Whew. It’s crazy out there, isn’t it? I wanted to open this post with something confident and reassuring and professional (as sensible business people should), but I really thought it might be better to just acknowledge that many of us are feeling overwhelmed right now. Words we may have never even thought about – like social distancing, personal protective equipment, comorbidities, and flattening the curve – are now part of our everyday lexicon. Many employers are struggling to quickly catch up with newer technologies and tentatively explore allowing some or all of their workforce to work remotely. Schools at all levels are frantically trying to figure out how to transition to distance education, and families worldwide are suddenly faced with educating their children at home, either through their local school’s system or exploring independent homeschooling.
Transcript Research understands. We’ve been remote workers for years, which has allowed us to have our adjustment period without also having to worry about a global pandemic at the same time. This means that we’re still working as usual during our regular business hours and still conducting evaluations for educational institutions, employers, and individuals. It also means that we have a lot of practice at working using a different methodology than conventional brick-and-mortar institutions. While there are already a ton of articles, emails, and blog posts about working from home during this unique time, we are hopeful that our industry-specific information might offer some more targeted assistance. Of course, if you want assistance with your international credentials evaluations, we can help with that, too, but my goal today is just to try to share information to try to help you gain some control in an out-of-control situation.
Read below for some of our tips, tricks, and suggestions for successfully navigating the challenging weeks and months ahead.
Quick Tips and Tricks:
- Give yourself time to adjust. And then re-adjust. You will need to be kind to yourself and others. Set realistic expectations. We’re still trying to figure out our new normal, so manage your expectations and communicate with coworkers and bosses and family members to try to find your rhythm. Expect that some days will go smoothly, and others… won’t. Running away to join the circus isn’t really an option now so try find the humor in exasperating situations.
- When meeting online, give extra time for everyone to connect and offer alternative methods if possible. Many video services allow for recording, so turn that feature on in case some people can’t connect or lose their connection but aren’t left out of the meeting. Most of the video services I use also have phone call-in apps, so that’s something useful for those who might not have video cameras on their home computers or might not have headphones but can see video.
- If possible, create a work space that’s separate from your home life. If that’s not possible, try to create a ritual that allows you to ‘leave work at work’ such as changing clothes; going for a walk around your home when you’re done; closing your work apps or browser; listening to music; writing a short list of priority tasks for the next work day so your mind can move on to other things; literally walking out of a door and walking back in and telling yourself you’re at home now; taking a shower or exercising; doing household chores; schedule a time to connect with someone after work on the phone or video chat so you have a reason to stop working at a specific time; meditate for 5-10 minutes; cook or plan a meal; read for pleasure; play board games with household members.
- Relax your dress code unless you need to be dressed for work in order to get into a work mindset. If that’s the case, make sure you change after work time so you can get into a new mindset. If your organization hasn’t already, make sure you have a policy on dress codes for video meetings with clients, students, and each other so no one is surprised.
- Understand that partners, children, roommates, extended family, and pets will likely be part of video conferences. Embrace it and be kind to others who might be anxious about it on their end (but remind your household members that clothing isn't optional!)
- Check your video feed before you go live to make sure you know what you’re sharing so that you won’t need a virtual meeting with HR, too.
- Use noise-canceling headphones if you have them to make it easier to focus. Even if you don’t have them, regular ear buds or headphones can help you tune out some of the chaos in neighborhoods full of other people suddenly at home
- Set a work schedule, but know that it will likely have to be flexible, especially if you’re not home solo. Make sure that you set a timer on your phone or computer to take a break. It’s very easy to get into the work zone, and suddenly, you haven’t moved in six hours. Move around, do squats or chair yoga, lift weights or your copy of the International Handbook of Universities.
- If possible, try to schedule some of your hardest work for times when it’s calmest at home (before your partner wakes, after kids are sleeping, when your kids are allowed screen time, when your roommate is done with their own video conference, etc.) If that’s not doable, or your organization expects traditional work hours, try to ensure you have others in your household all set up before you dive into complex tasks.
