Employee Connectedness: Working From Home in a One-person Household

Episode 9: Working From Home in a One-person Household

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many knowledge workers are now working home in one-person households, physically isolated from other human beings. For employees who live alone, working from home in a one-person household during a pandemic brings about new challenges of feeling connected and engaged. Companies should recognize these new challenges and respond with connection and empathy.

In this episode of Employee ConnectednessUnitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses the experience of working from home in a one-person household during the COVID-19 crisis with Unitonomy employee Brittain Skinner and UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck.

In this conversation, they will discuss the unique stressors of being entirely isolated as a result of the pandemic. It’s important for these employees to find ways of establishing new routines, maintaining and strengthening connections to loved ones remotely, and using healthy practices to handle stress and worry. Employers and colleagues sheltering with their families who extend empathy and added opportunities for connection can help the employee in a one-person household feel seen and valued.

Episode 9: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuhgtT6MxfI

Employee Connectedness is live-streamed every weekday at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.

Connected Employees

Full Transcript:

Employee Connectedness: Working From Home in a One-person Household

Charley Miller 0:14
Hi everybody. I’m here with Brittain Skinner Nope, sorry, shoot. There we go: Brittain Skinner with Unitonomy. Dr. Brad shuck from the University of Louisville. Another Brad Shuck behind us, kind of a cool depth effect today, unintended but here we are. And I’m Charley Miller of Unitonomy.

So this is part two of a conversation we started on Friday about how employees are feeling isolated and the different experiences they’re enduring through the pandemic with the social distancing. Friday’s conversation was mainly about parenting with kids and the different sort of versions of that story. What is it like to be a parent–single parent or multi-parent–household with kids at different ages, maybe one kid, maybe five kids, and trying to also do work and be a good employee and a good collaborator colleague. Today we’re going to shift the focus to talk about just people in general, at home during this thing and thinking about the differences as we build empathy here across the different types of colleagues going through this. What is it like to be someone who’s actually alone? So Brittain’s joining us here to talk about that. Brittain, I know you and your dog are partnered up through this right now. And I want to go to you first here to talk about just top-level like what is it been like the last month for you.

Brittain Skinner 1:40
Sure. Thank you, Charley. It has been very interesting. You know, at first, I was maybe a little bit excited too, you know, cancel some things on my calendar, have some more free time to do some things and I, you know, that first week, I think I killed it. You know, I was getting more stuff done in that week, it was great. We’re now on week five, and I would love to be out doing, you know, being able to meet up with people, have friends over. Yes, I’m, I’m ready to be out of the isolation. I’m also an extrovert, so I think that has added to it. I get my energy from being around people. And right now I’m not getting that as much in person. I do have a number of standing Zoom calls that are happening, each week with friends. There’s a virtual meetup on Friday nights. I have another group that gets together on Tuesdays just to kind of have that interaction. So, I also find myself talking out loud to my dog, more often. I always have done that a little bit but now it’s a, yeah, it’s kind of a daily thing. She hasn’t answered back in English yet, but, you know, the isolation still short so we may see that yet.

Charley Miller 3:23
So, some good and some bad. I’m an introvert, and my wife is too. I think if when you first said you’re kind of looking forward to that, made me laugh because we are too. Like, it takes a lot of energy for us to kind of go out and meet people and do things that we all do as part of a functioning society and that’s, that’s all stuff that’s great, but as introverts, you know, we need to hunker down a lot to kind of just build up the energy sources. So when everyone says there’s like a long staycation which is kind of weirdly is you know that’s kind of inviting. Now, that said, of course, there’s a lot of horrible stuff going on in the world right now and there’s also a guilt thing here where it’s like why would you look forward to something that’s horrible? Is this right? So we’re kind of in our brains even dealing with that imbalance. So back to what it’s like to be alone. What, what is it like for you right now, Brittain when you are trying to just process everything? You’re processing what’s happening in the world, you’re processing your family and their safety, you’re processing, you know your own needs and activities of the house life. What is just give us a sense of what that’s like for you.

Brittain Skinner 4:32
Sure. So, first and foremost, I think what is really important to acknowledge, is that however challenging it may be for me to spend a few weeks alone at home, not going out as much, that pales in comparison to what goes on in the medical field, friends who are on the front lines, you know. What they’re going through…that’s an entirely different and much more challenging experience, obviously. You know I think for me I have family, I just don’t live with them, you know, my mom and my sister. So there’s been a lot of stress in, you know, worrying about them and are they okay. Do they have what they need? Am I in a place or a position to be able to help with any of that? You know, I have ordered things remotely but, you know, if it involves actually being present and trying to assess, I can’t do that right now, you know.

