls are great, breaking out of technology and actually calling people directly to see how they are doing has been invaluable for both me and (hopefully) the individuals that I’ve reached out to.
14. Wrapping Up Meetings Early
I’m still struggling with this a little bit as I like to be as efficient as possible with my time (translation: I tend to pack too much into a meeting). However, it’s been great to see individuals that are more cognizant of wrapping up an hour-long meeting 5 to 10 minutes early to allow people the opportunity to get a stretch break in before joining their next one.
15. Engaging in Fun Chats With Teammates
This is another area we’ve heavily relied on Microsoft Teams for — we’ve been putting out questions, games and challenges for everyone to respond to. In my opinion, the best question asked last week was: “Tell us something your kids (or pets) are doing, but refer to them as your coworkers.” Within about 4 hours, we had 36 responses. Some of the reactions were absolutely hilarious, with my personal favorite being a picture of one of our colleagues receiving an old-fashioned “wedgie” from his “coworkers” (yes, these were his kids).
16. Encouraging More Training
When not focused on core delivery activities, we are encouraging our employees to take advantage of the time to address training needs that they may have put off for a while or are more relevant in the current environment (Microsoft Teams training anyone?).
17. Changing Locations
I think this one drives my family crazy, but I do try to get out of my office throughout the day. I’ve taken calls in the basement, in my bedroom and walking throughout the house. The change of scenery has been a great refresher.
18. Having Virtual Social Gatherings
This is still on the future item list, but we are currently planning on a virtual happy hour next week (“Wine and Whine on Wednesday”). Going virtual will probably require a little more planning and structure than a typical happy hour. Still, it will be nice to have everyone join a videoconference with their favorite beverage to just catch up on how things are going (and maybe have their family join us).
Hopefully, we can get back to seeing each other in person, working in offices, and traveling on airplanes again soon. Until then, I’d encourage everyone to find what helps you and your company in adjusting to the current social distancing, working from home, and digital learning environment. This will require adjustments on both a personal and professional level, but hopefully, everyone can use it as a jumpstart to an on-going understanding and acceptance of a remote culture.