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A Retrospective on the Future of…Remote Work: Part 2

Erica Barreiro, CNM's new Academic Fellow for the Future of Work + Learning, will be writing guest columns throughout the year to help spark discussion at CNM about how we prepare for the future of...

Apr 09, 2020

“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”

I’ve seen the sentiment above expressed in various social media posts, and I think it captures a thought circling in my head since my first column on remote work was published two weeks ago.

I am weary. I am weary of managing remote work and remote school. I am weary of COVID-19 news. I am weary of social distancing and social isolation. I am weary of worry and anxiety for me, my family, my friends, our community, and our world. I know I am not alone in this weariness.

We are exhausting ourselves operating in crisis mode to make sure our students, our employees, our friends, and our families are ok, so it might seem like taking time for self-care is impossible, even selfish. For those of us who are privileged enough to even have the option of working remotely, it seems almost offensive to suggest we need to engage in self-care. But just like the airlines tell us to put on our oxygen mask first before we assist someone else, I believe it is imperative we make time for self-care.

Erica Barreiro
Erica Barreiro

As the lines between “work” and “home” life become blurred, even more so when working remote, it is critical that we integrate self-care into both. The future of work and humans’ ability to adapt to accelerated change suggests a necessary shift in workplace practices that prioritize employee well-being. To make this shift many organizations are examining how they can promote and support the inclusion of self-care as part of our “workday.”

My partner and I are trying meditation as one form of self-care. We are on week three of a 21-day meditation experience, facilitated by Oprah and Deepak, on the theme of hope (which is something else I am intentionally pursuing). I’ll be the first to admit that two years ago I would never have made time in my day, let alone in my month, for meditation. But three people in my life opened the door for me to reconnect, through meditation, on what I had learned a long time ago: there is an amazing and somewhat mysterious relationship between our body and our brain that we still don’t fully understand.  I’m a pretty pragmatic person who once would have labeled meditation under the category of “woo-woo,” but after listening to many interviews of great leaders and thinkers speak to the importance of meditation, I’ve finally stopped diminishing it’s value with that label.

Self-care is also self-forgiveness when we make mistakes. We are all going to make our share of them as we navigate this “new normal.” Self-care means recognizing that we might be experiencing a form of grief in all of the losses we have experienced in the last few weeks, and that we may need to give ourselves permission and space to grieve. Self-care is being kind to ourselves when we aren’t our best selves because of the stress we are all experiencing.

In listening to a webinar on working remotely (over my lunch hour!), the facilitator shared that “self-care” in working remotely should also include getting outside, moving away from your workspace for a few minutes every hour, and turning off work during a lunch break (whoops). Not only are these physically healthy practices, but they enhance our ability to think creatively when we are engaged in our work. I also read that our ability to think creatively is undermined when we start our day by checking the messages (text, email, etc.) on our phones or computers. Three weeks ago, I stopped doing that.

It is particularly difficult when we are operating in crisis mode to see the urgency of creating time for practices that leverage our ability to think creatively, as self-care practices do. But I am challenging myself to do so, and invite you to do the same, as we are facing a time in our history in which we cannot afford a failure of creativity and imagination.