- Be patient with yourself and others; we’re all in it together, separately.
- Be flexible with your deadlines and understand that it’ll take time to get up to speed from your new environment even if you were already working from home some of the time
- Communicate with your colleagues, your students, your departments, your end-users that things might be taking longer, but you’re still working hard for them. Communication among coworkers becomes especially critical in remote work because you can’t rely on visual cues, passing conversation, lunchroom chats, or other casual communication to relay information about mood, workflow, household disruptions, satisfaction levels, and other soft skills.
- Connect with people using a variety of means like email, text, phone, instant messaging or chat programs like Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, or Discord. Give people time to create accounts if they don’t already have them and have a short meeting without an agenda just to greet each other and get used to a technology or service they might not have used before.
- Remember that instant communication tools doesn’t necessarily mean instant answers.
- If you manage others, make sure that you are checking in with them to find out what they need, what challenges they’re facing, how things are going better or worse than expected. Check in, don’t check up, and give them several different ways to reach you as well as set hours when you’re available. Check out these great tips if you’re managing others or helping others try to establish remote work policies and strategies.
- Have virtual meetings to celebrate birthdays, project completions, work anniversaries, and other things that you would normally celebrate or acknowledge when in your office. Plan a weekly coffee or tea social where you all catch up and support each other without necessarily talking shop. Social isolation is a big worry for remote work, even for introverts like myself, so try to find reasons to reach out to one another even when you don’t have a specific goal.
- Practice breathing techniques, mindfulness, or meditation. It’ll make you less stressed and more productive!
- Don’t have tv or video games going in the background. If you’re working, try to work. If you need a break from working, step away from your work and take an actual break.
- Recognize that all of us in this together, and it’s a high-anxiety time for many people.
Transfer your phone number to a virtual phone service or cloud-based phone system such as Google Voice or Jabber so that different people at different times can answer or make calls using a business phone number. Set away messages on your various email accounts to ensure people know that your institution is experiencing delays. Utilize conference call services or video conferencing software. Use a cloud-based file-sharing service so that all staff members can access the same documents. If you’re not already using an online office suite, now might be a good time to explore one so that everyone can see and edit documents online. In our office, we automatically digitize all incoming applicant records, and evaluators have their own libraries, though we also utilize an in-house wiki for consistency in our evaluation work. If you are still relying on print publications and/or physical education records, you should coordinate with others in your office so that different evaluation staff will bring home application files for different countries or regions. That way, you can coordinate heading in to the office at different times to limit contact, but continue working and address incoming application materials. Your institution may require you to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to securely connect to the institution’s network.
Earlier this week, I saw many people online who were frustrated that faculty and students had been sent to work and study from home, but admissions staff and other staff were still required to work on campus. This is changing daily, perhaps hourly, as discussions on such varied topics as international student in-person enrollment requirements, commencement ceremonies, and student housing take center stage. Some institutions simply didn’t have written policies on how to allow their staff to work from home, so hopefully that’s being resolved.
Give yourself time to adjust and expect that things will go awry. This is hard stuff. Even if you’re a veteran at working from home, this is different. Technology is less stable since so many more people are using it very suddenly, so try to have patience and humor (and also maybe a backup plan). You might be used to working remotely when you travel or when you’re feeling under the weather, but it’s different right now. Give yourself a break and time to adjust. And expect that there will be a large learning curve. You might be used to working away from an office, but your colleagues might not be.
Or what if you’re not yet working remotely, but you think you can? Maybe you’re trying to make the case that you or some of your co-workers can and should work remotely, even if on an alternating basis if your institution has some necessary on-site tasks that prevent all of you from working from home. Increasing numbers of counties, states, and countries are passing “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home” orders, and non-essential businesses are being required to send their workers home. Even if that doesn’t affect you now or next week, you might be able to use it to crowd-source with colleagues at other institutions on how they’re managing specific tasks that aren’t addressed here.