Then there’s, there’s also sort of this, this weird fatigue that I think set in, maybe week two, week three of just, I don’t know quite how to explain it, but it was a lot of worry. You know, worry about if I get sick. You know, what happens with my dog, what happens with everything, you know, in my home. You know, how is that going to impact my family when they’re so far away? And you know what, like at what point do, you know, what I need to go to the hospital and how would I get there. You know, just those things that I, when those have crossed my mind, they are a lot more disturbing than I guess I expected or would have had normally, you know.

Charley Miller 6:42
But so it’s a really nice piece to focus on. We’ve got Dr. Brad Shuck with us. So I think Brad does a segue to send it over to you here of like asking, what kind of advice you have for someone right now that is going through some emotional exhaustion? There’s a stress level here if you’re alone. You don’t even have someone to bounce these expressions off of. What should someone like Brittain be doing?

Brad Shuck 7:05
Well I was gonna, I was gonna ask you if it’s okay. What did you, what did you do to kind of manage that anxiety or that worry? Because my wife and I were talking about this last night. Now what happens if we get sick, what happens to our daughter who’s what happens if I get sick and she gets sick? Where’s Maddie gonna go or one of our neighbors get sick and they’ve got kids so they do they come to our place? Do we need to have a plan for that? So I wondered how did you manage some of that when, in that week ,to that kind of emotional fatigue kind of began to set in for you?

Brittain Skinner 7:37
Sure, I’m trying really hard to get back into a routine, and to stay with it. Having a dog helps, you know, I have to go for several walks a day. And I found that, that helps clear my head when I take those walks and just try to kind of calm down about things and to try and, you know, either come up with a plan or just really sort of step back from it and not have that worried be first and foremost. It also involves getting enough rest, eating, eating healthy, you know, and trying to set aside time to connect with people. So again going back to that first week where I was like “I’m going to get all the projects finished in this one week.” And then the next week I kind of fell off a cliff where I was like wow I, you know, this feels like everything is upside down. And now in week five, it’s a new normal, as Charley and I talk about all the time, that new normal is starting to take shape, and I’m, I have a bit more of a set routine. I’m worrying about what I can worry about, you know, in its place, I guess, and trying to balance all of those, those pieces of trying to stay healthy in terms of physically and emotionally and mentally and just really trying to kind of find a new balance for all of those things.

Charley Miller 9:23
So some nice takeaways there. Setting aside time to reach out to people. Pets. You know, I think it was a great time to go get a pet–we’re hearing stories of shelters being overrun and I’m sure there’s a way to do that right now. Getting outside–the outdoors does something to the human body, for sure. Eating well, I love that one better. I had a bit of a sugar rush from Easter candy yesterday morning with my kids and I felt horrible and I was in a terrible mood at lunchtime and I realized my body’s not used to that kind of sugar rush in the morning. That was a bad mistake and, oh yeah you are what you eat, for sure. And then, I love the idea also of giving yourself projects, small tasks keep yourself, where you want to call distracted or just focused on something that’s healthy for you. I think that’s a really nice takeaway as well. So, Brad. What else would you add to that comes to mind right now?

Brad Shuck 10:15
So, I put a little bit of a spin on my daughter in the background here. Um, routines, I think are really important. They help us solidify trust in our day and predictability, which gives us capacity for other things so we’d have to worry about some things. And one of the things I think, at least I took for granted when post or pre COVID-19 was there were some routines in my life some things that were just automatic that my mind didn’t really have to think about and that helped me have capacity for other things in my life. Those things are kind of gone. And so I needed to reestablish those and so we’ve worked to establish what those things look like putting some boundaries around things. Brittain, I love the idea about going for a walk taking your dog outside, we might call that like changing the station in your minds. So, if anxiety or worry begins to creep in or frustration from there’s just too much, there’s so much work coming at us, or there’s so many things coming at us, we all have things that help us change the station in our mind. For some of us, that’s going outside taking a walk, others it’s exercise. We call it a brain break in our house where maybe you need to work on a puzzle for 15 or 20 minutes or you just need to eat whatever that is, it’s a way for you to step away.

I love the idea about going for a walk taking your dog outside, we might call that like changing the station in your minds. So, if anxiety or worry begins to creep in or frustration from there’s just too much, there’s so much work coming at us, or there are so many things coming at us, we all have things that help us change the station in our mind.

