My Tips for Working from Home in a Pandemic

family-chat-1
Our offices around the globe went to work from home March 11th, making today my 11th day in captivity… I mean operating remotely. The transition has gone surprisingly smoothly, with technology enabling me and my team to be very productive. But it is also clear the high anxiety that exists in all our lives right now - anxiety for the health of our family and friends, our communities, our 401Ks, and more. I can also hear a gear shift occurring across the organization as people begin to come to grips with the fact that the way we have been operating over the last couple weeks may be our new normal. So today I thought I’d share some of the things that are working for me at this time.

Prioritize Health First

As much as we think the work we do is important, it is never more critical than the health and well being of our families, friends and communities. There is nothing like a health crisis to put life in perspective. Even if everyone you know is healthy, what is happening around us - e.g. the onslaught of negative news, the sudden sense of financial insecurity, the fear for the future - can all take a toll on us physically and mentally. It’s important to get outside daily for exercise, take periodic breaks during the day, and to control your news intake. I have also taken to making sure I am looking out for the health and well being of my colleagues, starting every new conversation with the same question: “How are you and your family doing?” No two of us are experiencing this crisis in exactly the same way, and now is a time to really listen to the thoughts, feelings and needs of your colleagues.

Limit Rumination

Rumination is the background voice you hear in your head when you allow your mind to shift from directed to undirected thinking. For example, if you made a mistake at work today, this is the voice in your head that will analyze the mistake from every angle while simultaneously fretting over its potential adverse impact, highlighting all your personal deficiencies that led you to make it, and wondering if you should have lasagna or fish for dinner tonight. Okay, now you know the voice I am talking about, right? Rumination is critical to our self-learning system in humans, and helps us become better at what we do. But if not controlled, rumination can also consume you with negative thoughts. The prescription for managing your rumination is simple: learn to recognize when you are doing it, avoid activities that result in a high degree of rumination, and practice techniques to redirect your ruminating mind back toward more directed thinking.

Increase Social Connection

The term “social distancing” is particularly poorly chosen since there has never been a time in which we all need more social connection. The good news is we have technology to support us. Setup time to connect with friends and family, even people you might not have connected with in a long while. My three brothers, two sisters and I all did our first virtual happy hour this last Sunday evening over Zoom. This is the same group that upon learning I was starting a cloud computing company in 2012 asked me if the computers were running in the sky… so yeah, it was pretty impressive to get us all on a video call together. I also had a colleague at work who started a virtual water cooler this week, where people dropped by at a predefined hour to have informal conversations. She made everyone who joined tell the group where they were working from, which spawned all sorts of interesting conversations. And of course engaging in a few group text chats also help to keep us connected - although if the topic of toilet paper comes up one more time in my family chat, I will be leaving it.

Find a Routine

The first few days of working from home I found time was a blur, as I was on Zoom meetings for 10+ hours per day. One morning I found myself waking up at 2 AM and going to work, since my home office was just a few feet away from my bedroom. Don’t get me wrong: now is a good time to be putting in more hours. Your ability to support your customers, your business and your people have never been more important than now. But we also need a balance between work and family life that supports good mental and physical health. A work colleague gave me the tip that has worked well for me, which is to create bookends for your day - e.g. a routine that provides some clear separation between your work and family life, allowing you to more easily transition. I also think the consistency of your schedule is also important. My former CEO puts his suit on every day before starting work, and then takes it off when the day is over. I like to think I do the same thing with my hoodie - but if I were fully honest, I put it on in the morning but it never really comes off (a.k.a. WFH Casual).

Maintain a Sense of Humor

When the day is over, it’s important to unwind. My doctor prescribed for me a glass of red wine every evening. Okay, maybe he didn’t actually prescribe it, but I like to think he would have on my next visit. And since I live in the state of Massachusetts, which has designated hospitals, liquor stores and pot shops as critical businesses, my prescription will always get filled. Sorry for digression there but while I know we are in serious times and we have a lot of stress in our lives right now, I also think a little levity helps keep things in perspective. Read a humorous book, watch a toilet paper song video (thank you big sis), or just listen to a White House briefing (sorry, dark humor). But whatever you do, try to find a way to laugh each day.