Stephenie Girard, Ellevest’s lead career coach, recently went live on Instagram to answer some of your questions on working from home during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say..
My name is Stephenie Girard, and I’m the lead executive coach at Ellevest. I’ve also served as a coach for about ten years in private practice, working with clients like Harvard Business School, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global, and with clients all across industries and professions, in the United States and beyond.
It’s such a pleasure to be here today to answer some of the questions that you have during these really uncertain times. The topic we’re looking at today is working from home and strategies around that. So let’s take a look at some of the questions that you sent in today.
First: How can I survive working from home with a partner / roommate / baby / children?
The first thing I would recommend is to be realistic. We’re in a situation during this pandemic that none of us in our lifetimes have experienced. So let’s really take a step back, be gentle on ourselves, be realistic, and understand that we’re not just seeking strategies to work from home — we’re also trying to understand what’s happening in our global environment, what’s happening in our work environment, how this impacts our family environment. It’s very different, and we need to just slow down and accept what’s happening right now.
The next thing I would recommend is to over-communicate — whether you have roommates, a partner, or children. It’s so important right now not to let all of our emotions and thoughts and resources stay in our minds. We really need to communicate our questions, our concerns, and our resources to those who are in our homes with us and beyond.
The next thing I would recommend is to designate a workspace. No matter what home you might be living in — whether it’s a very small apartment or a spacious home — do designate a place where you can open your laptop, find a place to talk on your phone, and know that that is your workspace. Of course, it’s so important to walk around during the day, whether that’s inside or outside, and take those breaks — but know that when you have something really important to concentrate on, where you want to be super focused, that’s where you go. Make sure that other folks in the house or the home have places that they’re designating as well.
Find incentives. I am not just here as a resource, but as someone who has a lot of experience working from home. I’ve worked from home for ten years, and in that chapter of my life, I’ve had a baby, then I had a second (so I had a baby and a toddler). I’m married. And I’ve really struggled and flourished in different times working from home over the course of that decade. Something that I found to work particularly well with children (and even my husband) is setting up some incentives.
So for example, the other day was St. Patrick’s Day and I made some really special treats for the kids (and my husband). I knew that I had a very, very important call in the afternoon, where I needed to be very devoted, very present to whom I was presenting, and there really couldn’t be any background noise or I’d be distracted — and I also felt like it would be inappropriate for the group I was speaking with. So, in advance that morning, I shared with my family that I would need that very, very quiet time in the afternoon, and that I had made something very special for them that they could enjoy, off in another part of the home, quietly. That was something that they could expect and look forward to. There are so many different types of incentives, as you can imagine. Play with them, have fun with them; make it into a little game if you need to. It’s really supported me in working from home.
Finally, I would say be flexible. We are used to being so rigid in our expectations about how to show up at work. Working remotely is very different, and in every possible way I can imagine, it requires you to be flexible — and that means being emotionally flexible. That means being flexible in where you might have to take your laptop to do work. We don’t know what our children or partner might need at a particular time in the day, even if we’ve planned carefully, so be flexible, be ready to adapt. Don’t get so upset with others if you need to be flexible, and don’t get so upset with yourself if you need to be flexible. We’re in a time where I’m seeing a lot of compassion in our communities, in our workspaces, and so people are going to expect that this is not easy for anyone.
Next: How do I stay disciplined or focused?
I love the word “discipline,” especially in a time of uncertainty. To really maintain our well-being, it’s so important to find discipline.
I just started talking about flexibility and how we need to be really flexible — but as a foundation to that, find discipline in your day. That might mean at the beginning of each week, make sure you really understand your schedule for work, and then find time to build in things like exercise, if that’s something that’s served you well in the past. Find times to take outdoor fresh air breaks for five or ten minutes, and stay true to those. Find time to close your computer and your phone and all technology and be with your family.
It feels almost like pushing away from discipline when we’re inviting things that genuinely feel joyful — stepping outside, being with family. But it’s actually building those into our schedule and committing to those in the same way that we would work commitments that will really create a thriving well-being in a way that’s sustainable, in a way that we’ll be able to carry out for weeks or months or however long we need to stay working remotely.
How can you differentiate yourself, add value, and continue career progression while you don’t currently have the benefit of working in a physical environment?
Great question. I think we often think of executive presence in a physical work environment — and now, it’s a beautiful opportunity to step up and think about executive presence in a virtual environment.
Every day we’re making choices about how we show up. I would encourage you to think about how you can show up to meetings throughout your day, whether it’s on the phone or Zoom or Skype or Google Hangouts.
How are you showing up? That might mean being even more prepared than you would normally have to be for really important meetings. Create an agenda and circulate it in advance if no one else has yet taken that initiative. Think about being very intentional during that meeting. How is it important for you to listen to others and offer feedback? How is it important for you to speak up and make a point with clarity and curiosity and compassion?
What are you choosing to wear? It’s so easy for us to throw our hair in a ponytail or throw on a baseball cap and show up in our pajamas even at 2 PM, in the middle of the day. It’s easy to do that when we’re working from home and we kind of have this new luxury. I’d invite you to think about where it’s appropriate to do that, for sure, and where it’s appropriate to put something on that makes you stand out and makes you shine and shows the person that you’re speaking with that you have really put thought into how you’re showing up for this meeting holistically.
Are there ways to network from home?
Yes! I mentioned that over the past ten years I had two babies. I moved into the suburbs — which means I was further from the city center, where a lot of activity was coming from. I had a lot of demanding priorities. And so, as someone who loves to network, I really found a lot of fun ways to network virtually. In fact, this is such a wonderful time to step into some of our networking challenges.
One of the best ways to network — and one of the best ways to frame it — is to do so in an authentic manner. It actually can put us more at ease when we think about stepping into networking. What this might look like now is reaching out to people that you’ve been in contact with — or maybe people that you haven’t talked with in two, five, ten years — and say, “How can I help you?” Or, “I just want to check in with you. It’s been a while and you came to mind.” Or, “I offer this service and this skill, and I feel like it might be aligned with what you’re doing. Is there anything I can do for you?” Offer something, whether that be a service, a talent, or a moment of compassion. What a beautiful way to connect to your network and to build your network.
I also think it’s a lovely time for people who are feeling very isolated to set up a virtual meeting, face to face. “We haven’t talked in five years. I’d love to have a coffee online with you.” How great. You might even want to take this to a networking challenge, where you try to reach out to five people every day that we’re in this situation. So have fun with it — a beautiful opportunity to network authentically.
Last question: How do I balance safety with managing appearances and expectations?
I think for this question, it’s not about balance. Rather, it’s about prioritizing. We think about exceeding expectations or appearing in a way that’s really professional and present — these are beautiful, and these are things that we talked about in some of the other questions. But what’s most important and what is the foundation to all of that is your safety and your security.
Without that being in place, you will not be able to thrive and excel in all of these other places where we see opportunity. So make sure that you take care of your safety and security first.
I can’t wait to connect more during the course of our time working virtually together and answer questions on other topics. I look forward to seeing more of you and seeing your questions come in through Ellevest.
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