One of our senior staff, Olivea Dodson, wrote an article last year about Talking to Your Boss about Remote Work, and we’re sharing it again for your convenience.
If you’re using technology to connect with your colleagues and peers, make sure you have alternatives available in case one is overloaded. I’ve seen a lot of people online complaining this week about failures of the various online meeting platforms, but I honestly don’t know if that’s just people not knowing how to use them, if the systems are still being ramped up for increased usage, or if we’re all just going to have growing pains, but be prepared with a backup plan. If you’re used to using one platform, make sure you have everyone’s contact information in case you need to try something else.
Develop Yourself Professionally
I keep seeing all these things about how to be productive during quarantine or memes about amazing ideas or art that other people developed during isolation, and that just stresses me out more. However, if you are looking for something to distract you from the craziness in the world, there are plenty of things you can do for your career while working from home. See if you can assist in writing a NAFSA Guide to Educational Systems around the World by contacting the editor, Susan Whipple. Become a member of TAICEP, The Association of International Credential Evaluation Professionals, and volunteer for a committee or write an article for an upcoming issue of the TAICEP Talk Newsletter. Watch an archived webinar from EAIE, the European Association for International Education, or ACCRAO, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. And remember that Transcript Research is offering a webinar next week on researching grading scales and
Remember to Relax
If you want to use this time to learn an instrument, write a book, finish a huge home project, have a great time with that! But if you’d rather use your down time to disconnect from the stress and turmoil right now, do that, too. Catch up on all those shows you meant to watch. Binge on the latest offerings. Watch the latest movies from Universal and AMC from the comfort of your living room. Host a Netflix Party to watch with your friends and family online. Join an online dance party. Explore virtual musems; go on a field trip; finally tackle your To Be Read book pile with access to tons of free ebooks or buy online from your local bookstore; immerse yourself in an opera or symphony; catch a living room concert or Willie Nelson’s anti-festival this evening; attend a children’s book reading with the kids in your life even if they live elsewhere; and so much more. Pull out the board games, puzzles, half-finished art or sewing or home-improvement projects. If you need permission to NOT be super productive, consider it given.
My news feed this morning was full of articles and videos about the best ways to workout from home, and there are a gazillion articles about the best at-home workout to avoid weight gain during quarantine. More importantly, though, exercise for stress relief. Get fresh air. Walk outside if you’re in a neighborhood that allows you to still remain 6+ feet from others. Open the windows if you have them.
It’s a super stressful time and likely to continue for a while, so make sure you’re doing the things you need to do to stay healthy to increase your chances of recovery if you do end up sick. Get sleep. Relax. Eat healthy most of the time, though I’m still a huge advocate for stress eating and comfort foods. Get up and move around. Spend time talking with people you care about even if they’re not at the same address. Reconnect with your hobbies and your friends and extended family.
Kids at Home!?
If you’re suddenly trying to work with kids at home, too, it can be even more of a challenge. I’ve been a homeschool parent for years, but even my family and work life have taken a hit recently. Whether you’re a parent or caregiver working from home whose kids’ school have established an online curriculum, or if you’re scrambling to try to find something since your school district doesn’t have anything ready (or isn’t taking COVID-19 seriously and is still having face-to-face classes), know that it’s going to take time to get into the swing of things. You’ll probably fail, maybe more than once. But then you try again the next day. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ll let the kids watch TV and play video games while you feel like you’re letting them down, and then you try again. Be kind to yourself and the kids. Assume that your kids are freaked out about it even if they seem calm. Don’t try to hide it from them since it’s pretty obvious that things aren’t normal right now. You might need a few days, or longer, for your kids to get used to being at home all day, especially if you’re also trying to get used
They’re not going to suddenly forget everything they ever learned if they spend a day (or three) watching Curiosity Stream or Ted Ed, play computer coding games, immerse themselves in civics education, have fun with science, explore tons of free math lessons for all ages, practice their spelling and typing with games, free resources from Scholastic, and seemingly endless awesome, quality edutainment from YouTube channels like Crash Course and Crash Course Kids, Grammarpolis, Smarter Every Day, Math Antics, and so much more. For middle school kids, teens, and adults, there are also great options available via Great Courses, the Critical Thinking Company, Outschool, Udemy, EdX, and Coursera. If you’re having to figure out your own curriculum, don’t plan to do it all at once, and don’t spend a ton of money up front. Right now, there are tons of free services or 30-day trials so you can see if it fits your needs, learning styles, and everything else.
