Adjusting to the New Reality of Social Distancing and Remote Work

There have been a lot of unexpected consequences of the global spread of the coronavirus—like the cancelation of sporting events everywhere. For me, it feels strange not having baseball spring training and the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament happening at this time of year.

Perhaps the thing that’s made this situation even more bizarre has been the necessity of social distancing. To slow the spread of disease, it’s our social responsibility not to gather in large groups or spend time in public places. And for most of us, that includes not working at an office.

This sudden and unexpected shift to remote work has been a major adjustment for millions of us—including church staff. Not only can we not meet for Sunday morning worship, but we also can’t go into the office during the week to get our regular ministry work done.

I’m lucky enough to work for a company that allows me to work remotely once a week. So even though nothing could have prepared us for this situation, I do have experience working from home. Here are a few things I’ve learned that might be helpful to church communicators dealing with this new reality.

Get ready for the workday

One key to effective remote work is to keep some sense of normalcy. There will always be things outside of your control, but manage what you can. That means maintaining some structure to your workday.

For instance, wake up at (or close to) your normal time. I like to sleep in a little later when working from home because I don’t have a commute to worry about. But I still fight the urge to sleep in until 10 am simply because I can’t be at the office.

It’s also tempting to wear sweatpants all day when working from home. (After all, those people on the conference call won’t know the difference, right?) But it’s better for your mindset if you actually get dressed in work-appropriate attire—at least in casual Friday wear.

These are small steps, but they help keep you in a more professional mindset—which is especially important when everything else around you seems chaotic.

Pick a healthy work environment

Where you work is important because your environment has an impact on your focus. It might be tempting to crash on the couch or just stay in bed with your laptop. But I’m willing to bet that those settings won’t be very effective for work—at least not for long.

Finding a place in or around your house that’s separate will help make sure you get work done. Normally, I’d say find a nearby coffee shop or local library with free wifi, but that’s not a good option with COVID-19 floating around. So pick a quiet room in your home that’s free from distractions.

Wherever you end up working, it’s also useful to set up your workspace with what you’ll need.

  • Make sure you’ve got a power outlet nearby to charge your computer.
  • Keep a pen and paper close by.
  • Grab a glass of water.
  • Have a bottle of Purell within reach.
  • Wear headphones and listen to music if that helps you focus.
The more you can get your temporary workspace to resemble your normal work environment, the more productive you’re likely to be.

Set clear working hours

We all have to be flexible given all of the uncertainty and chaos of a worldwide pandemic. So you may have to take off time randomly to take care of something around the house or deal with an unexpected personal crisis. That’s understandable.

However, these disruptions should be the exception. When possible, you should still try and stick to a routine work schedule. Or at least, clearly communicate when you expect to be “online” with work. Those might change week to week—or even day to day—but they give you healthy guidelines.

More importantly, talk to your boss, co-workers, and your family about when you’ll be able to work remotely. Set expectations with what’s realistic given the situation. That way, your team knows when they can reach you, and your family knows when they can interrupt your flow.

Use online tools for communication

It should be pretty obvious, but digital tools are crucial for remote work. That’s always been the case, but it’s truer than ever with a much larger workforce being forced out of traditional office spaces.

Hopefully, your church team is already on board with a number of these online services. These are useful when you’re all working in the same physical space, but they’re even more crucial now.

Here are a few things that you’ll need when working long distance, and a few suggested tools that might do the trick:

If you haven’t already, find the digital tools that work for your entire team. Now may even be the time to try a free trial of a premium version of some tools just to get you through the short term. (Many of them also have discounts for nonprofit organizations.)

Take occasional breaks

Productivity is important, but so is your own mental health. Dealing with a unique situation like this can be stressful, so it’s important that you don’t overload yourself with work. Taking frequent short breaks during remote work is important—and that’s especially true now.

Work for about an hour and then stop for 10 or 15 minutes. This gives you time to breathe and keeps you from burning out during the day. Go get a snack. Read the chapter of a book. Or have a short conversation with someone else around your house.

Some people will naturally be distracted during a remote workday. But it’s just as easy to get lost in your work and overextend yourself. Without clear boundaries, it can be easy to work beyond normal work hours or have difficulty “turning off” your work brain at the end of the day.

Learn to be flexible

The best thing we can all learn during this health crisis is flexibility. That goes for our personal lives as well as our professional ones. We don’t know what the immediate future holds for us and when things will start to return to normal.

So the best we can do is stay fluid and roll with changes as they happen. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, but we’ve been collectively pulled out of that by circumstances. It may be easy to stumble because of that, but if we’re willing to learn, we have the opportunity for massive growth.

Be willing to adapt and learn something new. Our churches are having to find new ways to reach people. If we’re going to be successful, we all need to be ready to change how we do things. And that starts with how we work together.

Support your team

Remember that you’re not the only one having to adjust to a new reality—the rest of your team is, too. So be sure to give each other grace and understanding during this time. Things are already stressful, so this is the time to come together and support one another.

Try to keep in regular contact with your team—whether through video chat, email, or texts. Ask how you can help them with their workload, and be honest when you need their help. Be more willing to accept projects after the deadline. And don’t just ask about work stuff—show that you genuinely care about their personal lives as well.

As the Church, this crisis is our chance to show our communities and congregations that we care. But it’s also our opportunity to bond together as a team through a difficult time. Act in a way that you’ll remember with pride in a year or two from now.

This is the time for us to step up and deliver—and we’ll do that more effectively by working collaboratively as a team. And don’t forget to wash your hands.

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