Now that most of the U.S. is at least three weeks into quarantine for COVID-19, and with most states facing at least another three weeks of stay-at-home orders, we were wondering: How are people staying productive? Working from home presents several challenges to those who are able to do it, from competing attention with children and spouses, to finding a quiet space, to emotional distractions and stress.
We checked in with three businesspeople in Albuquerque that we’ve had the pleasure of working with to see how they’re handling the current situation.
Finding Flexibility and Leaning Into Circadian Rhythms
For Ryan Jewell, account executive at Yearout Energy, working from home has actually provided him with better flexibility. As an extreme morning lark, he’s finding that being able to work from home on his own schedule has made him more productive than he could have been at the office.
“A key to working from home is to find when your productive times are,” he says. “For me, it’s in the morning, so if I can get to the computer early, I can get a lot more done than in the late afternoons.” His wife, meanwhile, is more productive in the afternoon. Now that neither of them have to report to the office, they can schedule their days in a more flexible manner, especially when it comes to finding care for their seven-month-old daughter.
“We don’t have to schedule her drop off at the babysitter around a 15-20 minute commute to work,” he says.
Of course, taking their daughter to her regular babysitter was a risk they had to weigh carefully. The babysitter, he notes, disinfects everything and is maintaining social distancing herself. He’s less worried about contracting the virus than he is about other threats, and taking their daughter to her babysitter wasn’t even a question for them. “It would be nearly impossible for us to work otherwise,” Ryan explains. “It’s impossible to coordinate caring for our daughter if both my wife and I have to be on conference calls during the day.”
He and his wife still maintain a pretty regular schedule for the family as they did before the quarantine, including getting groceries on Friday afternoons. But he’s found that he saves several hours during the day on meals and snacks by working from home, because he can just pop downstairs to the kitchen instead of spending an hour going out with colleagues. Also, instead of getting up at 4:30am to head to the gym before work, he can work out in their spare bedroom in the afternoons.
Yearout Energy was already set up for employees to work remotely, so the switch was easy for Ryan. He’s found that he can get a lot more done right now, but with one caveat: many of his clients don’t have a work-from-home capability in place, so he’s having to wait for them to catch up. “I’m waiting on some of my clients to find a way to make adjustments,” he says. “So while I’m productive, it’s not always in the way I’d like to be in terms of business development.”
One other issue with working from home is that it’s harder to tell how your colleagues are dealing with the isolation. “If you see someone in the office, it’s easier to determine if they’re struggling or wrestling with something,” he says, “but I don’t get that sense from people when we’re all at home.”
But, Ryan says, he’s proud of how leadership at Yearout Energy has responded to the crisis. “They’ve been staying very calm through this,” he says. “They have experienced tough times before, and you can tell that they’re very calm and collected and not panicking, which keeps everyone else within the organization calm as well.” They also communicate clearly, calmly, and effectively, and with the intention of reminding everyone that this situation will pass, and the company as a whole will get through it stronger on the other side.
“Yearout Energy is a positive place to work in normal times, so this message isn’t new,” Ryan says. Still, the lack of a true end-date to the quarantine situation does make the situation harder. “But there’s nothing we can do about that except keep pushing forward and stay in our normal lives as much as possible,” Ryan says.
A Difficult Situation Even for Introverts
For Kellie Knapp, firm administrator at Pregenzer, Baysinger, Wideman & Sale, PC (PBWS Law), working from home is a net positive. The best benefit of working from home for Kellie is that she has fewer interruptions. As a manager, she often has visitors who just stop into her office to ask for help. “At home, they don’t have my office to just walk into; they have to email or call,” she says. While she’s answering all these calls and emails when they come in, she still finds that she has fewer interruptions, and can get more done.
Kellie and her partner have a very set schedule, and with him taking time off from work, he’s able to take care of their two dogs while Kellie concentrates. Of course, those pets do find a way into her office from time to time. “We have two small dogs,” she says, “and they enjoy being on laps. It can make it difficult to type.” But other than that, she’s found she’s working more, especially since she has no commute and no need to schedule time to go to the gym. She takes regular breaks throughout the day, including timed snacks to keep her going.
But there are some negatives that have to be dealt with. “The biggest issue we have is internet connectivity,” she says. “At the office, we have two internet connections, so that one can pick up the slack. But at home, there’s only one. There’s a lot of lag.” With neighbors at home streaming TV shows or working themselves, Kellie and her colleagues are all facing some issues with the internet, especially with their phones, which use voice over internet protocol (VOIP) to connect. This means if the broadband isn’t at full speed, calls can break up or disconnect entirely. Hopefully, she notes, this will be a turning point for internet service providers across the U.S. to improve connectivity for everyone.
