Setting Work-From-Home Boundaries Is No Easy Feat

When the Slacks and Zooms never seem to end, how do you find moments to rest from the emotional and physical fatigue of quarantining during coronavirus?

Eric Stine is the Chief Revenue Officer at Qualtrics. Recently, for the first time in his professional life, he became a full-time remote employee because of the coronavirus pandemic. Each week, he’ll share the highs, lows, and learnings of a WFH newbie. You can read all of his weekly diary posts here.

Dispatch From the Home Office, Week Three — So, That Happened

I honestly don’t know how we got through the weekend. I’ve sucked down so many Zicam you could press a penny from the zinc levels in my blood. I’d set off a metal detector. I make everyone wash their hands 85 times a day, even though there’s nothing to dirty them. For eight days I’ve been feeling Noelle’s forehead and gauging her every move and mood. When you have twins, and one gets sick — the other one is the canary in the coal mine. 

The year we got hit by norovirus, our son Nicholas woke us up throwing up on a Friday night. By Sunday afternoon our daughter Noelle had it, so we knew it was a thing. My husband Neil and our au pair succumbed overnight. Don’t ask me how I didn’t get it — but there’s still an unopened bottle of Emetrol and a bottle of activated charcoal in my medicine cabinet.

Anyway… Nicholas’s fever dropped under 101º by morning. It stayed between 100.4º and 100.8º most of the weekend and into Monday, so I became convinced — that maybe by some force of will, or magical thinking, or prayer — he had an ear infection. He never developed any obvious symptoms of anything else — no cough, no fatigue, but when the Children’s Tylenol would wear off he’d rest his head in his hands and — if asked if his ear hurt — would occasionally give a desultory, “Yeah.” (Nicholas is an unreliable narrator.)

So, we did a telepresence with the pediatrician — who can’t really look into his ears or throat over the phone (I checked his throat; it wasn’t strep. I’m an amateur hypochondriac and semi-professional neurotic, so I know how to look for the basics). She was just as willing to believe it was an ear infection, so she prescribed an antibiotic, which seems to have done the trick.

Otherwise, I’m #WFH (our entire cultural experience of the greatest social experience ever will be reduced to a hashtag). Someday, soon hopefully, we will have #TBTs and #TGIFs recalling the days of #WFH. Or maybe, when this is over, we will realize how much we missed each other and relegate “social” somewhere below socializing. I’m finding (somewhat surprisingly) how much more I like the 3-D version of humans to the 2-D one. Count me in as someone who can’t wait for #IRL to #BRB.

Am I the only one experiencing Work From Home as Work Without Borders?  Or maybe it is Work Without Boundaries. I’ve never been busier. For whatever reason, all the time I used to spend off the phone — in a car, on a plane, between meetings and customer visits — is now consumed. It’s Zoom after Zoom after Zoom, — from early morning until after dinner. Plus, in order to make sure leaders, individuals and teams are all OK, I’m on Slack, All Hands Calls, Team Calls, informal check-ins, and texts. When this is all over, I’m going to the most remote place I can find and sticking my phone in a clamshell.

I do get solace when I run — I feel like Justin Theroux in “The Leftovers” (but older and fatter). I think about that show a lot — a world where, suddenly, 2% of the population disappears. (Two percent is, coincidentally, similar to the currently believed mortality rate of COVID-19. Though with so little testing and so many mild or asymptomatic cases, it’s likely lower.) I find I rather enjoy the peace of running through our current dystopia. It’s April cool — sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy or lightly raining — when I run. It is one of the only tactile experiences I’m having in this digital existence. 

Even then, there are days when I cannot muster the energy — though I’m finally sleeping eight hours a night for the first time since childhood. (Arianna has completely nailed it on the importance of sleep, by the way — it does make a HUGE difference.) I don’t know why, but there are days when I simply don’t want to leave my home. The emotional fatigue of being worried about so many things, for so long, takes a toll… regardless of how much sleep I get.

For a change, I got a Peloton… ordered it nearly a month ago as all this was just starting, figuring it would be a good way to do physical activity in a social manner, the gym now long closed.  Clearly, I wasn’t the only one with this idea — they’re backordered for weeks. It arrived this past Thursday. It comes (mostly) assembled… they just drop it at your front door, wave at you from a distance, and they’re gone. You figure out, yourself, how to get a very expensive, very cumbersome 135-pound device wherever you’d like to place it.

Together, Neil and I got it upstairs. (This, itself, is a miracle.) Neil and I make a great team, largely because we know what each is supposed to do separately and what we can reasonably and effectively do together. For us, that is teamwork. We are not the couple that rows together or can cook in the same kitchen at the same time. We would never go on “The Amazing Race” unless we wanted millions of people to bear witness to events later to appear in the divorce papers.

We went for a run together last week and looked like we were social distancing.

But we got that beast up two flights of stairs — where it sat, unattended, until this morning. I was invited to two group rides, so I needed to figure out how to work it. I turned it on, set it up, and thought I was good to go until I realized that the shoes needed to be put together. Exile has turned me back into a cook, made me clean like Cinderella, and today made me a cobbler. I’ve had just about every job you’d find in Grimm’s Fairy Tales except Enchanted Frog, and — even then — I know several people who could strike the word “enchanted” from that phrase and make a credible argument.

On Friday, I picked up food for the first time since we went into lockdown. We are caught in between not wanting to lose many of our favorite local retailers and restaurants and the total lack of interest in eating food that was prepared outside our home. Ultimately, we broke down when one of our favorite local restaurants announced it was providing family meals — a full meal for a family of four — that could be preordered and picked up Tuesdays through Friday. When we learned that they were using all tips and gift cards to feed the staff they furloughed, we bought a huge gift card in hopes of using it one day and ordered Friday’s dinner.

We ended the week with a spa day. Noelle wanted a manicure and Nicholas NEEDED a haircut — which I chose to do while FaceTiming my mom, so the squirming and complaining could trigger PTSD from when she would do the same to me, 43 years ago. Actually, I just wanted her to see the kids. My dad has emphysema and my Mom had cancer; this thing scares the heck out of me for them. Up until a month ago, I simply thought of them as energetic people in their early 70s who easily had a good 10 or more years left; now every trip they take to the grocery store makes me crazy.

It’s the nonstop anxiety that is the worst. Worrying that Zoom and Slack and all the emails in the world aren’t allowing me to be as good of a teammate, leader or customer servant. Worrying that every trip to the mailbox is entering a hot zone. Over-diagnosing every sneeze. Worrying about my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and their family, our friends, my colleagues. Worrying about the economy. Worrying about the ~20 million people who’ve lost their jobs. Worrying what happened to America’s unique ability to plan for things like this — then execute better than anywhere else in the world.

But there are bright spots. After all — look at these kids:

Working From Home in the New Normal is a data-driven storytelling initiative from SAP and Thrive Global, bringing together insights powered by the Qualtrics Remote Work Pulse with actionable Microsteps and stories from Thrive to help you navigate working from home. Visit daily for the latest data and stories to help improve your focus, prioritization, and well-being.

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