ACEs Connection is fueled by a small diverse workforce. Due to the needs of the worldwide ACEs movement, we are strategically located in various regions across the country. Because of this, we are a virtual workforce. Here at ACEs Connection, we are pros at working from home.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, I know that many of you are transitioning from brick and mortar businesses, offices and cubicles to home offices. Working from home under normal circumstances requires adjustment and focus. Working from home during a viral pandemic, and maybe in close quarters with family, definitely requires a new level of coping, resilience and flexibility. I have compiled tips and suggestions from our staff about working from home during these trying times.
We are all individuals. We have different needs and there is nothing more personal and unique than your talents and struggles when it comes to regulating emotions and behaviors. You will need to devise a work-from-home strategy that supports your productivity and well-being. Here are three questions to ask yourself as you adjust to working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic:
What is your schedule?
Schedules are important and great for regulation. Parenting With ACEs community moderator Cis White said: “I know many people say create a schedule and stick to a routine, but I’ve let myself let go of that because the truth is I don’t yet know what I need yet to do my best work right now. The only commitments I don’t break are meetings and conference calls.”
If you find comfort in routine, I suggest sticking to your normal schedule. Get up at the same time you normally would if you were going to the office. Get dressed (you can skip the shoes). Use the time you would normally spend on your commute preparing for your day (writing a to-do list, meditation, etc.). And, lastly, take frequent breaks. Frequent breaks may help with distractions and increase your focus and productivity.
Lara Kain, community moderator for ACEs in Education, agreed. When asked how she works best from home, she said: “I try to schedule in regulation breaks throughout the day, moving my body in some way — even for 5-10 minutes. I try to be aware of my focus and concentration. When I start to wander, I am losing my ability to focus and be productive. Then I need to get up and stretch, walk around the block, dance or something else.”
Donielle Prince, our San Francisco Bay community facilitator, added: “Definitely have a start and end time. If you enjoy your work, and/or have project deadlines, because you’re already at home, it can be seductive to just keep working. This is something you wouldn’t do at work, because typically you need to stop, commute home, run errands, etc. Now that you’re at home, nothing pulls you away, but I promise you: You WILL burn out if you never stop working. So set a start time and an end time, and stick to it. Have a lunch period where you stop working — flexible timing, doesn’t matter if you make it 11am or 2pm. But take a real break. And take other short breaks, to stretch, walk, etc. Creating a schedule and sticking to it will be the difference between being productive at home for weeks, versus burning out quickly and having a hard time getting motivated, because you overdid it. In other words: Pace yourself!”
Karen Clemmer, our Northwest community facilitator, brings a different perspective. Karen invited us to consider our “natural rhythm” and prioritization. “Align your most complex work so that you focus on them during your peak performance hours," she said. "If a large number of tasks come in and cannot be addressed immediately, consider making reminders on your work calendar. If useful, color-code items on your calendar (red=urgent, blue=general reminders, etc.).”
What are your boundaries?
This next question may be the most difficult to answer and implement, especially if you are living in a crowded house during the COVID-19 quarantine. For those of us who are home alone, boundaries look like manipulating the environment to address counterproductive psychological coping strategies, like procrastination. Donielle suggested that, if possible, “have a designated space that serves as your workplace, that is different than where you relax at home. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you can train your mind to feel like working in your workspace, and when you leave it you feel relaxed and cozy at home.”
When it comes to procrastination, Lara confessed to being a procrastinator, so she sets boundaries around housework. “I can distract and procrastinate with the best of 'em," she explained. "When working at an office the structure is built for you, but now at home when I had a project for work all of a sudden I had an intense desire to clean a closet I hadn’t looked in for a year. So no house projects or housework for set hours, and I stick to it. And on the flipside I had to set boundaries for work — otherwise I found myself working unhealthy hours and schedules and not getting life stuff done.”
