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Perspectives from a Professional Telecommuter

As we all scramble to adjust to a new way of living and working amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, telecommuting or teleworking has become the “new normal” for many. Not to be confused with the buzzing topic for early interventionists of tele-intervention or tele-health (that’s a topic for another blog, perhaps), Merriam-Webster simply defines telecommuting as,” to work at home by the use of an electronic linkup with a central office.”

Schools, agencies and businesses are struggling to support educators, students, and employees to adapt to an entirely new way of distance working. As a professional telecommuter for the past 18 years, I am paying close attention to concerns voiced by colleagues via emails, social media posts, and conference calls.  As I have listened and observed, this blog sort of began to “write itself” in my head and I decided to put “fingers to keyboard” to provide some perspective and tips.

When I was offered the opportunity to telecommute, it was a scary consideration. Naturally an extrovert, I wondered how I would cope with far fewer personal interactions. I also had to combat (for myself and others) telecommuting misperceptions. Oh, the questions and comments I’ve received or heard:

Question 1: “Do you roll out of bed and work in your jammies?”

Answer: Nope

Definitely not a morning person, I decided almost immediately that I could not afford to ease into my day differently than when I went into the office. When my alarm goes off at a set daily time, I shower, dress, and yes, I also “do my hair” every morning. While I don’t wear the kind of clothes I would wear for an in-person meeting, I’m always dressed in appropriate clothes if my video camera is ever on, which it frequently is! My girls used to laugh at this and asked why I went to the trouble when I wasn’t seeing people. Why? Because I’m a professional.

Question 2: “Do you watch TV or Netflix?”

Answer: Never

It actually never crossed my mind to have the TV on during the day. I wouldn’t watch TV if I was in the office so why would I ever do that while at work, even from home. Overtime I created a home office space that is really my designated work area. I go to my “office” just as I would go to my agency office. There is no TV anywhere close. Why? Because I’m a professional.

Question 3: “Aren’t you tempted to eat all the time?”

Answer: No

While my kitchen is very close to my home office, I quickly decided that I would adhere to a typical work meal schedule. I eat breakfast before I go to my office. Most days I take a lunch break and go to my kitchen or sit on my porch for a change of scenario. Just like in an office job, I do spend probably far too many days eating lunch at my desk. I’ve never really been tempted to add a lot more snacking or eat more. Why? Because I’m a professional.

Question 4: “I would be on social media all day. Are you?”

Answer: Again, nope

We are all using probably far more social media to stay connected during these uncertain times. I am, too. One thing I caution is to be very careful what you are posting during your typical office hours. People are watching. Your supervisor may be watching as well. It may be a good time to think about what you are posting during business hours. Are the posts job related? If not, might be a good idea to hold off posting until after work hours. I am NOT discouraging posts that uplift your colleagues. I just have seen some posts about what folks are “binge watching” while I know their agency has required telecommuting. This kind of post, unfortunately, supports telecommunicating misperceptions and diminishes the effectiveness of distance working.

So basic questions answered, I want to take a moment to think about the great things regarding telecommuting. I am fortunate to have a job, one that is allowing or promoting my telecommunication. I have great “officemates” with my two dogs. I am able to practice social distancing. I have great technology to connect with colleagues via web-conferencing tools and phone calls. I am contributing to the well-being of friends, colleagues, and larger communities.

Has your agency modified your working situation or required telecommuting? What has been difficult? What is going well?

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11 Comments to “Perspectives from a Professional Telecommuter”

  1. Thanks Cori — my agency is still working out some kinks. I am happy to hear your thoughts as our jobs start to look more like yours!! I will remain ….a professional.

    • Thanks, Beth. I think SO MANY are working out the kinks which is very natural with such a significant change in “ways of doing business.” If I can help, let me know.

  2. Go Mom, go! You could add a comment about the challenges that family/ kids/ pets present when working from home. Lots of people and their families don’t know how to adjust to being home but not actually available to one another because they’re working! I just told my classmates the other day how obnoxious we must have been knocking on your office door to ask dumb things or show you stuff during summer breaks 🙂 — With my own husband and dog now, and all of us working or going to school from home, I sympathize with the things you dealt with all those years ago while pioneering the work-from-home model!

