The pandemic continues to place an emotional and physical burden on many people. The goal of World Mental Health Day 2020, which falls on October 10, is to increase awareness and investment in mental health with the hope of supporting those who are struggling.
Nearly all of our colleagues at SEH are now working from home as we prioritize the health of our people, clients and communities while strategically moving projects forward. Many organizations and workers across the world have made similar transitions. While 98% of 3,500 responding professionals in The 2020 State of Remote Work Report indicate a desire to work remotely for the remainder of their careers, 20% say their biggest challenge working remotely is loneliness. An additional 20% listed a lack of collaboration and communication, 18% find it challenging to unplug and 7% struggle to stay motivated.
We asked 13 of our colleagues from across SEH to share the efforts they're underaking to find balance while remaining productive and engaged. Hopefully the strategies below help spark your efforts as you seek to optimize your remote situation and focus on being the best you.
I brought home my standing desk from our Madison office. Being able to stand for parts of the day is helping me feel less sluggish. I am also trying to walk each day, typically after work hours around 5:00 pm for about 30 minutes (if I'm not on dinner duty in my now five-person household, that is). Two 3+ mile walks on the weekend with friends – maintaining 6 ft. distance on city sidewalks was a little challenging, I'll admit – has also provided some relief from feeling cooped up.
Before dinner my husband often asks each person to share one good thing about their day. Trying to take a stance of gratefulness – in spite of everything – has helped us during this time.
I try to start each day doing something active in the morning. Peloton has rolled out free 30-day classes, and they include more than just cycling. My girlfriend and I have been giving yoga a shot (way more difficult than I expected). Around lunch time, I typically lace up the running shoes and head out the door. I'm fortunate to live close to trails, so I try to shoot for at least 45 minutes of running.
Afterwards, I always make sure to instant message my colleague Holden Rennaker (find Holden’s strategies below!) so we can compare each other’s runs. We were planning on doing a 20-mile trail run in Arizona next month but, like everything else, it got cancelled. So, in the meantime we use these runs as a way to stay competitive, talk some trash over email, and maintain Center for Disease Control-approved “social distancing”.
My survival technique, besides talking with my team, is getting outside once per day. I'm fortunate to have a mountain behind my house that I can take my dogs to, hike around and get some fresh air. The outdoors has always been my relief valve, and it's even more important to me now that I'm working from home.
Getting outside more than once per day is key! I've been walking our dog every morning to replicate my normal walk to work, and running either at lunch or after work. It's nice having the extra daylight with daylight savings. A couple of other tips that have helped me include:
I have been taking breaks during the day to hang out with my kids, help them with homework, play games inside, play basketball and soccer outside if it's nice, and go for walks – really anything to just take a break from sitting at my desk all day.
Specific to work, our team is having virtual meetings three times each week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), which I think is great. It gives me connection to the rest of the group and opportunity to see how everyone is doing and see their faces. These meetings create a sense of community and normalcy rather than it just being me and the kids during the day.
My gym now hosts workouts online. I do a 45-minute workout as soon as I log off for the day to get my exercise in – it's like having a personal trainer in my home!
Gary Randle, SEH Urban Design Lead, wrote an article on the importance of disconnecting as the current COVID-19 situation calls for more connectivity. Below is a snippet from Gary’s article, which you can view in full here: Disconnecting, When All We Want To Do Is Be Connected.
Some of the advice we are all getting to keep our mental health strong, leadership vibrant and energy levels at peak performance look like this:
We have all heard these and are doing our best to take advantage of every opportunity to interact through these activities. There is one huge thing that I am not hearing and want to make sure isn't missed during all of this. Don’t forget to disconnect!
There is so much mental, emotional and creative engagement going on that there is a real danger it will quickly invade every minute of your life and you will lose the one thing you vitally need in this time – QUIET. The noise around us is at an all-time high (as it should be in this time), but the risk of constant stimulation with no down time for our mind and body to relax, recharge and reinvigorate is real. This down time is vital to your ability to lead your life, family, work teams, businesses, spiritual events and those around you.
