When COVID-19 struck, many businesses had no choice but to shutter, or to press on in place to meet the public’s need for essential goods and services like groceries and health care. But it turns out that when it comes to PR in a pandemic, it’s both an essential service and one that can be delivered from anywhere. For a firm like ours that’s sought after for our crisis expertise, our work has never been more crucial as organizations struggle to strike the proper tone, perfect the message, and meet the demand of internal and external audiences for information.
We are fortunate that our team can continue to serve our clients as a full-service operation, even though the work-from-home dynamic has forced us to scatter around our community.
But how are we doing with the other part of this transition — the part that misses being able to stroll into a co-worker’s office to brainstorm … to enjoy those small moments in the kitchen getting coffee and sharing parts of our lives with each other … to down a pizza in the conference room while collaborating on a project?
How are we handling the separation?
Pretty well, it seems, all things considered. For the most part, we’re avoiding the temptation to spend all day in our pajamas. We’re managing to block out the clarion call of chirping birds in the yard. We’re staying focused on the job at hand rather than the latest Netflix binge craze (I’m looking at you, Tiger King — well, actually NOT looking at you).
But the truth is, no two people are the same, and they won’t handle this unprecedented situation quite the same — a survey by our Breakthrough Research division found some pretty significant disparities between how introverts and extroverts are dealing with it. Some are relishing the quiet, some miss the buzz of the group. Some cherish our technology tools as a way to stay connected; others fret that they can’t get work done because they’re constantly responding to email, Slack, and text messages.
Even before our firm fled to work-from-home status, one of my brilliant colleagues who has worked remotely for six years wrote this extremely helpful guide to staying focused and productive while working from home. But for the rest of us, who are more used to working as a group, the transition has provided its share of ups and downs.
Some examples from coworkers may shed some light on what so many are going through:
“Since we started working from home a few weeks ago, my mornings have started earlier and my nights have gotten longer. … I highly recommend that everyone set alarm clocks for lunch and ending their day, to avoid skipping meals and working way over time.“
“I am really missing the face time with each other. Also, the workday is slipping into the work night (and weekend) because of so many client needs right now. … The technology is getting annoying — keeping up with constant Slack messages, texts, emails. I feel like a slave to checking them, so it’s hard to focus on writing/research/strategy. Slack is a great tool in many ways, but it’s no substitute for sitting together where you can talk things through and work collaboratively in person.”
“Personally, I’m missing the office. I feel that I’m more susceptible to distraction simply because of the habits that I’ve built for each space. At work: I talk to coworkers; I focus for long durations on data and research; I write with a professional voice. At home: I cook, I clean, I take care of my cat, I engage with my hobbies. And mixing these spaces means that these habits are conflicting with each other.”
“I dress casually but I do get dressed every day. I try to keep a routine as much as possible. This means getting up at the same time I normally would if I was going to the office. … At first, I felt more productive, but now going into week 4, I feel less productive (or maybe more distracted) because I don’t get to interact as much with others and I have no real sense of what is going on in the office or business overall.”
“The key is being more flexible. We made communications plans and timelines and all sorts of plans for 2020, and now they are all kaput. It’s time to roll with the punches and figure out new and unique ways to showcase our clients that also are sensitive to the crisis going on. … Most important is staying positive. PR can be a very stressful industry, and that has never been more true than right now. We are being continually bombarded with sad and stressful stories and news all day. A lot of our clients are in crisis and there is just so much unknown — coupled with not being able to leave the house or participate in normal after-work decompressing activities, it can be a recipe for mental turmoil and negative thoughts. Ways that help me stay positive are taking breaks when I feel overwhelmed, doing relaxing activities after work, meditating, and listening to calming music — and of course the old norms: staying active and eating healthy.”
As much as we all might have dreamed of working in our sweatpants with a cat or dog at our feet, working from home has proven to be harder than many of us expected. Most of us are more than ready to get back together and see each other in person (Zoom is fine, but it’s just not quite the same). I’m sure we’ll learn invaluable lessons from this season — how to get the most out of technology and recognize its limitations; how to find creative, new ways to get results for clients; how to keep our colleagues’ spirits up. And counting our blessings through it all — especially the twin blessings of having a job to do for clients who need us, and working with exceptional professionals who have proven they can get the job done from anywhere.
Even if we can’t share a pizza right now.