Apart from overcoming the technological and organizational challenges we discussed in last week’s post, our team members also need to cope with the practical and psychological aspects of working remotely during a crisis. Of course, it’s pretty much a privilege to be sitting at home in front of a computer screen, instead of restocking shelves in the supermarket or working at a hospital. However, it can still be difficult for some people to organize their working day.
Structure, Structure, Structure: How to Self-Organize and Self-Motivate
Some might feel restless when cooped up indoors on a beautiful day in spring; others might get distracted by the household chores on their to-do list. (To my shame, there’s a literal heap of dirty laundry squeezed in between my bed and my desk in my studio apartment, which makes me suffer from a guilty conscience every time I get ready for “the office”.) To ignore such distractions during working hours and to stay motivated, it’s especially important to structure the day and to come up with a schedule for both work and leisure.
“I personally don’t enjoy working from home unless I absolutely have to, so I’ve had to find ways to stay positive. I find that it’s best to continue with your daily routine as much as possible,” says Human Resources Manager Michael. “This means getting up and getting dressed at the same time each day. Okay, I’m wearing Super Mario pajamas right now, but at least I’m wearing clothes!”
Provided you are wearing something a little less casual than your favorite PJs, it also helps to go outside for a walk or a quick workout in the morning. “I try to start my day with an early morning run along the river,” says Peter from our Accounting Team. “It’s sunny weather like today that makes the transition from bed to running shoes a lot easier.”
In addition to finding the morning routine that works best for us, we should also try to stick to regular working hours and set up a separate working space. Those who aren’t lucky enough to have an office of their own at home can at least keep their desk or kitchen table tidy and clear away all work-related items at night.
Some team members, however, find carving out their working space at home to be a real boon and enjoy the sudden peace and quiet, far from the numerous interruptions of office life. Feel Good Manager Denise is one of them: “I feel that I can get much more work done at home than at the office, so my productivity has actually risen, and I can finally tackle the overdue tasks that have been piling up in the past few weeks.“
Although the ReFlex Policy doesn’t apply to our interns and they didn’t have any personal experience with remote work before, they seem to have adjusted quickly to the abrupt switch. “I started my internship in October 2019, so I had more than five months to get used to working in an office environment,” relates Siham from the Corporate Communication Team. “Going back to self-organizing and self-motivating wasn’t much of a challenge after such a relatively short time.”
“For me, it wasn’t that big a change, actually. At uni, I mostly work from home and by myself, so this feels familiar. It is very weird, though, to spend most of the day in my flat without being able to meet up with the other interns. But we’re finding other ways to communicate. For example, we have our own private group chat to catch up outside of work.”
The Schedule Keeps Us Sane: How to Balance Work and Family
But not everyone has their home, or even their little working space, to themselves during the day. Some team members live with a partner who’s been sent on enforced leave due to the pandemic; others share their accommodation with roommates who can no longer attend university classes or go to the library. And, of course, all parents in the InterNations team now have to homeschool and entertain their children. Juggling childcare and remote work is probably one of the toughest issues right now.
To combine her five hours of part-time work with teaching her children, Marketing & Product Copywriter Crissy is working in two shifts each day, from 10:00 to 13:00 and from 15:00 to 17:00. “I have a strict schedule for our family, and it’s the schedule that keeps us all sane,” she jokes.
“It’s definitely been a challenge, but I feel quite lucky that my kids are a little older. They’re both in school, in the first and fourth grades, respectively. They do need their structure and regular exercise, but they can also keep themselves occupied for a while,” Chrissy says. “Actually, my daughter, the younger one, just got used to being a Schulkind and loves doing homework. She could probably do homework for five hours a day without being bored. For parents with younger kids, it must be really tough, though. It also makes you appreciate teachers even more. It’s not an easy job to explain the world to children in elementary school!”
Judging from the pictures of various playtime activities shared on Slack, with kids making chalk drawings on the patio or playing in makeshift tents on the balcony, not all our team members’ children are old enough — or interested enough — to be easily distracted by homework. Fortunately, our parent company New Work SE has extended their generous offer of additional paid leave to all team members with children under the age of twelve. If they can’t make alternative childcare arrangements at the moment, they can take up to ten extra vacation days to take care of their kids at home.
Nobody Stands Alone: How to Keep Up the Team Spirit
Last but not least, although we’ve been very lucky so far, we are all a bit stressed. Team members stuck at home with their family might already be suffering from “cabin fever”; those of us who live alone might feel isolated and wish for a supportive hug, social distancing be damned. We all have aged parents or elderly grandparents, vulnerable friends or family members with pre-existing conditions, whom we are worried about.
“The hard part is the social part: not being able to talk to people face to face, not being able to venture outside without taking a thousand things into consideration. And then the fear the pandemic is creating is very difficult to deal with,”Content Writer James from the InterNations GO! Team admits. “Also, knowing all of my family members — parents, sisters, nephews, etc. — are in another country, is really hard. I just hope they’re being careful like I am.”
To distract ourselves from our worries, our team has been quite creative at coming up with virtual replacement for our usual chats in the office kitchen or during lunch break. “I miss the communication and the interaction at the office that’s vital for the team spirit,” states Sherif, one of our Munich-based software engineers, and we’d all probably agree with him.
However, working remotely and separately also feels oddly intimate in different ways: I’ve seen glimpses of my co-workers’ living rooms and wall decorations during video conferences; we have uploaded snapshots of our own or our family’s pets and admired each other’s coffee mug collections (the Moomin collectibles are my personal favorite so far); we have shared helpful online resources, from webinars on virtual meeting skills to free Audible stories for kids, or just silly internet memes about people hoarding toilet paper.
In our event posts, we like to remind the members of our global community that nobody stands alone: attendees should make sure that everybody feels included and welcome. So, we should perhaps take the opportunity to remind ourselves and one another that nobody works alone, either. Despite hunkering down in our separate homes, we’ll weather this storm as a team!
“I had some surreal calls with my friends and family at home about what was happening,” relates Samuele, one of our Italian team members. “I also started to be scared, not just because of the virus, but because of all the uncertainty this situation has created, once again, after the financial crisis of 2008.”
“But then I saw my people singing on the balconies, still being amazingly creative and beautiful. So, sing on the balconies too. Think about how lucky and privileged we are, despite everything. Stay safe, and as us Italians are saying nowadays, keep your distance today, so you can hug each other again, and more often, tomorrow.”
Image credit: iStockphoto / private (Caroline Harsch, Franziska Mutsch, Peter MacKiernan)