March 18, 2020

Working in uncertain times: A Bravely Guide to COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold and the news cycle moves faster than anyone can keep up with, day-to-day life is changing along with it. For those with the privilege of being able to work from home, work is a huge part of that constant change. 

Amidst these unprecedented developments, so much feels uncertain right now, and continuing to work might leave you feeling completely disoriented. This guide is to help you tackle that feeling and others, including isolation, frustration, and exhaustion. It will also address potential positive aspects of the change, including opportunities to support others and try new practices that will help you throughout your professional life.

Objective #1: Stay healthy.

Staying healthy means finding calm, setting boundaries, and moving forward without “losing it.”

It all begins and ends with self-care. What that means to you is personal — some of us might benefit from staying comfortable in sweatpants, while others feel the need to maintain a sense of normalcy by keeping up appearances and dressing up as if we’re headed out for a typical day at the office.

For all of us, consistent and healthy sleep is crucial. This probably goes without saying, and you’ve heard it before. But how many times have you said, “I know, I know, sleep is important” and stayed up until 1 a.m. anyway? Now is the time to take your sleep seriously and stick to a schedule that works for you and leaves you rested.

Finally, be intentional about your media time. When you do choose to seek out information, stick to resources, like the CDC or WHO, that can provide need-to-know information for your day-to-day life during the pandemic, and avoid others that you know bring you stress.

Routine is a route to sanity. Commit to a routine that gives your day structure, grounds you, and separates “work time” and “life time.” Morning meditation or evening journaling are great ways to achieve that delineation. Similarly, set aside time for meals and exercise, and stick to them.

Try it now: Put something on your calendar that you can do daily at the same time to add structure to your day.

One way to think about keeping the day “normal” is to be frank with yourself about the little ways you kill time and give yourself breaks at the office. If you step away from your desk at the office, do the same at home. You’ll be getting steps in and backing away from the “hamster wheel.”

Objective #2: Stay open.

Follow the golden rule of expectation-setting: set expectations for others the way you’d want others to set expectations for you to create healthy boundaries in your life.

You want your co-workers to know — and to know from your co-workers — expectations around:

  • working hours (this can be on a day-to-day basis as the situation changes)
  • response time to emails and instant messages
  • how progress and deadlines should be communicated
  • the “new normal” — Some aspects of life at home are going to intersect with work for the first time, like time spent on child care, or dogs barking in the background of video calls. Understand that everyone’s work life is going to have new “quirks,” including some you hadn’t thought of.

Then there are your “co-lifers,” the people you’re sharing a space with throughout this work-from-home period, whether that’s your family, roommates, or significant other. Expectations to set with them include:

  • You’re going to do your best to be patient with each other, but outbursts of frustration might happen. It’s healthy to call this out ahead of time.
  • Shared breaks and time spent together
  • Staking your claim on your “territory” — the physical space where you’ll be working and focused

You owe it to yourself to ask for help. This is the time to be open and honest, now more than ever. Be transparent about how you’re feeling and what you need. That can feel scary, but you’re not the only person dealing with tough emotions right now, so you’re likely to see more empathy than you expect.

If you have the capacity to “be the help,” give yourself permission to go for it.

Objective #3: Stay connected.

Don’t let the separation lead to isolation.

Keep it fun; keep it human. Encourage your colleagues to keep the social aspect of work alive by being the one to kick off the conversation. Share what you’re having for lunch each day, or trade daily recommendations for books, TV shows, and podcasts.

We’re in a new normal, so things that would normally feel like “too much” are now exactly what the team needs. Colleagues saying “Good morning” to each other in a public channel might normally be a nuisance; now, it can be a pleasant and welcome addition to your day-to-day life.

Try it now: Start a conversation on your team’s instant-messaging platform (Slack, Microsoft Teams, G-Chat) that you normally wouldn’t.

Put yourself out there. You’re craving connection, and so are your colleagues. Don’t be afraid to schedule time for quick informal video calls during the day: with people you’d normally talk to at work, stakeholders on your projects, or anyone you want to get to know better on your team.

At the same time, you still need some focused time to yourself, and so do your colleagues. It’s not personal if not everyone is able to engage on the same level right now.

(Learn more: Managing in the time of coronavirus)

Mix it up. Interpreting tone in emails or instant messages is hard enough without all the extra stress and uncertainty you and your colleagues are feeling right now. Try pairing a written communication with a video or voice message that helps the recipient see and hear your tone.

Work out loud. Be strategic about getting your progress in front of the people who need to see it. Make it as easy as possible for stakeholders to understand what you’re working on at a glance by documenting what you’re doing and centralizing that documentation around a single “hub.”

Try it now: Create a single document that links out to all of the various documents you’re currently working out of.

Objective #4: Stay driven.

Allow yourself to step out of “crisis mode” and make choices that will help you grow as a person and as a professional in the long-term.

Keep an eye on the big picture. Some teams and job functions will see their day-to-day responsibilities pivot more than others—support those people more than ever. And if you are one of those people, seek as much clarity as you can get on the divide between “new work” and “business-as-usual” work. If you’re feeling uneasy or unclear about your role, have the courage to talk it out.

(Learn more: Ask yourself these six questions every day working during COVID-19.)

Ultimately, your team needs you to be willing to do whatever is required to steer the boat in the right direction, but they should also understand that you can only do that when your own needs are being met.

Find silver linings. Things are hectic, but there may be parts of the day where you actually have more time than before (like your commute, or the weekend). Use that time to your advantage: to pursue a passion project, or to learn a new skill that will help you advance your career. At the same time, don’t pressure yourself to be constantly productive. Time spent relaxing and recovering isn’t wasted!

The new positive habits you’re picking up are a silver lining, too — they’ll continue to help you when things are “back to normal.” (You won’t have to stop meditating when you start going to the office again.)

Working through the coronavirus outbreak will surely bring new and unexpected challenges in the weeks to come. In the meantime, we can all steps to maintain a healthy relationship with our work, identify strategies for staying connected to our colleagues, and plan to grow as professionals and as people during this unique moment.

We’ll leave you with this: we’re all in this strange and unprecedented moment together. Take care of yourself, and look out for each other.

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