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Staying Sane in a Crazy World (while working remotely!)

By Amy L. Boukair, CQIA, Director, Quality Assurance 

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more employees around the world are finding themselves forced to work from home for the first time in their careers. Some may welcome this new adventure with open arms, while others will cringe at the thought of not being able to go to a different location to work. There is no doubt about it; there will be an adjustment period, especially if you're also dealing with children suddenly at home with schools closing. It can be a daunting task to try and stay connected and productive with your job with everything going on, but some simple disciplinary steps can make life a little easier, and a little less stressful.

  1. Keep calm and carry on. First and foremost, understand that this situation is only temporary. Panic is completely nonproductive in any case, and this one is no different. Problems don't get solved while panicking, and nothing gets done. So, take a mindful deep breath, and keep reading…
  2. Drop the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Working from home for the first time can make you feel isolated if you let it. You might miss the face-to-face camaraderie of your co-workers, but with today's technology, there's no reason at all to stay out of touch. Call, email, FaceTime, message, or text each other to keep communication lines open and productivity moving forward. Over-communicate if it makes you feel better. This item can seem like a no-brainer, but it really is essential, especially during a stressful time such as this. Any source of connection can be vital to keep you sane.
    1. If you're not a fan of live face to face video calls (like me), I recommend the app Marco Polo. This app allows you to video message back and forth with others at your own pace and in your own time, while still being able to put a face to the voice. This helps alleviate the feeling of isolation that can happen with just texts or emails but isn't as stressful as a full-blown video call.
  3. Drop the other FOMO. This is the fear that if you're not at your computer, or near your work phone, you'll miss something significant or important. One thing that is extremely hard to get over is the thought that if you miss a phone call, or don't respond to an email right away while working from home, everyone will think you're slacking off or not doing your job. This is a mental block that you must overcome to work remotely successfully. I still struggle with this, even after working remotely for eight years. We all need to realize that just as in physical business offices, home offices have the same issues regarding focus and attention (and bathroom breaks!). This brings up the need for some tips for your well-being as you address this FOMO:
    1. Get up. There are apps now that will remind you to stand every so often, or you can set a timer on your phone to go off every hour. You absolutely need to get out of your chair and move and get your eyes off your computer screen every once in a while.
    2. Take breaks. While you're getting up, if weather permits, step outside and take a deep breath, or walk your dog. Just get some fresh air. Do a quick load of laundry or dishes (couldn't do that at the office, could you? Yay, multitasking!). Most of all, make sure you take a full lunch break away from your computer or a screen of any kind if you can.
  4. Drop the other FOMO (yes, there are three!). This is the fear that since you're now working from home, you suddenly have become “on-call” 24/7. Unless that is actually the requirement or expectation of your job, this is NOT the case. Whatever you have arranged with your employer to be your schedule as you work remotely is The Schedule. Some of you (like me) will feel obligated to answer that email you get at nine o'clock at night while you're finally tucking in your restless child for the night. Don't do it. Even if you have to physically force yourself to not respond to that email, don't do it. Get it into your mind that once you are done for the day, you are Done for the day. If you can set up a separate area in your living space to work in, make it happen. That way, you can physically shut the door (or your mind) to wherever your work area is at the end of the day. Working remotely doesn't mean that you are now a slave to your computer or phone. Again, this is all dependent on your type of job and expectations, but make sure those are spelled out clearly for you as you begin. For your peace of mind and sanity, you need to be able to turn it off and tune out.
  5. Look on the bright side. There are a lot of upsides to working from home (besides just working in pajamas – though, to be fair, that's pretty cool):
    1. You're helping the planet. By not commuting to the office, you're reducing your carbon footprint. And as more and more of us are forced to do this at once, it's becoming noticeable.
    2. You're saving money. This relates to the first point in that you're not using up fuel on long work commutes, or dry cleaning, or daily purchased lunches. Just be sure to use those savings to get take-out lunch or dinner from a locally-owned restaurant who could use the business if you can.
    3. You're saving time. Now that you're not commuting every day, you suddenly get that extra free time added to your day. That may be anything from a few additional minutes to a couple of hours, depending on your regular commute. Use that extra time constructively and creatively. Explore those hobbies you've put on the back burner, or just hit the snooze button one more time. Zero judgment.
    4. You're helping your community. By working from home, you are reducing the risk of community spread of the COVID-19 virus. It only takes a second to switch your way of thinking from being “forced” to work from home, to that of doing the right thing for your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and community in general. By now, we all know that we can be carriers of the virus without symptoms. If we remove ourselves from that equation by working from home for just a little while, we're doing our part to help out.
  6. In the alternative - Ignore all of this advice. Do what works for you. Only you know what will work for you and your particular situation. Maybe working in a full-on home office in a suit and tie is your thing. Do it if it makes you feel better. Again, zero judgment. The idea of a "normal" remote worker has been thrown out the virtual window. Be creative. Be yourself. Be well.

Regardless of how we got into this situation, here we are, and we must make the most of it. We can do that in this world of virtual interconnectivity fairly seamlessly, but we need to do it in a way that keeps us from going completely stir-crazy. If we remain mindful and present in our intentions and routines, we can make the separation a little less lonely. And, if we stay disciplined in maintaining the boundaries of our work that is now invading our home space, we can keep just a little bit of our sanity intact. Finally, if we can accomplish all of these tasks, we can keep our businesses going in this trepidatious time, and keep our communities as safe as we possibly can. In the context of world events, all of these are valiant efforts that if accomplished, could make us remote workers the invisible heroes of this pandemic.