“Three Questions About Working From Home During COVID-19” was written by SWE Member Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri, who heads Global People Analytics at McGraw Hill.
As we prepare for at least another few weeks of working from home while socially distanced, here are answers to 3 questions that may help you better strategize working from home.
1. Where do I work from?
Designate a Dedicated Workspace- This is perhaps the oldest trick in the book when it comes to working from home. Designating a fixed workspace allows us to program our brains to enter “work mode” in an environment which we traditionally may associate with rest and recreation. Many individuals who typically work remotely will tell you that they often escape to local cafes when they want to get work done. In current times of social distancing however, we must be strategic within the four walls of home. However, since none of us really foresaw or planned for this pandemic, and possibly—as much as we would appreciate one right now—do not have a home office. This is where you can unleash your creativity. I, for example, have set up my “office” on one half of the kitchen island. I brought out my old (but trustworthy from times of my doctoral dissertation writing days) monitor, connected it to my laptop and voila! I had a full blown work station ready for use for this week. Others have used this opportunity to get more creative, including ingenious use of laundry hampers and trash bins.
2. 8 to 5…AM, or PM? When do I work?
Typically, my recommendation would be for everyone to follow traditional work times – 8 am to 5 pm, or 9 am to 6 pm with an hour or so for lunch in between. However, let us take a moment or two to recognize that we aren’t dealing with traditional setbacks or problems. It is literally a pandemic that we are facing (!!). So, recognize and account for life, as you factor in time for work. Many of us are home with our children and may be primary caregivers, so account for flexibility in your schedules as you plan for when to work.
My friend and his wife—both new parents—have worked it out between themselves to schedule their workdays so their new infant has at least one parent tending to her, as the other works. My friend works from 6 am to 2 pm, with time out for a family breakfast in the middle; and then takes over from his wife who starts her workday at 2 pm and goes on until 10 pm with a break to have dinner together. It is not easy, but planning for their schedules to be flexible for one another, factoring in life, recognizing priorities and responsibilities, as well as practicing disciplined routine allows for them to be productive professionals even during these trying—and tiring—times.
Bringing back parts of your old routine may also helpful in conditioning your brain into channeling productivity for work. While at home it may be easy for thoughts to meander, and for your brain to start thinking of chores or recreation rather than work. So, to limit your distractions, there are several apps for your phone and browser that allow you to set a time limit on websites like Twitter or Facebook or even the news. Letting your roommate, family member, or partner know of your “office hours” also helps them help you by being mindful of approaching you during your work time, unless it is an emergency. Additionally, assigning a routine work schedule programs your brain to go into work mode for those eight hours in the day.
3. I miss my colleagues and team. What should I do?
A simple answer is to call them! In times of social distancing, the need for community building is the strongest. We are not meeting our colleagues face to face, nor running into them at the water cooler, so it is imperative to make additional efforts to reach out to them now. Create water-cooler moments by texting your colleague or teammate. Partake in conversations on your company’s internal social platforms. Check in on co-workers, write out emails acknowledging their input and work. Chances are that many on your team may be struggling with motivation and isolation, and now is a great time to send notes reiterating how much you value someone’s ideas and inputs.
Social cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977 wrote: “The strength of people’s convictions in their own effectiveness determines whether they will even try to cope with difficult situations”. Remind your colleagues that they are valued, that their contributions matter, that they are key to your team—a great thing specifically for managers to note, but also important for everyone on a team in general. Assurances, in these times, which allow highlighting individuals’ successes helps strengthen their self-efficacy, ultimately helping individuals be self-confident and thus better equipped to take on challenges and adversities more effectively.
Closed offices also mean that connecting with someone is now region- and physical proximity-agnostic. For example, now is probably a great time to reach out to that person you have been meaning to connect with and learn more about the kind of work they do. Chances are, that they will probably welcome a virtual coffee chat to talk about their work, and discuss yours. I know I am, for anyone interested in learning more about People Analytics or Engineering Education.
Bonus Tip: Be Kind to Yourself (and Others!)
Remember that during these unprecedented times that kindness to one’s own self is of utmost importance. Be kind as you fit into your new routine and your workspace on your kitchen island or laundry basket. You are trying and some days peak productivity for you may equate to merely showing up. We all know that baby steps are necessary for big changes. Ensure that you are taking those tiny steps and proactively planning for and factoring in life as you work towards attaining peak productivity. Learn that you most certainly won’t attain peak productivity on day one—but slowly you will get there. We all will.
About the author:
Dr. Sreyoshi Bhaduri is a SWE Member and a board member of the SWE New York and Long Island sections. Professionally, she heads Global People Analytics at McGraw Hill, where she works on exciting projects leveraging global employee data to generate data-driven insights for decisions impacting organizational Culture and Talent. Sreyoshi is an engineer by training. She earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. She has an interdisciplinary background with master’s degrees in Data Analytics and Applied Statistics as well as in Mechanical Engineering. Trained in conducting people research, you will find her talking about using data ethically, inclusively and intentionally, and about best practices while navigating data at large organizations.
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