Covid-19: Managing Change

— By Belinda Jones

During the COVID-19 virus spread, organizational leaders and employees have self-quarantined in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Suddenly having to spend weeks at home can be a shock, but there are ways to best manage the time to maintain physical, mental, and emotional health.

People are self-quarantining when they suspect they may be developing coronavirus symptoms or are exposed to someone who has tested positive or had known exposure or want to be good citizens and help stem the spread of the virus. It is self-imposed isolation out of precaution. Some employees, managers and staff alike, can work remotely which means they can spend some time at home continuing to work. However, work only takes up a limited amount of time, leaving people with plenty of time to focus on their isolation from family and friends and their inability to go out to restaurants, theaters, and parks. The images of the world's biggest cities with vacant streets and highways can reinforce the sense of loneliness and continually emphasizes the seriousness of the virus outbreak. Intentionally managing the time at home will add routine back into life and can lead to many positive outcomes.

Quarantined and Working
Some people can work remotely, but not all. A self-quarantine will last approximately two weeks, but only if no symptoms appear. If able to work remotely, managers and employees will establish a work schedule which keeps some type of routine in life. Psychologists suggest keeping a regular schedule, starting and ending work as normal. This is mentally good for people and ensures they feel productive despite their isolation. If possible, the employee should set up a work area that is not the dining room table in order to maintain the feel of "going to work."

From a work perspective, this could very well be an excellent time for an employee to show personal adaptability and flexibility. Staff at all levels can work on projects they put off or volunteer to join a remote project team. They can assist employees via online meetings with using technologies to get work done. The demonstration of leadership in a time of distress will not go unnoticed by the organizational leaders. Employers can offer these kinds of special projects and other opportunities, benefitting the quarantined employee and the organization.

From the employer's standpoint, helping employees stay in contact with each other is one of the best ways to address the lack of social connection people enjoy at work. Managers can set up times when everyone in and out of the office is invited to join a general discussion about work or their experiences during this difficult time. Including people who are self-quarantining helps them feel less cut-off from their "real world." Some employers are setting up chat rooms where their employees can get together in virtual space and talk about whatever they prefer to discuss. As one example, Slack has a #watercooler channel coworkers can use for informal random chats that would normally take place in the office.

When Not Working
When work is completed for the day, then what? People in self-quarantine must rely on what they have already – books, movies, games, etc. One suggestion is to spend time reading the books on the to-read list but never seem to get read. Binging on streaming television is only satisfying for a while and not likely to be satisfying for two weeks or longer. It is better for people to tackle some projects. They can be home projects like cleaning out the closet, tech projects like building a website, or self-instruction projects like completing one of the free short courses so many universities are offering online. One of the advantages of internet access is that most everything is accessible, from guitar lessons to business courses. Managers can encourage people to share how they spend their time or personal project successes with coworkers.

Even in self-quarantine conditions, it is easy to stay in contact with most people. Social interaction does not have to end. For example, family and friends maintaining social distance and remaining at home can visit using an app like Zoom. Visiting this way is also reassuring because people are on camera and seeing they are well can relieve worry and stress. Keeping stress under control is important to health and work productivity.

Managing stress is also easier when staying active. Despite being inside, it remains important to exercise. There are hundreds of free videos online showing workouts with and without exercise equipment. Employers can offer online wellness and exercise programs to employees, helping them set a measurable and realistic exercise schedule with progressive goals. If able to go outside, people can use their yards to do aerobic exercises like jumping jacks. Exercise and eat healthy. It is tempting to eat a lot of snack food while home 24/7, and resisting the temptation is emotionally rewarding not to mention good for maintaining weight. Employers offering employees access to resources, designed to help them stay healthy even while at home for weeks, helps the workforce from losing gains made in health and wellness programs.

Mixing Up the Schedule
Developing a week by week schedule is psychologically beneficial. Employees can work with their employees to set the work schedule, but the rest of the time needs a plan also. When people do not have schedules is when they are more prone to anxiety and even depression. The employer's wellness program can offer resources that help employees create a schedule of work times, meal times, exercise times, chore times, and recreational times. Mixing up what must be done with what is enjoyable to do is an evidence-based treatment for depression. It is called behavioral activation and helps people not fall into a low mental period.

Self-quarantining alone is difficult, but some people quarantine as a family. In that case, it is important to spend some time alone, even if only an hour in a separate room. This will help to maintain a positive mindset. One of the most important points to remember is that a quarantine has a beginning and end. It is not forever. Employers play an important role in helping employees help themselves stay physically and psychologically safe, but they can only do so much. People must be self-motivated to do what it takes to remain upbeat and productive.