Finding a rhythm to working from home

Louise Phipps Senft (Submitted photo)

Louise Phipps Senft, founder and CEO of Baltimore Mediation and an author, has encouraged regular family meetings during the quarantine. (Submitted photo)

Baltimore mediator and author Louise Phipps Senft has encouraged regular family meetings in her home since her own five children were young, but with the COVID-19 crisis they have a renewed meaning.

Nowadays it’s just herself, her husband, an almost 18 and a 21-year-old. They all read different news sources and the weekly relational meetings give them a chance to discuss what’s happening and form a strategy for the week.

“I would advise it for every family because it allows you to ‘listen in’ on the thinking of your loved ones that you may not have otherwise ever been privy to,” she said. “It keeps you cohesive. It creates safety for all. It really nurtures the mental health and well-being in the family.”

Baltimore’s workplace experts are advising workers and business owners suddenly working from home to recognize what they need in terms of boundaries, connection and wellbeing as they make the shift.

With a quadriplegic son, Senft’s family has been serious about quarantining and prioritizing safety. She has moved her practice online, offering virtual consultations and publishing a chapter in a recently published book, “Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During A Pandemic.”

Senft, founder and CEO of Baltimore Mediation and author of “Being Relational: The Seven Ways to Quality Interaction and Lasting Change,” chose to focus on how challenging it has been for families of college students returning to homes that weren’t expecting them. In some cases, parents have been separating or divorcing and the adult child’s room has become an office or even new bedroom for separating spouses.

The relational meeting is her first suggestion for families in situations like that, and she has also been able to host Zoom mediation meetings for those that need expert help navigating these challenges.

Change brings new opportunities to engage

But the new “office” at home has some upsides. Sneft believes it is an opportunity for paying attention to personal biorhythms, taking refreshing short naps and paying more attention to your senses in nature.

“Being at home provides an opportunity in the quiet and less rushed spaces to cultivate real aliveness,” she said. “To pay attention to yourself and your thoughts and to pay attention to others you care about in ways you may not have needed to before, in terms of your well-being and theirs.”

That may mean working a different schedule than what people did in the office, finding ways to volunteer, adding a 20- to 30-minute nap or making an extra effort to get outside or take an eyesight break from looking at the computer.

And while the physical space has changed, some people also have different new “coworkers” occupying the space with them.

Whether it’s a young child who needs to be given schooling, a favorite pet or a partner, MaryBeth Hyland said professionals should ask themselves how to connect as a household.

Hyland, the founder of SparkVision, spends her days helping companies intentionally create the kind of culture that reflects their values.

During this time, she thinks families should do the same to identify what matters most to them.

Hyland is no stranger to working from home. She has been working from home for the past five years and a year ago her husband quit his job in finance to join her company and work from home as well.

She recommends everyone set clear boundaries and expectations for what they need, such as being able to work uninterrupted for two hours.

When having those conversations, she recommends a technique called “circle of presence,” where each person has a turn to speak for five minutes without attacking or responding to each other, and only after start discussing.

“This is going to serve us beyond this time because we get to be more thoughtful, and considerate and empathetic and vulnerable with one another because we’re all in the same spot,” Hyland said.

Some companies are responding to the change by bringing together entire families instead of just individual team members as children or pets become part of the office.

Christina DiGiulian, a mother of two daughters, 3 and 7, has included them on bingo nights sponsored by her employer, Hartman Executive Advisors, an independent technology leadership and advisory firm in Timonium.

With both girls moved to virtual schooling and taking a break from their regular babysitter for everyone’s safety, DiGiulian has been busy. She said her company acknowledging the challenge of working while parenting and teaching has relieved some of the burden of trying to do it all. Her girls loved seeing the other children and remember them from previous in-person company events.

“It’s been a nice opportunity to engage them and make them feel like they’re part of this time with me, as opposed to them just observing me working or participating in a happy hour,” DiGiulian said.

In Hyland’s case, they live with Mr. Fluffer Nutter, a Maine coon cat, who loves to make his debut during zoom trainings, workshops and podcast interviews. At first they tried to lock him out of the room but he would cry and scratch at the door.

She’s now taken to including him and pick him up to show him off as she speaks. It’s led her to create a pet-connection guided meditation to ease stress and anxiety through the love and presence of pets.

The No. 1 concern she has heard from people is that they are overwhelmed.

That is particularly pronounced when it comes to sudden child care and education responsibilities. A poll by Morning Consult for The New York Times found in early May that 80% of mothers report they are doing more of the homeschooling than fathers, and only 3% of women report their spouse is taking on most of the homeschooling duties.

Hyland said the crisis is a time to let go of perfection and make choices for your own family about what matters most.

“So many of us are wired to want to know the answer and want to get it right,” she said. “This is a time when we don’t know what the answers are and we don’t know what right even looks like.”

Expert tips for working from home

  • Set a schedule that works for you and your biorhythms
  • Find a way to volunteer
  • Add a 20-30 minute nap in the afternoon
  • Give your eyes a break from the computer and gaze into the horizon
  • Spend time outdoors, even in bad weather
  • Set boundaries and expectations so you can work productively
  • Purchase an extra computer screen for a multi-screen setup

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.