By Tanisha King-Taylor, Ph.D., Heritage College Chief Inclusion Officer,
and Gigi Secuban, Ed.D., Ohio University Vice President of Diversity & inclusion
The COVID-19 pandemic has recently swept the nation, disrupting agencies, schools and more. Our country has been added to the list of countries around the globe dealing with this pandemic. Businesses have closed, and social gatherings as we know them have ceased.
Keeping a six-foot distance from others has meant connecting virtually as we adapt to what we hope will be a temporary “new normal.” We've had to remind ourselves repeatedly that we are living through a crisis because it often feels surreal. It’s been a tremendous adjustment, to say the least, and we’ve had to explain to our children why we can’t go “somewhere fun” more than once.
While we adjust personally and move into acceptance for this current reality, we’ve also had to adapt professionally. For some of us, working from home with partners and children can be difficult and, as one colleague described it, “exhausting.” Even if you are single, being at home 24/7 can be a challenge.
Furthermore, holding meetings and classes virtually has opened a space for racist, sexist, homophobic and/or other forms of “isms” and “phobias” to attack. Recently, as an African American student was defending his dissertation, his space was hacked by someone who took control of the screen, wrote the “N” word across it and shared pornographic images/videos. This type of virtual hack, dubbed “zoom-bombing” by IT professionals, could even increase as we continue to operate in virtually connected workspaces.
As workplaces and classrooms (both K-12 and higher education) resume meetings online, below are some tips to create an engaging and inclusive culture remotely, in addition to some do’s and don'ts.
Understanding levels of access
Supervisors should check in with their team members (not every day) to be sure they are not in need of technological equipment and/or internet access. Yes, we are in 2020, but some families do not have these resources. Working remotely has been mandated by the state government, which could put additional pressure on said families to obtain these resources.
Limit access to technology for your children, especially during your meetings. This will not only help limit their screen time, but having fewer family members using Wi-Fi simultaneously may prevent delays and glitches. These are the times we send our kids outside for fresh air!
Protect who has access to your virtual spaces by creating passwords, and have a “monitor” to remove any violators of the space. You may want to consider disabling chat, video and screen share features and use the hand-raising feature instead when possible. This can help prevent potential hackers from sharing inappropriate information and taking control of the virtual space. This also reduces the chances of racist, sexist, homophobic and/or other “isms” from invading the virtual space. Using closed captioning and the chat features in virtual meetings may be helpful for hearing-impaired individuals and those who cannot be in a 100% quiet space.
Understanding parental/family situations
This is an adjustment for most people, and those of us with children require even more complex coordination. As we navigate our new world, parents are also helping children navigate theirs as well. Additionally, we are helping with assignments and assisting them with technical difficulties during virtual class meetings. This sometimes means interruptions during very important meetings.
We need to be cognizant of this reality for parents and allow flex time – the same 8 a.m.-5 p.m. meeting schedule likely is not working well for all team members. There are now federal policies in place that enhance the current Family and Medical Leave Act policies, so check with your human resources office to talk about your individual situation.
Taking time for wellness/self-care
In “normal” work situations, we all need to take time to renew/reflect. Finding that time for yourself is even more important now. Reading, journaling, meditating, yoga, perspective-taking or just watching mindless TV are ways we can step back from this new normal.
Find videos online from YMCAs or other fitness locations in your area that have transitioned to virtual teaching formats. Many of these options are free and require no membership. Take time to find new hobbies – this is a great time to learn something new like gardening or something you have been wanting to try but did not have time for before the pandemic.
As an employee, ask for what you need. Talk with your supervisor about the boundaries you need in terms of accessing you during the day. If you don’t feel that you can have that conversation or would like help, reach out to your inclusion office and/or HR.
Finding new ways to engage your work team and family
If you are a supervisor, engage your staff in new and fun ways. For our team, we created Mindfulness Mondays and Foodie Fridays that include fun, short activities that we can do for mindfulness (e.g., guided meditation yoga, dance videos, etc.) as well as remote cooking workshops featuring favorite recipes, during which staff can tune in and ask questions. The cooking workshops are also done with students to help break up the monotony of being at home all day and give them activities that temporarily replace the activities they would normally participate in on campus.
At home, create family activities of things you can do together (e.g., play games, cook/bake/grill together, movie times, TV marathons, pick up a lunch and eat at a local park (or in the parking lot of said restaurant). These types of activities can bring people together in ways that help them (and you) break away from the crisis out in the world, even if it’s just for a little while.
Maintaining a flexible daily routine
Create schedules/daily charts for your kids. Now that the world is online and many districts have transitioned to virtual classrooms, your kids may have mandatory “face-time” with their teachers. Even if they have paper school packets, a daily schedule will help them (and you) maintain your collective sanity.
Help your kids stay organized by creating schedules near their workspaces that include those appointments, study times, breaks for meals and “fresh air” time. Don’t forget about YOU – also maintain a routine for you. We still follow a routine at home, and then move to our home office to work.
The Do’s and Don'ts
DO: Get regular exercise – go walking, biking, hiking, wandering. If you can’t do those things, find videos on YouTube or through fitness centers that have posted virtual workouts. It is important for self-care. Take a moment to look up into the sky and take a deep breath. A recent study showed that just looking up into the sky can greatly reduce your stress. Try it. It works.
DON’T: Deprive yourself of nature and fresh air. Nature is one of the things that is NOT cancelled.
DO: Create a schedule for yourself. If you work from home, try to get up at your normal time, work and take lunch breaks. A few folks even recommended getting dressed up for the “workday,” and then after 5 p.m., “dressing down” for home.
DON’T: Stay in the bed and work from there all day. Create boundaries for work versus living space. This can be difficult, but it helps maintain a sense of normalcy and separates work from relaxation. It will also help in the adjustment once we all get back to the office in real time.
DO: Stay socially connected to friends and coworkers while you practice physical distancing through FaceTime, texts, good old-fashioned phone calls, Google Hangouts or other means. There are many online games that you can play virtually with friends. Folks have even started virtual parties – check those out!
DON’T: Isolate yourself. It is easy during these times to withdraw, especially if that has been your comfort zone. If this has been your go-to, now is not the time. Challenge yourself to attend virtual sessions at least once a week to socialize with others. While we are physically distant, we still need and deserve human connection.
DO: Support local restaurants and businesses. We have made a point of buying dinner out once a week from a local business and doing one lunch from a fast food place. Our local farmer’s market is open for business, and they have put physical distance practices in place by separating each booth and creating more space for folks to walk and browse safely. All of these businesses need our support during this difficult time.
DON’T: Constantly keep the TV on with updates on the virus and how many people have been affected. Equally, don’t monitor social media 24/7. Otherwise, you will undo everything we just recommended that you should DO!