Strategies for Structuring Teaching from Home: Planning Your Way to an Effective Day
Todd Zakrajsek University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill In a blink of an eye, life changed from bustling campuses with long lunch lines to deserted schools, and social distancing. With very little notice, we were told to move from face-to-face formats to online teaching. Consequently, information flooded listservs, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, suggesting how best to pivot to online teaching. Few tips addressed the process of actually working from home. To successfully teach from home, we must give attention to creating a workspace and setting expectations that complement our home life. Below are suggestions outlining how to maximize the perks and minimize the pitfalls of teleworking. Designate A Work Area When you think about working from home during the coming weeks, identify what necessary items to bring from your campus office to your home office. What may make your workload more natural, familiar, and comfortable (e.g., favorite travel mug, a reference tool, or book that you reach for often, or even a favorite photo)? Bring with you copies of your texts, lesson plans, original copies of exams, ungraded student work, and your list of online accounts with passwords. At home, establish a clearly defined workspace. Not everyone has a home office, yet to promote productivity, it's imperative to have a designated workplace. This can be a makeshift desk using the dining room table, breakfast bar, a folding table, or even an ironing board! Once your workspace is defined, consider both the functionality and aesthetic of the space: Identify adequate electrical outlets with a power surge protector. Does the area require additional or softer lighting? Is there a window with a view and perhaps the ability to open for fresh air? Set up a focal item that provides encouragement, comfort, or perhaps inspiration. Consider the positive impact of including a plant, greenery, or bouquet of flowers. If your workspace is a shared community space accessible to others in the household, resolve where and how to store your ancillary materials when not in use, perhaps in an archive box, a tote, or backpack. Recognize that there may be limits to accessing a quiet private space. You may need to negotiate with those who cohabitate with you to achieve specified blocks of alone time. This may be particularly challenging. Establishing a schedule with timed periodic breaks is especially helpful in such situations. Develop a Schedule Teleworking is not to be confused with a stay-cation, but it does offer new choices and new freedoms. It takes a modest amount of self-discipline to avoid procrastination and limit distractions. Creating a daily plan provides the structure for your workload but also for intentionally incorporating self-care practices. Start with establishing and maintaining a routine that includes self-care practices. Don't underestimate the power of self-care and hygiene practices for stress reduction. It is fine to dress comfortably, but those who have long worked from home note the importance of “getting ready for work.” Aside from video conferencing, which requires a nice shirt, dressing for work each day will maintain your sense of self, your initiative, and self-esteem across time. The impact of social isolation, combined with diminished expectations, can lead to situational depression and a sense of loneliness. Organization Now more than ever, the importance of organization and time management cannot be overstated. If you have a physical calendar or organizer, put it to use. Electronic calendars are particularly useful, as they allow you to set reminders. One key to success is the practice of setting daily goals. Scheduling work responsibilities while balancing family needs in your living space require increased communication and negotiation. Have a look at our "Daily To-Do" list that includes both professional and personal goal setting. Clear communication about expectations and scheduling will help. Posting a sign that reads "Work Zone" or "Quiet Zone-Meeting Online" will indicate when you cannot be disturbed. It may be necessary to block-schedule work activities to maintain balance with others in the home. Staying open and flexible about workload, deadlines, and online meetings will assist in both planning and implementing a successful workday. Hidden Challenges Until you work from home, you may not appreciate some of the unknown challenges. Disruptions in sleep can become problematic. Sleep experts suggest not working in your bedroom, which can lead to insomnia. Promote sleep-rest balance by maintaining a regular schedule, avoiding daytime naps, and maintaining a bedtime routine. Likewise, nutrition practices can be negatively impacted, as well. Being home throughout the day cues some of us to snack more frequently. With the current climate of 'crisis mode,' typical response to stress or anxiety includes comforting eating, stress eating, or even loss of appetite. It is helpful to meal plan for