Updated: Jun 3, 2020
by Lisa Mackay
The most recent session of the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership program (REAL) inadvertently aligned with the mysterious workings of the Universe, as we all gathered remotely from our homes to discuss the HR trend – now reality – of working from home with facilitator and HR adviser Agatha Starzcyk. As so many companies have done in recent days, Arts Leadership Director Geraldine Ysselstein scrambled to move the session online, and realizing that this discussion would now be applicable and useful to a much wider audience, also managed to record it. It is linked to in this post, and will hopefully be helpful to many.
The topic of working from home was chosen several weeks ago by Agatha and Geraldine, because of its importance rise as a significant trend in Human Resources. An increasing number of organizations were incorporating some form of Work From Home, especially in the arts, where office space can be at a premium and daycare can be an out-of-reach expense. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic of course, what was a trend has become a mandatory reality for most, and finding ways to be efficient and effective in this work environment is suddenly of utmost importance.
Agatha had several suggestions and recommendations to help make the most of remote working. However, it should be noted that the current crisis conditions are a very different situation from the previous work-at-home environment, what with the palpable anxiety, possible partners also home working, potentially children needing to be entertained, etc, so be gentle with yourself!
Get dressed. Look, you don’t have to , but it’s an option. Getting dressed doesn't necessarily mean work clothes, but the ritual of getting out of sleep clothes into day clothes can help transition the mind into a more productive space.
Ruminate. Set aside time to meditate in the morning, or write morning pages, or add an entry to your gratitude journal. These activities give your mind time away from the noise of the world, your to-do list, your family responsibilities, and everything else that our minds grapple with all day. This allows the mind to rest and reset.
Give yourself a commute. Walk around the block and right back into your front door. This might sound silly, but in our recent staff meetings at the Rozsa Foundation, we have all noticed that we are missing that lack of commute, where we usually transition from 'home' mode to 'work' mode and back again at the end of the day. Something about the fresh air, perhaps, or lighting cues seems to help transition the focus of the mind, much like the first point about getting dressed. I haven't tried this one yet, but I think I will!
Create a dedicated office space. Personalize it, and separate it from your personal or family space to make it easier to walk away when work is done. This point has definitely helped me personally be able to end my work day, as I leave the guest/storage room-turned-office in the basement and head upstairs. Geraldine, our Arts Leadership Director, has chosen her bedroom as her office space for the daylight, but puts away her laptop and desk at the end of the day to keep family life separate. Given that this is going to be a longer-term work-from-home situation, being able to close the door or put things away is an important boundary-keeping step.
Take a real lunch break. Walk away from your computer and clear your head. I have to admit that I am not great at doing this even at the office, but I can definitely see that when I do take the time to have lunch with my kids or go for a walk, I get more done in the afternoons.
Run an errand. Pick up groceries, place an online order, make that call you have been putting off. Scheduling these breaks as you would at the office helps to break up the day as well and assures that you continue to keep things rolling at home.
Or just run. Morning is a great time to fit in some exercise and if it involves fresh air you are checking off several of the recommendations here in one step. There have also been many studies conducted that show regular exercise helps to regulate anxiety and stress, which is in abundance these days!
Aside from these great tips, several other helpful pointers emerged from the discussion around Agatha's presentation, among them:
Scheduling your work for the week, and including things like lunch, errands, calls, and exercise, helps to keep work from becoming one long endless session and gives some structure to your days.
Communicate very intentionally. Everyone has a different listening style, and not all are well accommodated by video meetings. Reiterate conversations in an email post-meeting. Share documents before the meeting and confirm that everyone has read them when you begin. Avoid assuming that everyone is on the same page automatically and instead confirm that people are starting at the same place.
Define the reason for every meeting in advance to avoid topic bleed and endless sessions. Once the purpose of the meeting has been reached, finish the meeting quickly.
Establish a structure that allows everyone to contribute. Perhaps some people prefer to have their points included in the meeting agenda or in a written email, while others are more comfortable saying their piece in a video chat.
Concentrate on goals achieved rather than hours worked. Having staff working remotely requires flexibility in terms of when people are most productive and works best when everyone is allowed to create their own work flow.
Schedule regular check-ins with your team. Pro-actively create a space for people to identify frustrations and identify any blockages they are encountering, both work-wise and personally, and work to resolve them together with resources or people who can help.
For ongoing team projects, consider having an open zoom meeting room time. This can provide the kinds of office background noise that we are used to, as people chat with one another, and allows you to turn on your microphone and ask questions when you need to.
Acknowledge progress and completed work. Send a note around to recognize goals achieved, or mention it publicly in a group meeting. Post notes of gratitude or applause in an open zoom room chat or other gathering space.
Consider designating one or more meetings a week to simply socializing. Keeping meetings streamlined and purpose-focused is excellent for time-management but necessitates the creation of a time for less formal small talk, where often many ideas are generated or moved forward, and camaraderie is built.
Working from home has been an increasingly attractive option for many arts workers in the past few years, and allows for a more flexible approach to accomplishing tasks and goals. Being mandated to work from home with little to no warning because of a global pandemic is a very different scenario, and expectations of how much can be accomplished, how much focus can be given to work, and how long it will take people to adjust need to recognize this. We hope that by sharing Agatha's presentation to the REAL cohort, viewers can find ideas and techniques to help adapt to our collective new reality.