    • Awwww…that’s my “Gwacie!” Thanks, Gracyn Hill. It WAS an adjustment for all of us. Children struggle to understand that “Momma is home but not always available.” Strategies: Help children (and sometimes partners, too) understand the parameters and muster LOTS of patience as this change in routine occurs. I do stick to this suggestion—my girls learned that when “Momma was in her office, she was working.” Now for dogs, since I have two very loud, snoring English bulldogs, helping them find a place to settle actually did the trick. They both have their own beds in my office, right at my feet. I tell them each morning, “Time to go to work” and they trek right in.

  3. Thank you for your blog post. For myself, I have been working as a Developmental Specialist for only six months after decades as an independent contractor. This was a big change and so is Telepractice!

    I do not have children but also see colleagues juggling their duties incredibly. In many ways, I have felt closer to colleagues because this has been hard! But we have seen colleagues coming together in such proactive ways to solve problems. We have a volunteer technical workgroup team of those who work well troubleshooting technical difficulties online, who have been so generous to work with those more challenged in the Microsoft Teams computer platform. I have seen people cheering others on, rallying to keep mobile eligibilities going. I too have felt the need to keep my morning routine intact. It has been hard work and for me organization and clear communication has bee required in new ways.

    The telepractice format has strengthened my coaching skills, forcing me to remember the to follow-steps in the coaching protocol such as putting the parent first, and hitting more targets with regards to being intentional and asking open-ended questions. I have props nearby to help me model a strategy I have seen the parent do, to provide support. It has also allowed me to listen more closely to the parent. This is especially true when establishing a relationship with a new client where somehow telepractice has given me the permission to take time to observe the child…working-together with the parent to get the camera set so I have a good view of the child and or parent.

    It has been helpful to schedule my lunch and force myself to take breaks for self-care, and
    use timers on my phone to get up and move which goes a long way. I am very proud of our team and honored to bring support to families during this challenging time.

    • Thanks for your comments, Prem. It is wonderful that you have such a great support team, especially with IT assistance. And I COMPLETELY agree with you that this current situation has really “required” (or perhaps promoted/encouraged) us to be much more proactive reaching out and connecting with our colleagues, friends and families. Be well!

  4. YES… because we are professionals! Thanks Cori

  5. Cori, thank you for these great tips and insights! Maintaining our professionalism during these challenging times is so important. I’d also like to weigh in on the importance of maintaining our bodies and souls during this new way of life. I think it’s safe to assume that most Early Interventionists are not used to sitting at a desk all day. The very nature of our job requires that we move: on and off the floor, up and down stairs, over and under playground equipment, in and out of cars, etc. After 3 weeks of excessive sitting, I certainly feel muscle groups that have always been loose now tightening and generalized weakening. Consequently, I now schedule stretch breaks throughout the day, invigorating walks, and strengthening activities. When I return to home visits, I’d like to be able to get up off the floor. Maintaining proper body alignment to protect my back and wrists has necessitated some creative home redecorating. I miss my adjustable office chair! I’ve also learned the importance of the 20:20:20 rule to rest my eyes. After 20 minutes, take a break for 20 seconds, and focus on something 20 feet away. Finally, I read an interesting thread on social media (sorry, no article to cite) that talked about the sensory/cognitive dissonance we’re all experiencing. Our virtual home visits, team and staff meetings give us the auditory input we’re familiar with, but the visual input is distorted (2D versus 3D), and we’re missing the smells, touch, and movement that are part of our real world visits. So, as we are doing the best we can with our new world, we may come out of visits and meetings feeling a bit discombobulated. Anyone else missing those sweet baby smells? Finally, the loss of our deep social connections with our families and co-workers is really hard. I’m so fortunate to work with a wonderful team that’s supportive and continually checking in on one another. I’m looking forward to some great get togethers someday in the not too distant future. Stay well!

    • Great tips, Nancy! Thanks for adding them to this post. I love the 20-20-20 rule and yes, the excessive sitting is hard. I found the sensory experience info from the thread you shared really interesting – I hadn’t really thought about that before. Social connections are so different right now. I just watched a great new video, Supporting Families During the Pandemic: Four Therapists Share Their Wisdom (https://ectacenter.org/topics/disaster/ti-service.asp#four-therapists), during which a PT said that one of his families said seeing him in a virtual visit helped them create a sense of normalcy for the family. I loved that because it meant that, while it was different, the connection was still there!

    • Such great information, Nancy. I’d love to read about the sensory/cognitive dissonance during this pandemic. There are certainly lots of smells I miss but even more I miss hugs! Be well.

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