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How the Johnson Center Has Been Affected by COVID-19: A Perspective From One Learning Services Team Member

by Emily Brenner
How the Johnson Center Has Been Affected by COVID-19: A Perspective From One Learning Services Team Member

During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen an increase in people and organizations being more honest and transparent about how they are really doing, and how the crisis is affecting them. In a way, it can be seen as a form of self-care to share honestly and be heard by others when everyone is facing different challenges and situations.

We, at the Johnson Center, want to be able to share honestly, as well, about some of the things that we have been experiencing during this crisis. We are an academic center at a university and we also function as a nonprofit organization. We have been experiencing all of the changes that the university has been going through — including transitioning to remote operations, planning for cost-saving measures, and general uncertainty about returning to campus — and we have simultaneously been going through our own organizational challenges with postponed and rearranged work projects and events, and a need to keep generating revenue to support our mission.

As Grand Valley State University begins bringing staff back to campus this week, I wanted to reflect on five ways my work has changed since working from home, and three ways that I can see some of the self-care practices that I have implemented having a lasting effect on my work life:

1. Accelerated Timelines for What Used to be Future Plans

The Johnson Center launched LearnPhilanthropy Academy earlier this year. Producing this on-demand, e-learning platform was a big accomplishment for us and it marked our first big step into online learning.

Moving more of our workshops online was always something we wanted to do, but lacked the full staff capacity to explore. It was front and center on our future to-do list.

Well, the future is now. When COVID-19 hit and we knew we would all be working from home for the foreseeable future, we knew that we had to move all of our current workshops and trainings online as soon as possible. Our future timeline for providing online workshops greatly accelerated, and by default, many of our workloads greatly increased — including mine.

“Moving more of our workshops online was always something we wanted to do, but lacked the full staff capacity to explore. It was front-and-center on our future to-do list. Well, the future is now.”

It was difficult at first while we tried to get our feet on the ground and figure out how we could still make all of our current offerings happen. We very quickly had to change to a new webinar platform to accommodate our needs, rethink the format of our workshops to prevent participants from being in front of their computers for 8 hours straight, and redesign a lot of our content to be better suited for online learning.

In some ways, things have gotten easier over the past couple of months since we have had time to process and understand how we can make this all possible. In other ways, we’re still figuring it all out. Do I wish that our entrance into the online space could have happened under different circumstances? Sure, but overall I’m excited about the possibilities that online learning holds for the Johnson Center, and what this could mean for us going forward.

2. Increase in Frequency of Sending and Receiving Emails

As I’m sure many of you have experienced, working from home has meant an overall increase in the number of emails that I am sending and receiving. I was not aware before this just how much I relied on interacting with my colleagues in order to get things done. It was much easier to walk over to someone’s desk to ask them a quick question instead of emailing them and waiting for their response before I could complete whatever task I was working on.

Due to the increase in the number of emails I have been getting, this also means that there has been an increase in forgetfulness. I have developed a bad habit of reading an email and forgetting to respond because I either get another email or I start working on something else. There are a few different things I have implemented to try and combat my forgetfulness:

  • I have started trying to implement checking my emails at certain times throughout the day.
  • I have communicated with my team that I work well when given a deadline on things if they need an immediate answer/action.
  • I have also communicated with my team that I appreciate a gentle reminder if it seems like I have forgotten to respond. I have set a standard amount of time to expect a response from me, such as 48 hours, and if I have not responded by then they can go ahead and reach out.

3. Many Days Spent in Meetings

Since we cannot meet with each other in person, and we cannot walk over to someone’s desk to ask them a question, this has resulted in more meetings on my calendar. There are days when my whole working day is taken over by meetings, and that makes it hard for me to accomplish any of the tasks I need to get done. On days like those, it also makes it more difficult for me to feel like I’ve had a productive day.

I think there are some practices that we, myself included, could be trying to utilize more frequently, such as:

  • Keeping meetings to 50–55 minutes so there’s room for a break in between meetings
  • Thinking about whether or not the meeting really needs to be a meeting, or if the task could be accomplished or the question answered over an email, quick phone call, or an instant message (IM)
  • Scheduling meetings that don’t use video, or meetings over the phone (instead of Skype or Zoom), and encouraging “walking meetings” where you plan to go walk outside while talking to each other

4. Piloting Never-Before-Used Instant Messaging

I had never really seen the value of using instant messaging (IM) at work before now. As I said previously, most of my quick questions could be answered by popping by someone’s desk or giving them a call. However, since we are no longer all in the office together, I needed a better way to ask those quick questions or send someone a quick FYI. IM has satisfied that need for me, and luckily there are many different platforms (like Skype for Business or Google Hangouts) that we all can use during this time.

5. Feeling of Disconnectedness

As the saying goes, you never know what you have until it’s gone. Or, perhaps, I knew what I had but never thought I would be in a situation where it would be taken away from me. I have been greatly missing the feeling of camaraderie and community that came with working in our office with all of my colleagues. Not being able to be in that environment has left me feeling more disconnected and isolated.

“As the saying goes, you never know what you have until it’s gone. Or, perhaps, I knew what I had but never thought I would be in a situation where it would be taken away from me.”

I’ve been working harder to try and foster some of that connectedness by simply checking in with my colleagues to make sure that they and their families are doing alright. Checking in with everyone has been a form of self-care for me, and it helps my mental health to be able to talk about some non-work-related things.

Self-Care Practices I Hope to Keep Doing

Since the standards of work have changed by working from home, I have found myself changing some of my own practices and implementing some actions that have become a form of self-care for me. I originally felt that these self-care practices would just be something I would do while working from home. However, over the past few months, I have come to appreciate the value of self-care, and hope to continue these practices when we eventually return to in-office work. These practices include things such as:

  • Not checking my email first thing in the morning. Since working from home, I usually have other priorities that are top of mind when I first wake up in the morning, and checking my email has become something that I get to whenever I get to my computer.
  • Taking more breaks throughout the day. Back in the office, I never really took breaks except to get more water or to go to the bathroom. During this time, I’ve really been able to see the value in taking scheduled breaks throughout the day so that I can give my mind a break, and come back feeling a little bit more refreshed.
  • Making it a point to check in more with my colleagues. When in the office, there are many colleagues that I don’t get to see or interact with very much because our paths don’t cross very often. Working remotely makes that even harder. I want to be better about checking in with those people, and even scheduling some outside-of-work activities for everyone to do together.

I think it is important for us to remember throughout this time that we are all human, and we are all facing numerous struggles and challenges that others may not know about or understand. I encourage all of you, if you haven’t already, to find some form of self-care, however small, that you can do for yourself.

Adjusting your expectations of yourself, and your work, during this time is also a form of self-care that I think we can all benefit from. As mentioned in our previous blog about self-care in the nonprofit sector, self-care does not look the same for everyone, and self-care is not accessible for everyone, either. However, I hope that by reading this blog you know that we see you, we hear you, and we will get through this together.