For those of us who have family and other loved ones in the home, it's important to communicate your expectations and boundaries with your housemates. Gail Kennedy, who leads our community facilitators and our activities in California, said it's imperative to “have a house meeting with your family/housemates and come up with house guidelines/rules BEFORE they become an issue. For our family, my college-aged daughter, who has had to move back in, is a night owl. My husband and I are the early-to-bed, early-to-rise types, so we had a bit of a blow up when our daughter decided to re-organize her bedroom, which is next to our bedroom, at midnight!”
“With the kids and husband home all the time now," Lara said, "I had to be much more explicit about when they can bug me and when they can’t. When my office (in my bedroom) door is shut, I am on a Zoom or call, so do not enter, not to pet the dog, get the cat, use my bathroom, etc. — all the reasons in the world they can find to need to be in my room at that moment (and never want to come in when I am free...LOL). When my door is open and I am working, they can knock on my door. But I ask them to ask themselves first: 'Do I really need mom to solve this or can it wait (or ask dad or solve yourself).' If it can wait then wait.” Lara also suggested that you check out this article if you are working from home with kids.
Is your workplace (home) trauma-informed? Have you integrated practices based on ACEs science?
Last, but not least, it is imperative during this critical time to walk the talk. Now more than ever, we must live in our trauma-informed doctrines and practice what we preach. Donielle has become a pro at creating a calming ambience for her workspace with music. “I first started with 'study music'," she said. "Then I discovered how peaceful 'forests with waterfalls' is, and when I want a different vibe, I search 'coffee shop' and find a bunch of entertaining options, from simulated coffee shops to real-time recordings of coffee shops that make you feel like you’re there! Lately, I can’t get enough of 'cozy ambiance', which has beautiful homes, often with fireplaces crackling, and/or snow or rain fall. I feel so relaxed and I’m able to focus my attention. It’s also soothing, which we all need because of the uncertainties of living through this pandemic. Follow your interests and plug in search terms to find soothing backgrounds that help you focus.”
Allow time to feel whatever you feel, noted Karen: Anxiety, fear, or any other feeling, and acknowledge the feelings. "Take a moment, then breathe deeply to reset your focus and to get back on track," she advised. "Acknowledge that these are dysregulating times and there will be more real and imagined distractions than usual. Try to be mindful of how your body feels, where you hold tension, and what works best for you to let go of the tension and to stay focused and on task. Be flexible, take brief breaks when needed. Consider stepping outside for 5-10 minutes to refresh, breathe deeply, and if it is sunny tilt your face to the sky and soak in the rays of sunshine. Ask for help if you need it. Bottomline, be as kind to yourself as you would be towards anyone else in a difficult situation.”
“I’ve worked from home for years," said Cis, "and do know the power of getting outside for a walk and sunshine even 10 minutes a day, of stretching, drinking water, and usually getting dressed." She also provided her strategies for staying regulated:
- Guided imagery to build the immune system because I’m immune compromised and have asthma and doing something helps me counter the panic/freak-out fears about getting sick.
- Expressive writing, because it’s good for the immune system and feels good to be with people who process on paper, and in a virtual community, and find words for that inner landscape and level of experience which is hard for me to access without a prompt and safe space.
- Admitting that while I wish to be flooded with calm, triggered by joy, and uber regulated, I’m not yet occupying that space and if I can just not be actively overwhelmed by uncomfortable sensations of anxiety, dread, and obsessive rumination and can get outside for walks, share conversations, cuddles, and maybe meals with loved ones, doing my job, and keep from acting out or being a jerk or apologizing quickly when I can’t, well I’m actually rising to the occasion and meeting the moment well-enough.
- Reminding others who don’t know as much about traumatic or toxic stress that it’s normal to feel threatened, and that some people are actually in survival mode right now and must first attend to their basic needs and doing so is being resilient. It’s okay If that means regulation isn’t as ideal or might not look like it does when things are ideal or not terrible.”
It's okay to not know the right thing to do, she said: “I’ve managed post-traumatic stress with parenting, with partnering, with work, and even with cancer, but never with all of those things and COVID-19. I’m not sure what safe and healthy looks like.”
I hope this blog was helpful to you as you take on working from home. In today's world of climate change and technological advances, telework will likely become the new normal. Thank you for all the work you do!