COVID-19: From the expert - working from home with less stress

March 18, 2020

By Dr. Courtney Keim
Moving your entire working life to your home is not easy. It is a major change in your routine and in how you do your job, which can be jolting even when there is not a global pandemic.
Psychological research tells us how to handle such change at work, and how to cope with the stress that may arise. Specifically, research indicates that we are less likely to feel stressed at work when we have control in how we do our jobs, predictability in our work, specific goals, and positive relationships with others. Research also shows that some ways to cope with stress are better than others. Engagement coping (problem-solving, seeking social support, acceptance) leads to better outcomes than disengagement coping (denial, withdrawal, wishful thinking, avoidance).
CourtneyKeimBased on the research, here are some tips for working remotely:
Set up your workspace. Try to find a relatively quiet part of your home to work where you can be comfortable. Find a space where you can spread out and won’t have to take down your workspace every night. Your bed or your dining room table (if you eat there) may not be ideal! It is better to have a place in your home where you “do work” and can leave when you are done with work. 
Set a schedule. Are you a morning person who works better before the kids/partner/dogs wake up? Do some work then. If you have other people in your house with you, you might think about times when they are busy and devote that time to work (e.g., during Junior’s nap, or while your partner takes lunch). Most important: You can’t and shouldn’t work 12-hour days just because your workplace is now in your house. This can quickly lead to burnout, and that’s not good for you or for our students. Make a daily schedule and try to stick to it. “Clock out” when your workday is over. At the end of the day/week, reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and change your schedule accordingly. 
Set realistic goals and expectations. You aren’t going to become an expert remote worker overnight. You also are not going to be able to do exactly what you were doing when you were on campus (e.g., having lectures/meetings at 10 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. three days a week). Change that meeting to an email! Faculty: Consider going asynchronous for at least some of your classes. Seriously examine your to-do list and find things that can be let go. Table a project or remove some course content or assignments. Be flexible! 
Stay social. Communicate regularly with your coworkers and supervisor. Talk with them about how they are getting through the changes. We know from research that one of the things that can reduce feelings of stress during challenging times is social support. Don’t become isolated. Use technology to host department check-ins, video chats with students, and phone calls with coworkers. Remember that what makes Bellarmine such a wonderful place are the personal connections and our hospitality. I am setting up a “Café” discussion board in Moodle in all of my classes where students can ask me questions and talk with each other about how they are coping with everything.
Realize that mistakes are going to happen. These are unprecedented times. Go easy on yourself. So what if the dog barks during your meeting, your kids interrupt your audio recording for class, the technology breaks, or you record an entire lecture without turning on your microphone? Allow a little bit of humor into your life! One academic I follow on social media has put up a "green screen" behind her workstation so she can insert pictures of the beach or Hogwarts behind her while she lectures. We are all going through this together, and our students and coworkers will understand if things happen. Let yourself off the hook!
Take care of yourself. Don’t worry about your wardrobe. Wear what makes you feel good. Take lots of work breaks. Eat lunch with your family. Talk a walk around your neighborhood. Do online yoga classes. Practice meditation (there are lots of good apps out there). Watch some old movies. Resist the urge to check your email one more time before bed as you walk past your home workspace. Leave it there for tomorrow. Because we are going to need you then.
Dr. Keim is an associate professor of Psychology at Bellarmine University, where she teaches a range of psychology courses, guides students in the Human Resources concentration, and advises the student-run Human Resources Club. Her research is in organizational wellness with an emphasis on stress in the workplace. She has published articles in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology and Teaching of Psychology, is a reviewer for Applied Psychology: An International Review and the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, and has presented at numerous state, regional and national conferences. She is also a board member for the Kentucky Psychological Foundation and member of the Psychology in the Workplace Advisory Group for APA’s Center for Applied Psychology, which houses the Psychologically Healthy Workplace program.

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