Eight strategies in particular are working for me:
I find that my faith gets me through the good times and the not-so-good times. It's helpful for me to wake up with a list of things that I am thankful for, and begin the day with showering and not resorting to throwing on the well-worn sweat pants. I am treating my work day like any other day when we could all be in the office together to gain a sense of normalcy.
I am fortunate to have an office space already set up with a comfy chair. My husband, Dan, is working from the upstairs of our garage in the “man cave”, so I'm still calling him to see if/when he's ready to come in and eat lunch with me.
I am able to block out the extra noise from our kids who are home from college and extra dogs, but according to the Chippewa Falls Transportation Department – I could do the same to them (minus the pen clicking)!
I believe that happiness is a choice and, while working from home is not ideal, we can all make the best of it. I am thankful for SEH’s IT department, which ordered monitors for all remote employees who wanted one and has been willing to help with setup if needed – so that I and others can work from home more efficiently.
It’s good for my mental and physical health to get some fresh air! Plus, I have dusted off our workout equipment. That in itself is a big accomplishment. Little projects around the house are actually going to get done. Wahoo for that!
I have a running to-do list and can't wait to get started.
I'm getting outside every day for walks with my dog, significant other and our eight-month old (using a stroller). I’m also spending quality time with them around staggered work hours. Without the daycare commute and trips to gym in the morning, my time on the road and at work is actually a couple hours shorter than I'm used to, which creates more time for things like walks and other family activities.
I’m also taking breaks to make lunch and get away from my computer when possible, rather than scarfing meals down at my desk. I would be getting in some long runs with the stroller but am actually on the mend from shin splints. In the meantime, I’m planning a training regimen for Twin Cities Marathon this fall – it helps to have an eye on long-term goals.
I shared this with my colleagues via email too, because I desire the feeling of connection and community. As I have found it difficult to block out the news, these are the moments I’ve felt best over the past couple weeks:
I try to take a walk around the block two to three times throughout my work day and listen to music when possible. The biggest challenge for me has been to turn my home office back into a home office versus a storage room. The other night I was determined to achieve this goal. Goal met! I have two professional daughters also working from home, so it's been important to have our established work spaces.
A big thing has been keeping my morning workout routine. Although, not having a morning exercise class to physically attend has meant the need for additional personal motivation. I’m also trying to send or respond to a group text each morning where we share what we did for our workouts – this helps with accountability.
I’ve also scheduled my first virtual chat with a friend to catch up and create social connection, and am trying to minimize my focus on the news; instead, only checking in the mornings and evenings.
I have been practicing a couple different things to make the days go better. I have a laundry list of tasks I would like to do around my house. So, for the hours I would normally spend in the car commuting, I am using that time to pick away at my list.
I am also taking advantage of being home in the daylight and getting out for walks with my dog Lily. My husband, Brian, is still working so I don't currently have distractions during the work day other than Lily. Another thing I am doing with my sister-in-law and two nieces, we started an NCAA tournament-styled bracket of different episodes of the TV show The Office. Since we can't work in the office, we are watching episodes and filling out our brackets with seedings for each episode.
The Center for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, among other leaders on COVID-19, have freely available resources that include ways to manage stress, hotlines to connect with, tips for parents now working from home with their kids’ schools closing or operating hybrid models, among other helpful efforts and avenues.
In what ways are you prioritizing your mental and physical health? For me personally, I try to make time for breakfast with my wife, two-year old daughter and infant son each morning before the work day begins. I also try to step out for a jog a few times each week, and check in with friends often via text or FaceTime to see how they're doing and if there is any support I can provide – even just an open ear.
Rich Ward is SEH's lead editor, a technical content writer and marketing strategist. In the field for over 10 years, Rich has a passion for connecting people through marketing strategy and the written word. He is a husband and father of two, cherishing every moment with his family. Contact Rich