By Andrea Garrels, PGS Quality and Product Development Staff
With the COVID-19 virus impacting schools, workplaces, travel, entertainment, etc. worldwide, there are many articles and tips floating about on how to successfully navigate working virtually. You can quickly learn how to set up your work station, how to separate home life from work life, the best tools for virtual meetings, etc. As one who has telecommuted for PGS from 3500 miles away for almost 24 years, I thought I would offer my number 1 tip for working remotely and why it is essential for your success.
PGS’ home base has been in Anchorage for 30+ years, but Anchorage has not always been the physical working space of all of its staff. Back in 1996, I moved with my family from Alaska to North Carolina. Though we have moved a few times since, Alaska has not been home for 24 years, and telecommuting for PGS over the 3500 mile distance has been my lifestyle ever since.
I have configured a variety of home offices, raised my kids while I worked, and so forth. But through it all, there is one tool that proved essential for successful telecommuting. And that tool is absolutely, hands-down, maintaining communication with your co-workers. You just can’t operate successfully long term in a vacuum. I have tried. I have failed.
The times that have been the most challenging for me over all these years of working remotely were those when PGS’ regular meetings were deemed non-essential and were cut. There have been a few periods in which big or critical organizational decisions were not on the regular staff meeting agenda, and therefore the meetings became viewed as more of an expense than a value to those who still called Anchorage home. Going 2, 3 or 4 weeks without any communication with a coworker left me feeling not only isolated, but it also diminished the sense I had of my value to the organization and the importance of the work I was doing.
The lack of communication is an easy problem to avoid, but it requires persistence and occasionally thick skin! As the employee who was apart from the rest of the crew, and therefore the one feeling the distance and the absence of regular contact, it is fully on me to keep in touch. Emails, texts, short 10-minute check-ins all go a long way to feeling part of the team when the team is scattered. The thick skin comes in when those emails, texts or calls are not returned right away. What seemed like a reasonable time to me was not always the response rate I got from my efforts at keeping in touch. What I have learned is to keep at it. A lack of communication is not a reflection on my value, but rather on my co-workers’ hectic schedules.
If it is time for you to transition to a virtual workplace, know what you are being asked to do and to complete. What does your product from home look like in your supervisor’s eyes? Then create that product well and with integrity.
But most important? Persist, persist, persist in communicating with your co-workers, and you will find that you are doing just fine in this crazy new remote work environment so many of you are now navigating!