Right now, Kellie is working 11-hour days. “These past few weeks have been very long, but we’re dealing with a lot of remote issues,” she explains. Still, she’s trying to be mindful of how late she’s working, especially because she and her partner workout together at home. “I don’t want him to have to wait for me to get our workout going,” she says. She’s also trying to make sure she gets enough sleep. Her regular schedule helps her to know what’s coming, with breaks as ear markers throughout the day.
As an introvert, Kellie has no problem working from home. She and her partner are enjoying each other’s company and being home with her dogs. “Our perfect vacation would be staying at home,” she says.
Still, she misses the connection of being in the office. “It’s hard to manage people and make sure everyone is able to do what they need to do,” she notes. This situation is forcing the firm to find the cracks in their processes and find new ways to solve them, which is more difficult from. No one in the office worked from home previously, and it’s her task to check in and make sure everyone is ok.
The leadership at her office is also helping the situation by being transparent about what they’re trying to do in terms of keeping people on staff as long as they can, and ensuring that everyone on the team knows that they want the entire staff back at work once the quarantine is over.
Managing Emotional Strain and a New Role as a Teacher
Working parents are particularly prone to experiencing productivity downturns right now, with schools closed and daycares shuttered. “Right now, I’m not just a worker, not just a parent, I’m expected to be a teacher, too,” says Gretchen Price, training coordinator for HB Construction. With twin 10-year-old boys at home, Gretchen has to focus on providing stability for her children while balancing her work load.
The boys need a regular schedule, including time to get outside and play, in order to both learn and maintain emotional health. And it’s up to Gretchen to create that schedule for them. As a single parent, she has to manage all of this herself, and it can be extremely stressful.
“I feel like I’m on a unicycle with glass balls in the air and one of my arms tied down,” she says.
Gretchen has set up her office in her tiny bedroom so that she can do conference calls while her sons work at the kitchen table. In normal times, she keeps technology out of her bedroom to maintain good sleep hygiene, but she understands that right now, sacrifices have to be made where they can. One thing she won’t sacrifice is her ability to manage anxiety. “I don’t listen to the news, but my kids did for school,” she says. “So I started to have to listen to the news. This made my anxiety spike.” She limits her media consumption about the pandemic to twice a week to keep her worries down to a dull roar. “Really, if the world’s falling apart, people are going to let me know.”
In addition to managing her children’s schedules, Gretchen has two aging parents who live far away that she cares for from afar. At the same time, she faces concern about the economy, and especially her job. “I’m in a field that’s dispensable,” she explains. “Training is one of the first things that’s cut when the economy goes. I chose that life for myself, but it’s hard.”
One way that Gretchen has found to soothe her worries is to focus on solutions. People come up with creative solutions during hard times, and trying to be part of the solution helps immensely. “It’s not all about making money right now,” she says. “It’s about doing the right thing and being helpful. In our last recession, we found ways for more small businesses to be created through amazing, creative ideas. I think that’s going to happen again.”
Other solutions to anxiety that Gretchen has found helpful include letting the emotion happen when it happens. She also tries to reach out to friends or loved ones, and sometimes coworkers, to talk when she needs to. She has a list of positive podcasts and audiobooks that she listens to as well. And when all else fails, she turns on Cuban music. “Who can be in a bad mood when you listen to Cuban music?” she says.
There are many positives she’s found to working from home as well. “My house is the cleanest it’s ever been!” she says. “The baseboards had never been cleaned before, and now, they are!” She’s also finding new ways to connect with friends, like a regular hour on Zoom teleconferencing with her girlfriends.
Her organization is responding to employee needs in a variety of ways. Gretchen has regular check-ins with colleagues, including a weekly half-hour where she and a colleague just talk about how they’re feeling. But one way she says they’re going above and beyond is just recognizing workers and appreciating their work.
“The CEO and owner sent out an email this week, saying how much he appreciates everyone at the company,” Gretchen says. “And then he asked everyone to reply-all and recognize individuals and their colleagues. A small thanks can really go a long way.”
Gretchen is working hard to keep perspective during the pandemic. “You know, sometimes it seems like it’s never going to end,” she says. “But at the same time, this is just a drop in the bucket; just a moment in our lifespans. I know we’ll get through it.”If your organization needs help with crisis communications during the COVID-19 pandemic, get in touch with LuckyTamm — we can help.