Working at Home a Challenge? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

The COVID-19 pandemic has been such a disruption over the past couple of weeks. At work, all travel has been put on an indefinite hold, all training classes and in-person meetings have been cancelled, and the entire workforce has been asked to work from home.

Working from home sounds like a dream to some, but it isn’t for me. I really don’t have a great setup for a home office—I share a studio apartment with my husband who is also working from home. He is on web conference calls all day and it is really loud. Where do I work? In the bathroom?

I miss my office—quiet space, dual monitors, great people. My job requires deep focus and I just have not been able to achieve it. I don’t want my manager and team to see how distracted I am, but it’s been impossible to pretend that I am on top of things. Serenity now!

Can’t Focus and Feeling Remote

Dear Can’t Focus and Feeling Remote,

A lot of people are grappling with similar situations right now. All of this togetherness is going to result in either much improved relationships between spouses—or divorce. I laughed out loud at the thought of working in the bathroom. I guess if you could sit in a bubble bath it could really raise the bar for ideal workspace. If only laptops weren’t so incompatible with water.

Your situation sounds stressful. The only way to go at this is to involve your husband and get creative. Let’s break down the different issues.

Physical Space. Okay, so you have limited space to work and the bathroom clearly is not the answer. I started my first coaching business in an apartment in Brooklyn with a tiny desk in the corner of the bedroom. It was less than ideal, but it worked until I could afford an office. Maybe you and your husband can take different corners? He can use headphones and you can use headphones? Maybe you could ask your boss if you can go to the office to borrow a monitor or get permission to buy one, so you can at least expand your work horizon. Or you might even be able to go into work if no one else is there—it’s is easy to practice distancing when there is no one around.

Focused Work Time. You might consider putting a sign up in your apartment building lobby to see if anyone is still going in to work or planning to go out of town and might let you borrow their space. Maybe your building has a basement. I once did a high-stakes sales call in the hallway when there was too much going on in my teeny Brooklyn apartment. If you have a car, maybe spend some time in the car? Or as the weather improves, maybe a park bench? Look at all the possibilities and ask for help—you never know where it might come from.

Isolation. You miss your great people, of course. So reach out. Take advantage of IM and Zoom calls. There is something about seeing each other that makes a difference. Schedule a 15-minute coffee break with a couple of your regulars. One of my team members has instituted a weekly 7 a.m. coffee call for anyone on the team to drop in and catch up on life. You can exchange ideas for coping mechanisms. Many of your neighbors may be around—you probably have some pals in the building who are also at home. Possibly this is the perfect time to deepen those relationships, even it is from six feet away. Hallway cocktails—everyone stand in your open door!

Finally, let yourself off the hook. You sound like a very serious person who is worried about appearing super professional even when trying to function in adverse circumstances.

Your boss and co-workers know that you are a serious and dependable professional. It isn’t your fault that you are required to work from home. I was on a big conference call this morning and there were three babies and a second grader joining us. Not to mention all of the cats and dogs. That’s what mute buttons are for! It just makes everyone smile!

I think the least of your worries is appearing distracted in front of your boss and co-workers. Everyone is distracted. We are all in the same boat, and parents at home with school-aged kids are now full-time educators on top of everything else.

So why don’t we all agree not to judge each other. Let’s help each other out and carry on as best we can. I wont judge you if you don’t judge me. We are all going to get our work done one way or another.

Love, Madeleine

PS: If you want a laugh on this topic, my colleague (who crushes it at work) recently posted Epic Fails From a Career Remote Worker.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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