Dr. Brad Shuck

And the third thing, my wife and I’ve been talking a little bit about, maybe you guys feel the same or have experienced, we’ve, we’ve been approaching the last four to five weeks as like a plane circling a city getting ready to land. And so we’ve been on kind of a holding pattern and, like, okay, at some point, this plane is gonna land, and when it lands it’s gonna look exactly like it did when it took off. And that’s just not gonna be the case and so we’ve been talking a little bit in our family about, okay, what is the new reality? That and the new routines we need to begin to set. So our bedtime is a little different now and so our time when we wake up is different now and time we lunch is different now. Let’s erase, I have a whiteboard by my desk here that’s got a bunch of places that I, I had travel plans to those need to come off the whiteboard and new things need to go on the whiteboard, as a way to embrace and not circle the plane and or punt a football. You know we’re not just continuing to punt the football down the field, but instead we are really embracing like okay, this is what this looks like. And I think the sooner we do that. The, the healthier, we’ll be in terms of our psychological well being to Brittain’s point.

Charley Miller 13:04
I’ll tack on one idea there, which is, I know as I’m an introvert, I need to kind of put more energy into reaching out not wait for people to reach out to me and respond but to kind of proactively develop a muscle here where I’m just reaching out to whether it’s an old friend or it’s a colleague or whoever it might be, but just kind of doing a little acts of making sure I’m connecting with people. And I think that is something that it makes as soon as I do it I feel better. I don’t know what it is but just that human connection, really does change my whole mood and I realize just like you need to eat so much to keep up with blood sugar level. Well, you need to be connecting with other people to keep up sort of a social warmth level, it’s probably a better way of saying that, Brad, in the research context but I don’t know what it is but it’s true humans need other people right?

I don’t know what it is but…that human connection, really does change my whole mood and I realize, just like you need to eat so much to keep up with blood sugar level…you need to be connecting with other people to keep up sort of a social warmth level.

Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy

Brad Shuck 13:56
I think we’re hardwired for community, I think we’re, our, our bodies and our minds and our hearts are hardwired to to be around others and to have that kind of connection and be being a community. That’s why isolation can be so crippling sometimes, even in a work setting, or in a social setting. It can be a really really crippling experience when we feel like we’re completely isolated. And we’re just hardwired for that community.

Charley Miller 14:28
Now also note that I don’t think exchanging messages is enough. Like, just reading text all day long, that’s not the same as hearing someone voice and seeing someone’s body language, there’s something that is different with how we process connection when we can look someone in the eyes and hear their voice. And I would just express that to everyone. If you’re working remotely right now and you’re using something like Slack or Microsoft Teams, make sure you’re doing more to connect and not just leaving it with responding to messages in there and sending funny gifs. Or whatever you might be doing, but like you really need to actually have the conversations.

Brittain, I’m going to give you last word today, because you’re experiencing this isolation with your dog differently than I am as a parent or Brad as a parent. What other things come to mind right now you think people should be either aware of, in terms of the idea of building empathy, or just some other things that you’ve learned in the last month do you want to make sure other people take advantage of?

Brittain Skinner 15:27
Sure, so I could not agree more with you about the seeing people face to face, you know, via screen, you know, as in this moment, or I had some friends who came over and I stood in my doorway and they stood a little ways apart and talked. I’ve had a socially distanced walk with the dog–those interactions are huge. And it reminds me that I’m still connected to a much bigger world and a much larger community. I have a group of friends that on Saturday, we just turn on Zoom and you can be working on crafts, you can be cleaning the house, whatever, just having that open and interacting with people as you go about and do things has been huge.

So I think takeaways would definitely be, you know, giving yourself a routine. I’m also journaling, just to sort of get my thoughts out and to have a record of this experience. But then connecting and just checking on everyone. I know my experience is entirely different than the people in my lives, who in my life who have partners and children. But we all need to just be checking in on each other. So every phone call starts with “How are you doing?” Even our, you know, our Unitonomy meetings, we all start with a little bit of banter and, you know, that’s just really great to have that few minutes of feeling part of a larger community. So all those little bits of interaction, the more that you can get those to sort of feed into your daily routine, the better it feels even though it’s a really strange time.

We all need to just be checking in on each other…all those little bits of interaction, the more that you can get those to sort of feed into your daily routine, the better it feels, even though it’s a really strange time.

Brittain Skinner, Unitonomy

Charley Miller 17:19
Well said really well said, well that’s gonna be today’s show. Thank you all for joining. Brad, thank you. Brittain, really appreciate you providing your perspective here. What’s your dog’s name?

Brittain Skinner 17:30
Her name is Yarra after the Yarra River in Australia.

Charley Miller 17:35
I bet you’re the only person with a Yarra dog locally. That’s just a guess.

Brittain Skinner 17:42
My Aussie friends are the only ones to pronounce her name right most of the time.

Charley Miller 17:48
All right, well thank you all so much. This is a good again a great, rich conversation and I hope we, a lot of people take advantage of some of the ideas here. So, again thanks for, thanks for. Thank you.

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