Just a few days into my telework during the COVID-19* crisis and already I know I need to make some changes. I miss my desk. I miss the camaraderie and humor of my colleagues. Just as studies predict, I’m working longer and harder without the cadence of daily routines and rituals at the office.
More worrying is that our house has seemingly shrunk as two teleworking adults try to stay productive while three college-age kids finish their semesters remotely from home. But grieving the loss of the empty nest is the least of our worries. The reality of staying productive during a two-week self-quarantine is front and center.
As the director of the Foreign Service Institute’s resilience team, the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience (CEFAR), I know that surviving and thriving in these situations depends on focusing on what I can control – or what we call managing your sphere of influence. Too often we waste our energy worrying about things we have little or no influence over.
During this slow-burning crisis, one that is likely to unfold over weeks and months, it is more important than ever to focus on what you can control. So here are a few tips to strengthen your resilience while being a more productive teleworker.
- Stay positive: Studies show how we perceive crisis and trauma has a direct impact on how it affects us. Fight your brain’s negativity bias by finding the silver lining to telework – more time to read, to write, and to think – and every day is casual Friday.
- Strengthen keystone habits: Work to maintain your routines and keystone habits of regular exercise, quality sleep, and healthy eating. Focus on strengthening one of those keystone habits and unexpected benefits will follow that will help you feel stronger and improve your immune system.
- Keep your routines: It is easy to upset our routines when we don’t have to worry about a commute and can roll out of bed and work in our slippers. Many of these routines are heuristics that save energy and keep us healthy. One of my colleagues swears by his morning tea routine to set the tone for the rest of the day – identify your important routines that help ground your day.
- Make a space: Take the time to create your own work space, ideally near some sunlight, so other parts of your home can be for relaxation and non-work activities. Keep work out of the bedroom so you can maintain your sleep hygiene. If your house is like mine, use a good set of headphones to quiet the noise (especially the coughing and nose-blowing) of others.
- Set house rules: If you live with others, the old rules may need to be amended. Have a house meeting to clarify duties and expectations living in tight quarters. One of my daughters did a humorous Google Slides presentation to lead the discussion on best health practices from the CDC, setting quiet hours and expectations for keeping shared space clean and livable. Dishes in the dishwasher, not the sink!
- Take breaks away from the house. Even if you are self-isolating you can still plan for walks around your neighborhood or in a park where you can maintain recommended social distancing.
- Reach out to others. Strong social support is critical to maintaining personal and team resilience. Get comfortable with the various telework tools to keep productive and stay connected. Instead of exposing yourself to anxiety-producing news and social media, call or better yet, video conference your friends and family to see how they are doing.
These seven strategies for thriving during telework reflect what we know works from both empirical data and from recent practice. What are some of the strategies you will use to stay productive and healthy working from home?
*For updates and official COVID-19 response guidance, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) page at https://www.coronavirus.gov.
About the Author: Peter Redmond is the Director of the Center of Excellence in Foreign Affairs Resilience (CEFAR) at the Transition Center at the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI). His passion for resilience began as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and continued with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency working with communities impacted by toxic waste. Before joining FSI in 2019, he spent 17 years strengthening volunteer and staff resilience leading Peace Corps programs overseas and in Washington, DC. Peter has an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School where he studied conflict resolution and public leadership, and a B.A. from the University of Rochester.