On April 23, 2020, Miriam Veiss-Creque joined the first episode of Simplilearn’s Teaching Thursdays webinar series to talk about how we can all make the time and space in self-isolation to work productively and learn for personal and career development. Miriam is the Manager of Academic Affairs and Human Resources at Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology. She has been a community college instructor in Psychology and an academic and career counsellor, with over ten years working with adult learners, in both traditional and remote settings.
Miriam gave her advice and tips to deal with several of the questions we have all faced during the COVID-19 crisis.
What Challenges Arise for People Who Have to Work During Self-Isolation?
For those of us who have been required to abandon our offices and work from home, changes to our work environment pose a real challenge. Unless you were already working 100% remote, this is a major adjustment. Depending on your living situation, you may be dealing with a lack of dedicated workspace, interruptions from family members, or environmental distractions (e.g. noisy street, neighbours playing music).
Moreover, we all need to be aware that working during a crisis is a challenge in itself. A very real existential threat exists, and for those still working, we are asked to both ‘carry on’ with work and make major changes to how we operate our lives at the same time. It can be difficult to maintain productivity in the face of a pandemic.
People we know (both at work and in our personal lives) are all being impacted differently, and we need to be able to work with people at a variety of adjustment stages.
This popular graphic has been shared on platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. For those of us continuing to work during self-isolation, we need to maintain awareness of where we are on this spectrum and make room for our emotional and mental health needs.
Langeh, Monika [@drmonika_langeh]. (2020, March 29).What You Choose? [Twitter moment]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/drmonika_langeh/status/1244472906685353989
You should take a moment, look at the graphic, and ask yourself: Where are you currently?
How Do You Maintain a Work Routine While on Self-Isolation?
When working from home, the time cues that we get in the office environment disappear. To stay productive, you need to create a new set of time cues that work for you while on your own.
Schedule and structure are key. Take breaks, eat meals, end your work on time, and protect the boundaries of those personal time zones.
One tip that helps to set those boundaries is to designate a workspace that is as separate as possible from your living spaces. Behaviourists know that we behave differently based on cues in our environment, so if you have a separate workspace, you will put your mind into work mode just by entering it. Try to establish a workspace that you do not use for other purposes. Make a ritual at the beginning and end of the day to signify the transition from work time to ‘off’ time.
When you set up that workspace, several considerations deal both with how you do your work and how you think about doing work.
- Ergonomics: you (and your organization) must take precautions to ensure appropriate ergonomic set up is still considered. You do not want to come out of this experience with a bad back or carpal tunnel! If you have a special ergonomic set up in your normal office, consider getting permission from your organization to take that equipment home for your remote workspace. If you need a special ergonomic aid such as a computer monitor stand or a wrist rest, ask your employer if they will buy it for you or reimburse you for it. Keeping you healthy and productive is in their interest.
- Lighting: do you have a window near your workspace for natural light? If not, consider purchasing a sunlight lamp for your workspace. Make sure you have enough natural and artificial light set up properly to ensure you are not overly straining your eyes: for example, use lighting to keep from using a bright computer monitor in a dark room.
- Décor: try to keep some of the same décor and set up that you have in your on-site workspace. The more visual cues you can give your brain to remind it of your usual workspace, the easier it will be to work in that new space. You might want to decorate your remote workspace with personal items such as travel souvenirs or gifts from friends and family: these can remind you of the normal times that you used to enjoy and that you can look forward to enjoying again.
How Do You Create Work/ Life Balance During Self-Isolation?
In Miriam’s department at Stanford, they used to use the term “Work-Life Integration,” but now she says “Work-Life Balance” seems more appropriate to the situation we find ourselves in. Here are some of her tips:
- Find substitutes for your usual activities that have been disrupted. For example, if you have a regular workout routine, but your gym is closed, find a streaming workout platform.
- Stick to your ‘normal’ work schedule and create boundaries around work hours. Do not take work calls after hours: if you wouldn’t be in the office to answer the phone at a given time on a typical day, there should not be an expectation to do so just because you are at home.
- Find leisure activities and maintain connections with others. If you were used to going out regularly with friends, consider virtual ‘hang outs’ and other ways to stay connected from afar.
What Tools Do You Use to Stay Connected?
We all need to interact with people for work, whether managers, teammates, vendors or customers. We all have an equally real need to interact with people in our personal lives, including our friends, family, and neighbours.
Teleconferencing and messaging tools are key. For instance, you can use tools like Slack or Zoom to have daily or weekly ‘face to face‘ team meetings to maintain a sense of collaboration and cohesion.
File sharing and cloud tools like Box, Google Cloud services, and Dropbox are an effective way to share and edit documents, allowing collaborative work with built-in accountability. Tools that have version rollback let you avoid disasters by enabling you to track changes to documents and undo any mistaken changes.
Zoom fatigue is real; if you use Zoom or other conferencing tools often for work, Miriam recommends trying to find something different for personal time, just to give your brain a sense of ‘this is not part of work time.’ For personal life, applications like FaceTime and Facebook Messenger are great options. They have fun filters and tools to make chatting more interactive and personal.
How Can You Take Advantage of Self-Isolation to Make Space for Personal Growth and Education?
In the world of work from home, distance learning is becoming the norm. Becoming adept at self-directed learning is a skill that you can cultivate, just as we are trying to cultivate the skill of working effectively from home.
Miriam recommends three critical steps in planning a learning program during self-isolation.
- Set realistic goals, accounting for both your actual time available and mental resources needed.
- Remember our earlier chart: if you are still in the ‘fear zone’ are you going to be able to benefit from and absorb a learning experience at this time?
- Tailor your learning goals to your needs. If you are in the ‘fear zone,’ perhaps a mindfulness course would be an excellent way to set yourself up to be in a better place for that PMP certification.
Miriam also offered a set of Do’s and Don’ts for learning during self-isolation.
This is a good time to:
- Take advantage of online platforms like Simplilearn to complete self-paced courses on topics of interest.
- Pursue a professional certification in your field or one that you are trying to enter.
This is NOT a good time to:
- Enrol in a multi-year degree program, e.g. a doctorate (that you were not already poised to start).
- Take on more than you can reasonably handle (with the understanding that you are likely not still functioning at your previous mental/emotional capacity).
You can also watch the webinar replay:
If you feel you are ready to take on courses to help prepare you for career advancement in the future, take a look at the courses and programs, Simplilearn offers. You can learn and gain certifications in a variety of digital economy skills and disciplines, and you can construct a learning path that fits your needs and your available time.