Why we must come together as distance forces us apart
A view from Erin Gallagher

Why we must come together as distance forces us apart

These are unprecedented times. No one is going to get it all right, all the time. So give yourself a break.

Today, many of us have started down a path that none of us chose, some of us prepared for and all of us must navigate. With schools across the world closed, restaurants and bars in some of our biggest cities empty and the majority of us, who are able, working from home for the foreseeable future, life has changed forever. 

So, how will we do this? How do we not just survive, but find ways to thrive? How are we going to make it through these next few weeks (please, let it not be months) in one (only moderately frazzled) piece? How do we shift our mindset from one of fear and frustration at this happening to us to a new normal of a life created by us?

I don’t have all of the answers, but here's a start: five ways to approach this first week of coming together from a safe, social distance.

1. Change Your Mindset of WFH: "Work from Home" is now "Work from Here" 

"Working from home" had a completely different meaning last week. For me, it meant flexibility and space to work remotely. I could do that from my actual house or a coffee shop or a co-working space...all while my children were being cared for by someone else, somewhere else. That is not my reality today. Schools are closed. So are any and all other places where groups of people could gather. My new normal is now pretty inflexible and quite crowded. 

We must let go of what "working from home" meant just a few days ago. Because it’s gone. Now, we’re "working from here" which means, meeting each other where we are...physically, emotionally, psychologically. Commit to meet your colleagues and clients where they are and ask them to do the same for you in return. 

If you have kids, this means laying out the reality of your situation front and center: in the way you plan for how you’ll manage your workload, what it will mean to be on phone or video calls (where your "new co-workers" will likely show their faces on screen at some point) and how your kids’ schedule of activities, eating and sleeping will impact the way your work day was organized last Monday.

If you don’t have kids and you’re an extrovert, you’re dealing with a different kind of challenge; one where you are no longer being fed by the energy that human interaction gives you. Your mood and motivation will be impacted. Talk about that. Schedule FaceTime calls with people you normally communicate within Slack or via text. Plan for check-ins with teammates to share how you’re all doing mentally, not just how the projects you're working on are progressing; create collaborative playlists on Spotify or JQBK, a site that lets you play and listen to music in sync with friends or public groups; find ways to create separate togetherness that are authentic to your company and team. 

2. Schedule Shorter Meetings, More Often

You may need to connect more often with your co-workers than in our pre-COVID-19 world, but do it in shorter, more digestible pockets of time. This will help folks to stay focused when you do connect.

As a matter of fact, a survey concluded that 91% of employees are admittedly daydreaming, 65% are doing other tasks, 63% are checking social media or sending emails and 55% are eating or making food while on a call. Try to keep calls to 30 minutes or less and focus on quality over quantity. And if you need additional tips on how to keep people engaged, here are a few.

3. Play "Schedule Jenga" with Your Partner or Co-Parent

This suggestion applies to dual-income career families. All meetings are not created equal. But each person’s job is important to your family unit. Some jobs can be done remotely. Some can’t. The intentional activity of playing "Schedule Jenga" truly challenges your family unit to push, pull, lean, support, assess and prioritize how you take on each day; which pieces can be moved around (in favor of supporting each other), which have no impact on the overall big picture and which ones, if out of place, could topple the whole thing down. 

I recommend doing this at the beginning of the week and then again each night as you head into the following day. With so much uncertainty and stress pumping through our veins right now, springing a "can't miss" meeting on your partner when he or she is also scheduled to be on one isn't good for any close-quartered relationship right now.

And read this great piece in Forbes by Mary Beth Ferrante for additional ideas on how to tackle: Dual Career Couples - What’s Your Plan To Manage Childcare Disruptions Due To Coronavirus?

4. Lean on your Crew.

No doubt, you’ve built a crew for yourself personally and professionally over time. Now, more than ever, is the time to lean on them for support and show up (remotely) in the ways that you’re able. Get text chains going with friends, colleagues and your community. Share ideas for how you're coping, ask for help in how to navigate what’s happening for you. Utilize some of the fitness apps, therapy, meditation and support systems companies and individuals all over the world have created. Check out great articles online with ideas for how to keep your kids busy, yourself happy and your environment healthy. And share, share, share.

5. Move from Guilt to Grace.

These are unprecedented times. No one is going to get it all right, all the time. So give yourself a break. Your "rules" will need flexibility. Your routine will need adjusting. Your kids will test your limits. And your limits will expand. Just Give Them the Screens (for Now), damnit. And grab a glass of wine while you have a moment of peace. Remember that the confusion of the colliding worlds of personal and professional will take some adjusting. This great post outlines what your priorities for the week should be: something for your body, something for your brain, something for your happiness, something for someone else. If you can concoct some combination of these four things over the course of the week, I think it's safe to say you're not just surviving; you're thriving.

One day at a time, friends. And when all else fails, take three deep breaths and begin again. Tomorrow's another day. No matter how far apart we are, we're in this together.

Erin Gallagher is founding partner at Have Her Back Consulting.