My team at Grokability has been fully distributed since I started the company five years ago.
Some of us are local, some of us are halfway across the country, and some even in other countries. All of us work from home all the time.
While you’d think we’d be just fine dealing with the self-isolation and social-distancing we’re all (hopefully) practicing during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of my team members are struggling. (Full disclosure, so am I, and so is my partner. It’s normal to struggle when thing are so scary.)
This is… different. Much harder.
It’s hardly surprising. Working remotely is one thing. Working remotely *while* taking care of your children 24/7 (versus getting a break while they’re in school/daycare), supporting your partner who might also be dealing with depression and anxiety, and then handling the sometimes overwhelming fear for their health, their loved ones, and the economic impacts that we’re just beginning to understand is a whole different animal.
Now compound that stress by requiring people to work from home who have never done it before, and don’t necessarily have the skillset to handle it well.
Here’s some good advice on managing anxiety/depression during this trying time, collected from various places and also from my own experiences.
- Connect with loved ones more via video chat
- Read a book or listen to an audiobook
- Play video games (if that helps distract – even iOS games can help – we use Hidden Object Puzzles in my household)
- Stay active and try to go outside. Learn yoga, go outside for runs, walks, hikes or bike rides (but maintain distance)
- Remember to eat enough and drink enough water. Set timers if you need to.
- If you have health insurance and if your provider offers it, consider scheduling a virtual appointment with a therapist.
- Volunteer to help with online fundraising or other charity work – learn to sew and make face masks
- Keep a leaner-than-usual diet of social media if you can. lots of FUD and anger and misinformation there and it can turn into a depression+anxiety k-hole
- Make time for yourself, even if you have to care for others. Think airplane-style “put your breathing mask on first”
- Take a bubble bath with candles and a glass of wine
- Clean, if you’re not at risk of it turning obsessive
- Take an online class and learn something new, even (especially?) if it has absolutely nothing to do with your job
- Watch movies/TV (not the best option, but it can distract for a bit). Try to stay away from dystopian stories if it’s going to make it worse
- Revisit old hobbies that you wish you were still doing
- Learn an instrument and learn to play your favorite song
- Learn a foreign language – Duolingo is free! (Or learn ASL for the inevitable times when your video conference audio drops out without warning)
- Learn to cook (if you don’t already know how) – try new recipes and go outside your comfort zone. Youtube has tons of cooking videos
- Play your favorite music and sing along to it
- Try learning to meditate
- Watch youtube videos and learn how to dance
- Write a short story or poems
- Shower, even if you don’t feel like it
- Put on makeup every now and then (if you normally would) if it helps you feel human
- Learn to garden. Growing things (even herbs, if you don’t get a lot of sun or don’t have much space) can be enormously rewarding. Getting your hands a little dirty, stepping away from the screens, and creating new life in a time where the pallor of so much death and fear is constant can be huge.
- Journal about how you’re feeling through this whole thing
- Make a matrix of ways to exercise, be creative and practice self-card. Set guidelines for your family to do 1x exercise, 1x creative and 3x self-care. (This is brilliant, via @JCACharles)
- Don’t be afraid to “revert to childhood”. Twitter user @alizasherman (whose company I used to work for 100 years ago) recommends playing with Play-Doh, coloring in coloring books, etc. Kids optional. 🙂
Not everything you do has to be productive, and none of this is a silver bullet. It just needs to prevent you from being completely overwhelmed, and keeping you feeling human during a time when it’s easy to feel so far away and helpless that you can forget that you are.
As a company, we’ve already have some steps in place to make sure we’re checking in on folks’ mental health. Special Slack status icons that can be used by people struggling with anxiety/depression that allow them to convey that in a way that doesn’t require saying the words out loud (which can be hard, when you’re in the thick of it), for example. This allows us to reach out privately, and also lets us know that we need to pick up some of the workload from them to give them a break.
It’s not perfect, but hey, this stuff is hard. Harder right now. We’ve taken some extra steps that we hope will help make people feel less isolated – and we hope they’ll help you too.
- Start at least one meeting per day with 5-10 minutes of the team leader asking how everyone is doing, how their kids are coping, what they’re doing to manage stress, etc. Listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions. Sometimes just the ability to vent to another non-family adult goes a long way.
- Pay special attention to parents who are trying to juggle their jobs and sudden 24/7 childcare.
- Let them know it’s okay to be scared, frustrated, depressed, etc. They are human, and those are human reactions to a crisis.
- If it’s possible to reassure them about their job security, do so. It’s on everyone’s mind right now.
- Use video chat (internet reliability permitting), even if you hate it (I hate it). Seeing friendly faces matters right now.
- Arrange a virtual happy hour (no booze required, of course) where co-workers can socialize with each other and not talk about work. This is especially useful for parents, or people who live alone, who might really just need another adult to talk to. Put it on the calendar.
- Arrange a “spirit day” where people wear weird things (PJs, onesies, goofy hats, etc). You can make this part of virtual happy hour if it works for the team.
- Let your employees use your teleconferencing systems to talk to friends and family.
- Expect their productivity to be lower than usual. They are constantly worrying about friends, family, jobs, mortgages, etc. It’s simply not possible run at 100% with that level of constant mortal stress. Communicate with them that it’s okay.
- Create a separate “good news” channel on Slack where people can post positive stories and/or funny memes . This (for us) is different than #random, since we wanted to keep #random for off-topic discussions, but have a place to drop only positive things for folks when they need it.
- One Twitter user mentioned that they set aside a half hour of every lunch break to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. This can be hard with distributed teams across multiple timezones, but I love the idea. Put it on the calendar.
- Let them know it’s okay if a kid is screaming or a dog is barking during a call. We’re all trying to do our best, and life does sometimes get in the way of conference calls.
- If you can afford it, consider offering memberships to SketchBox, Steam, Audible, Amazon Kindle Unlimited, Headspace, AdaFruit’s AdaBox, Skillwise, etc. These services can help them learn new things and channel creativity in a way that’s positive and affirming.
Above all, be gentle to each other and lead with compassion, and remember to take care of yourself, too.
Founder & Chief Mohawk Officer