How I Survive Remote Work

and how my family survives tight quarters together

by Rebecca Holland New

I laughed this morning when I saw an image from The Shining captioned, “A couple of weeks of isolation with the family.  What can go wrong?”  We are hitting the early days of COVID-19 with schools closed, hoarding and toilet paper panic, and work from home challenges.  With 5 kids (remote schooling) and my spouse, I feel like I have a “leg-up” on the whole working remote.  So, I thought that I would share my learnings.  What makes me a self-proclaimed expert you ask? My work history includes being an officer of a global company, heavy travel, raising 5 kids, and having an arguably very effective career building/turning around companies, cultures, and teams.  A year ago, I assumed a leadership role with a top board and c-suite recruiting firm, and switched from being on the road 90% of the time to working remotely every week.  The initial change I was told would be tough, so I researched, sought advice, and used trial and error to create the guidance below.

Creating a new sense of “Norm”

Change is usually hard  for both adults and kids.  Creating a sense of norm for the family is important for boundaries and space, so the whole house can be as de-stressed as possible.  Leaders focus on ensuring that HR has policies and communications in place to support remote work; ensuring that IT infrastructure leverages community systems/home systems; and realizing that this is a change, so the best way to manage change is to be clear on expectations and over communicate.   But as the remote employee, how do you survive at home… all… day… long?

1. Space

Executives may have workspace already set up in their homes, for the Friday/periodic days working at home or weekends working on a project.  For many employees, this is not the case.  The following may be useful to help understand the needs of the remote worker(s) as well as to allow teams to be more effective.

Family.  Your family will need a place to do their work and to decompress.  You (and your spouse/partner) need a place to work where you can focus.  Try to create some sense of norm which allows you to be able to focus and escape work when you need to relax.

Share.  Communicate (with your spouse and older children) so their time can also be used effectively. This may mean trading off chores, home schooling the kids, or shared time in the office/computer.  Just like reserving meetings rooms in the office, respect the needs of others.  This will save emotional energy.  And although I cannot promise it will remove teenage drama, it helps.

Add a sign when on a call so people know to keep the noise down.  Sometimes, it is as simple as closing a door.  I will actually send a text to my spouse and kids to warn them (and then to alert them when off the call).  Find a communication method that works best for your family.

2. Focus

Visible plans & clarity of expectations.  Create a list/chart so everyone in your home and on your remote team is clear on when they can contact you, what everyone is doing, and when project completions are expected.

Prioritize.  Life is a balance.  Focus on the priorities (family, health, and work).  Not everything needs to be an “A” right now.  Review what is critical.  Discuss (at work and home) the priorities so everyone is aligned and expectations are balanced.

3. Flexibility

Recognizing a lack of access to technology.  Corporate infrastructures are working diligently to support mass remote work.  Some employees may not be as technologically inclined (i.e. lack the familiarity/skills to produce the same work at the same speed and quality under different conditions).  Flexibility through the adaptation learning curve will be key in achieving goals both within the home and for work.  Patience, communication, and support (access, call center, and remote dial-in support/training reminders) can help ensure team members feel supported.

Utilize your support system and tools.  Make sure you have a support system to ensure you feel engaged (FaceTime is still a great way to connect with loved ones, friends, and co-workers).  Many cable providers are assisting with services.  Schools are sending out links to help kids (and parents) with resources.  Keep your sense of humor and be kind to yourself.  I am not prepared to homeschool.  I do not have the patience to be a teacher.  I am beyond thankful for resources sent home to help.  Know your skills and leverage support.  It won’t be perfect, but if we can laugh through it, isn’t it easier?

4. Escape

Exercise.  Physical activity  benefits are good for the entire family.  Plan time for exercise so you can step away from work to refresh your body, mind, and soul.  Plan this into your day for your kids as well.  For example, I take my little kids outside to play and take a call while watching them.  This is a great time to ensure that their energy is released and to have a calm conversation without having to worry about someone screaming and fighting in the background (if you have kids, you know what I mean).

Plan your calls in groups.  When in close quarters, everyone needs a break.  Unless you want unplanned background noise, it is helpful for people to know when they need to be in silent mode.  During that time, how do you “distract” children of all ages?  Leverage the use of learning tools (videos, remote tours of historic landmarks/museums and zoos); reading and writing time; art projects; and dedicated work/homework time.  After your calls, take a walk, prep a meal, etc. to allow for non-silent time.

Be a good citizen.  If you have the ability, look at ways to help others in need (e.g. food bank).  This will make you feel positive about your contributions (and online allows you to be remote while still helping).  I had my kids clean out books, toys, and clothes that can be donated.  We decluttered and it made everyone feel like they contributed and made a difference.  Also, decluttering brings some calm which is welcome in any storm.

The next few weeks will undoubtedly be challenging times. Just like when in the office, structure, sense of “norm,” and communication will help.

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