schedule meal times. Working from home, shines a light on the mind-body connections quickly. Another strategy for success is finding a balance between our mental and physical health. Physical Well Being Rarely do we consider the importance of posture; yet, good posture contributes to our overall well-being. Pay attention to the chair at your new work station. Since you will be in this chair for blocks of time, be careful that it does not lead to aches and pains. Consider the effect of seat height: Are your feet grounded on the floor, or do you need a footstool? Do your wrists rest in a neutral position on your keyboard? Is your table to tall or too short? Can you modify your chair to find the best-seated position? Additionally, while you are seated at your workstation, make it a point to frequently check your posture. Posture acts as an indicator of stress. Set a timer and complete a self-check of your body position: Are your shoulders tense and drawn upwards towards your ears? Do you sense your neck craning forward to view the screen? Is your back hunched forward? Are your hips level and squared off to your computer? Remind yourself to stand, stretch, bend, twist, and move. Take a break from screen time to check your body's response to being sedentary. For ideas of the types of stretches that can be done seated at your desk, click here. If you want to explore restorative yoga in the comfort of your home, take a look at this option: yoga with Adrienne. Human Connections and Well Being Introverts may be enticed to think working from home is a dream come true, and extroverts may hope the coming days of quiet are going to be a welcomed break from the norm. The truth lies in between. Eventually, everyone begins to miss the socialization of water cooler talk and the interactions with colleagues. Make it a point to stay connected. Send a quick text, email, or phone call to check in on faculty, friends, family, and neighbors. Stay constructive. Setting a scheduled virtual meeting with your colleagues is a good way not only to maintain your own well-being but also that of your colleagues in the same isolated state. If you have children at home, consider doing the same for those with virtual playdates, so they still see their friends' face-to-face.' Plan creative endeavors that stimulate your imagination to fulfill a hobby or complete that project you started but never finished. In response to the pandemic, the decision to move from campus offices to working from home came swiftly. Although this may be a new experience for you, in recent years, many occupations and entrepreneurs have embraced teleworking. For those who self-select to work remotely, there is a high degree of satisfaction. Those new to the experience may feel unprepared emotionally and limited by physical options for workspace, privacy, and homelife obligations, including parents, partners, pets, and children. Creating structure, employing time-management, and promoting self-care helps. Being flexible, communicating expectations, and using positive coping skills (including a sense of humor!) contributes to your overall well-being. And, subsequently, the harmony of the household. Maintaining connections with others reduces the sense of isolation. We are in this together. This won't be easy, but if you think about it, teaching is never easy, and being a faculty member comes with a plethora of challenges. We will persevere and succeed. The stakes are too high for failure. Most importantly, you are part of an amazing community…offer to help when you can and reach out for help when you need it. Discussion Questions What is one challenge you have found concerning working from home, even if it is just grading a set of papers or developing a lesson plan? What strategy have you employed to address that challenge? Fill out the "Daily Planning" worksheet. Which area on the worksheet concerns you the most in terms of meeting your goal? Why? In filling out the "Daily Planning" worksheet, are there areas in your life that you feel might need adjusting, regardless of where your workspace is located? What interests you most about potential changes? Everyone works from home from time to time, and perhaps most of the time. What have you learned about working from home that you would offer to others as a tip for success? For Further Reading Cornwaite, D. (March 2020). 10 Things You Need to Do to Successfully Work From Home. Lifehack. Retrieved March 17, 2020 Devaney, E. (August 26, 2018). Hubspot. Retreived March 17, 2020 Larson, B., Vroman, S., and Maakarius (March 18, 2020). A Guide to Managing Your (newly) Remote Workers. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 18, 2020 Lufkin, B (March 12, 2020). Coronavirus: How to work from Home, the Right Way. BBC. Retrieved March 18, 2020 Scott, E. (March 20 2020). The Stress of Working from Home. Very Well Mind. , Retrieved March 18, 2020. Smith, J. (August 16, 2012). How to succeed at Working from Home. Forbes. Retrieved March 15, 2020. Staying Focused When You're Working From Home (July 2017). MindTools. Retrieved March 16, 2020.