Professor Laura Graves urges employees to ‘maintain connection’ while working at home
Structure, work-life balance key to telecommuting success
March 30, 2020
Clark News and Media Relations
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt business as we know it, working at home is becoming the norm for millions of people across the country — and around the world. While telecommuting can be convenient, employees and employers are learning that it also can be tricky.
Laura Graves, professor of management in Clark University’s School of Management, offers these tips to work at home successfully, especially if you have small children and/or other family members underfoot.
Set priorities and structure your work
Focus on your most important or most time-sensitive tasks. Be realistic about what you can accomplish; it will be less than you think you can do.
Stay in touch with your manager because priorities may change during the crisis.
Make a work schedule. When do you need to be available to respond to your manager, coworkers, or customers? Think about what hours will work best for you in the present situation (e.g., if you suddenly find yourself needing to homeschool your children).
Balance work and nonwork
Set aside personal and family time. Virtual work makes it all too easy to work long hours. Recognize that you need time away from work to be able to be productive the next day. Initiate a conversation with your manager and coworkers about work hours and availability. Can the work group set norms that set aside time for people to recover from the workday? If you are a manager, take the lead on this.
Take time to recover from the workday. Research on job stress has shown repeatedly how important this is. One of the most proven ways of recovering from work is exercise. Mindfulness and meditation practices are also helpful. Another good strategy: engage in activities that are important, enjoyable, or interesting to you. Don’t mindlessly stream online content if this isn’t what is most enjoyable to you. Perhaps you would get more pleasure out of playing board games with family.
Negotiate with family members about household and childcare responsibilities. Have a conversation with your family to divide up chores, such as grocery shopping, childcare, homeschooling, and housecleaning, as equitably as possible. Think about how everyone can contribute to tasks.
Create a “boundary” between work and nonwork. Technology erodes the barriers between our work and personal lives. What can you do to create more of a boundary? For example, will your organization provide a second phone for professional use, so you can use your personal phone during off-work time without accessing work emails? Could you create a dedicated area in your home that is for work only?
“Maintain connection with others,” Graves says. “Virtual work robs us of the social connection and sense of belonging we all need. Stay connected with your colleagues through synchronous (real-time) video and phone chats, which are best for maintaining relationships.” Those chats, whether one-on-one or in groups, should not only include on work discussions but also informal conversations.
“You can set up virtual water cooler chats or coffee hours with individuals or an entire team,” Graves adds. “We keep reading about Zoom cocktail hours — use the same approach and have coffee with your colleagues!”
Graves’ research interests include work motivation, work-life integration, corporate environmental sustainability, and managing diversity. She has published on how mothers make better managers, assisted Fast Company with “6 signs that you’re management material,” and collaborated with other scholars at the Center for Creative Leadership on research about workplace motivation.