Thought Leadership

Working from Home During the Pandemic Requires a New Skill Set

April 1, 2020
Working from Home During the Pandemic Requires a New Skill Set

For the uninitiated, the phrase “working from home” may conjure visions of leisurely mornings (perhaps with coffee in bed), comfortable-yet-practical work wear, and outdoor runs that take place during daytime hours. The reality can look a bit more frenzied, especially when considering the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic.

Preparing to work from home might involve steps such as investing in a good office chair, setting up a dedicated work space, and learning how to communicate remotely with the team members that you relied on as social support and soundboards in the office. Right now, we’re all having to make these adjustments in a crunched time frame and under unique circumstances.

How Working from Home Differs in a Pandemic Environment

We have all seen the typical work-from-home tips-and-tricks articles, but to help us tackle this challenge together, I’ve spoken with work-from-home veteran Justin Sutton to hear how remote work might just need to look different during a pandemic. As a bonus, I’ve compiled some of our colleagues’ favorite work from home rules that you may not have seen yet!

Justin cautions that since this is an unusual circumstance, it may not make sense to follow the traditional work-from-home rules quite so closely: “When you’re dropped into it … it can be a bit daunting because you hear so often people saying, ‘establish a routine, do this and do that.”

Right now, we all have enough added pressure; as long as we are getting the job done, some of the standard work-from-home rules are things that may just stand in your way, so let’s focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Here are Justin’s suggestions:

  • Cabin fever creeps in fast when you work where you live. Rather than set up a dedicated work space, consider taking your laptop to different spots around your home and outside when the weather cooperates. The change of scenery is refreshing and you will feel less drained at the end of the day.
  • In such a unique situation, you’ve got to find a way to be flexible and roll with the punches. One way to stay as on-top-of-it as possible is to know your schedule inside and out. Look at your calendar first thing every morning to identify meetings. From there, inform the household so they’ll know when you’ll be fully available and when you’ll need quiet time to maintain professionalism—such as on client calls. For internal calls, now is the time for flexibility and understanding with internal teams, and these should be more relaxed.
  • Consider avoiding same-day meetings as much as possible. Try to schedule meetings at least 24 hours in advance so people have ample time to plan around them. When in doubt, always ask—it’s worth recognizing that someone may look free on the calendar but need to use that time to do grocery shopping, run upstairs to referee the kids or tend to an older parent or loved one.
  • As for how to keep those kids entertained? Make sure the household has an activity area set up to keep the kids focused during meeting times. Start an art project or a reading project for that time. Having a fun family activity set up for when your meeting is over also helps the kids stay focused since they know that something fun is coming, and it doubles as your own mental and social break as well.
  • Perhaps most importantly, learn to become a “mute button ninja” and only unmute your phone when you have something to say. This is especially important now when so many of us are working with a menagerie of kids and animals in the background!

Additional Tips from Our Colleagues

#1: Position your work-from-home station by a window: “There are a million benefits to natural sunlight on general health, productivity and happiness!” – Erin McLaughlin

#2: Clearly separate work from relaxation: “For me, the couch equates to relaxation time.” – Cristina Coppola. For those who may be in smaller living spaces like a studio or shared apartment, try sectioning off part of a couch to become a work space—small pillows help you sit up straight and a laptop stand (or even a large windowsill) can become your desk in a pinch.

#3: Don’t forget to mind your mental health: “Limit COVID-19 news consumption to an hour a day (if possible); avoid social media if it’s making you too anxious.” – Sonia Sharigian

#4: Consider investing in a standing desk: “Mine is adjustable so I can sit if wanted. I find myself drinking more water. It also feels like more of a transition when I log off in the evenings and move the ten steps to the couch to sit down.” – Holly Kilbourn

Lastly, we are all in this together. It is important to remember this as we move forward, and it applies to our clients as well. We aim never to be “log-jams” for either our own teams or our clients who depend on us. There are new pressures and challenges that we need to navigate during this time, and putting ourselves in the best position as possible to manage our work is the best thing we can do for each other and our clients.

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Kat Waller, Moderator
Kat Waller
Director, Financial Services Qualitative

Kat is an experienced qualitative strategist and moderator who is dedicated to Escalent’s Financial Services team. Prior to joining Escalent, she was fully immersed in ethnographic fieldwork among specialized populations. Her Escalent career has added even more specialized populations to her list: financial advisors, consultants, plan sponsors, end investors, and banking and credit card customers to name a few. Kat is adept in ethnographic and in-situ methodologies, in-depth interviews, online bulletin boards, and focus group moderation. She is also skilled in back end narrative analysis and consultative reporting that always has its eye on making a real business impact for her clients. Her passion for uncovering qualitative insights and business strategy carries through in her work in Financial Services. Kat holds a BA in Sociocultural Anthropology and a Masters of Science in Medical Anthropology from Boston University.

Justin Sutton, Senior Director
Justin Sutton
Senior Director, Qualitative

Justin is a former senior director in the qualitative group.