During less strained circumstances, when I chat with people who are moving their kids from conventional school to homeschool, I usually tell them to take some time to figure out what their kid enjoys learning and start with that. You’ll get less fighting from them, feel better about how you’re managing so many hard things at once, and they’ll be able to catch up their other instruction once they’ve adjusted. instead of doing formal classroom instruction. It might actually be easier to transition from a formal, structured, scheduled school day if you let them do fun learning for a few days while you try to figure out what you’re going to do in the coming weeks and months ahead. Let them play educational games (board games, apps, computer, tablet); watch educational-ish programs on streaming services or YouTube; and also let them do whatever it is they do to relax and feel like things are okay.
It’s scary for me as a middle-aged adult who grew up in Europe during the Cold War; how much more frightening must it be for our kids whose lives have been upended even more than our own because they’re likely having less contact with their peers than you are with yours. Spend time talking to them, hanging out with them. Have family dinners or board game night or binge-watching or walking the dog or whatever it is you do together to just be together. And talk to them in age-appropriate ways about what’s going on. But if you do have to self-isolate at home, because you don’t know if you a cold or something scarier, the CDC has some useful information that might be good to read now and talk about with those you live with now so you don’t have to figure it out on the fly.
News and Social Media
And when it comes to the news: take a break from it. You don’t have to consume every single new update about COVID-19 as soon as it’s released or at all. Set limits on the amount of time you spend reading or watching the news and on social media regarding the pandemic. I know it feels like you’ll be more prepared if you know everything as soon as it’s available, but it’s not good for your sustained mental health to know exactly how many people in your city/state/county/region/country have been tested compared to the norm. By now, we probably all know that we should stay home as much as possible so that the people who have to go out (medical professional, emergency responders, grocery store and restaurant staff, supply chain workers, etc) can remain safe; practice social distancing; wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after sneezing, coughing, using the bathroom and before eating or preparing food; and (the hardest of all!) avoid touching your face. If you somehow didn’t know that already, yay, I’ve saved you a lot of time!
Health and Safety
And of course, if you’re sick, please stay home. Use telemedicine to see if your doctor or hospital has a screening process for illnesses. There simply aren’t enough spaces and medical equipment in hospitals now, and many of them have procedures in place to help people monitor their symptoms at home rather than risk being exposed to even more stuff in a public place. Obviously, I’m not a medical practitioner, so please consult your own doctor if you or someone you care about is sick, but right now, most people who are sick aren’t able to get tested so just assume that as your starting point. Hopefully that will change soon. But if you “just” have the seasonal flu or a cold or allergies, and you go to the hospital where someone else does have COVID-19 or a staff member there has been exposed, you’re at a greater chance of getting sicker and still might not meet the requirements for testing, or you might be tested but not be able to get immediate care due to the overload on medical services right now. Again, I’m not a medical professional so please speak with medical professionals on the phone or via telemedicine if you’re sick. I’m just trying to share the latest information, which is that hospitals are already overwhelmed and are turning people away or treating people without the ability to follow standard protocols, so if you’re able to stay at home safely even if you’re sick, you are likely better off. That being said, if you’re seriously ill, call the hospital (don’t just show up – they may turn you away after you wait hours) to find out if they have a pre-screening process or drive-through testing.
Here’s the CDC’s list of emergency warning signs for COVID-19
Above all, just keep laughing!
Send me your favorite tips for working from home or staying healthy and relatively sane, and we’ll be happy to share them in a follow-up soon. Stay safe, friends!
Yours in evaluating and laughing,