Not your typical lessons learned working remotely during COVID-19

by | Apr 13, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

Like many others, our agency was thrust into telework to protect the greater community from the threat of COVID-19. We’ve all seen the countless articles on teleworking tips, but I’ve found that what these tips often fail to address is this is not a typical remote work situation for anyone. It’s one thing to find ways to stay productive while working remotely, but it’s another thing entirely to stay productive and sane amid a global pandemic. For dual income households, that means juggling work in a full house with kids, pets, spouses and potentially elders.

After more than a week working remotely in a full house under self-isolation, I realize the typical tips don’t transfer fully. Here are the lessons I learned over the past week and recommendations for staying productive and healthy.

It’s not a typical WFH scenario

I distinctly remember reading posts on social media sharing teleworking tips along the lines of “get dressed like you were going into the office,” “keep clearly defined working hours” and “designate a room in your house as a home office.” As someone with a nearly two-year-old, I must admit I chuckled while reading them.

During this social distancing period, I challenge anyone in our industry with a toddler at home to find time to put on dress clothes and isolate in a quiet room from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Daycares and schools are closed, so for many, childcare isn’t an option. Since most workplaces are either closed or teleworking, those with families also have family members sharing the same “workspace.”

If you’re attempting to work in a full house, keeping clearly defined work hours is probably not a feasible option. Instead, consider using a flexible schedule with hours that fit your situation and allow you to be the most productive. This may consist of logging on before your children are awake, or once they’re in bed. During normal business hours, alternate childcare shifts with others in the house to allow for uninterrupted working time. Not only will the designated work time make you more productive, spending time with family and little ones can help freshen your mind and relieve stress.

Clients are in the same bind as us

It’s important to remember that your clients are likely facing increased challenges as well. Aside from attempting to deal with the aforementioned teleworking issues, many are trying to navigate an uncertain, chaotic marketing landscape where pushing a message may not be appropriate. For most, their customers are turning to them for guidance.

As communications professionals, it’s our job to support our clients, regardless of circumstance. Consider being flexible to allow for changes to their schedule and seek out atypical ways to help them through this challenging period. If your client relies on you for PR or marketing support, offer to help with internal communications statements or talking points. As your client’s priorities shift, ensure you’re changing with them and providing support in as many ways as possible. It’s more important now than ever to be aware of what’s happening in the current situation and advise clients as their eyes and ears on the ground. For example, corporate social media posts that may have previously been harmless could now be interpreted as inappropriate, particularly those depicting large events in the midst of social distancing. We need to find new ways to help clients stay informed and relevant in a rapidly changing climate.

Mental health matters

For many of those adapting to this new work environment, time seems to stretch without the usual social releases. The unique circumstance of social distancing can be challenging for some who may thrive on social communication, like extroverts. But remember, social distancing doesn’t have to be total isolation—stay in touch with regular phone calls, instant messaging and videoconferencing.

While control may seem fleeting given the unpredictable nature of things, there is much we can control in our daily lives. Try to put in place a loose schedule. Make a point to go for a stroll around the neighborhood or local park. Spring is upon us: dive into gardening or an outdoor hobby and enjoy the fresh air. It’s vital to keep a clear mind and stay connected with colleagues, not just from a professional standpoint, but also from a personal one.

Also, while information can be empowering to help navigate these worrisome times, consider keeping social media scrolling to a minimum. It’s important to know what’s happening, but overloading on information from unverified sources can lead to unnecessary panic and stress. Social networking can help you stay engaged in various communities. Connect to local nonprofits and order take-out from local restaurants that are taking a hit. Monitor and set limits on your social media use to protect your mental health.

The CDC offers guidance on managing mental health, and the National Association of Mental Health also provides support to those affected by the stress of the epidemic. If you’re experiencing mental health symptoms, talk to a professional.

Adjusting to a new normal

One key lesson that many of us are learning is that the work doesn’t stop. Many are finding they are just as productive (if not more) while working remotely. Through using video conferencing and instant messaging platforms, team members are in more frequent contact than ever. Seize opportunities for webinars or virtual events to keep up your skills and networking.

So rather than focusing on what clothes you’re settling into in the morning or pretending you can carve out eight straight hours of silence to maintain productivity, it’s vital to recognize the situation for what it is: an uncertain time of crisis. Adapt your strategies and activities to meet client demands, as well as your personal work style and remember to maintain mental and physical health. The news never stops—and in these times, it’s changing more quickly than before—it is possible to maintain productivity during this trying time.

I’ll leave you with this gem. Earl Nightingale once said: “The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.” Eventually, this crisis will end, we’ll resume some normalcy and grow from this experience, but until it does, we’ll be here for our clients and support each other. I hope these tips will help you stay productive as a communications professional, but also healthy as a member of a thriving community.

Mike Atkinson
Mike Atkinson is an Account Director at Sage Communications, where he works to establish Sage as a trusted advisor to clients in the cybersecurity, government and technology verticals. He’s led strategic communications efforts for major technology and cybersecurity companies, including Splunk, Okta, Dell Technologies, SpyCloud, Lookout and more. Outside of the office, Mike volunteers PR services to Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Fairfax, VA, and is an engaged mentor for future PR professionals at his alma mater, West Virginia University.


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