Notes from the Home Front

Notes from the Home Front

Like professionals across the country and around the world, VPCS employees have been working mostly from home during the coronavirus outbreak. It’s been a bit of a transition, but our people have always been a dedicated and hard-working bunch. Not even a shelter-in-place mandate would be enough to change that.

Here, a few members of Team VPCS weigh in with insights and observations about working from home:

Johnny Mam:  Whether I’m working from home or at the office, I find that having a daily routine and a schedule in place is essential to stay productive and also keep up the morale. I’ve been checking in on the team every day, which is a great way to make sure things are on track. The most challenging aspect of working at home is that I forget to take breaks and sometimes neglect self-care. To tackle that issue, I’ve scheduled times in the morning and afternoon for a walk outside for fresh air and sunshine. This is something I plan to carry over into my post-pandemic routine.

Melanie Griffiths:  I’m trying to treat working from home just like any workday. I wake up, get dressed and then “commute” to my computer where I check emails, to-do items and tasks. My family is at home too, which can be a challenge. It’s not unusual for my seven-year-old to have class and conference calls at the same time that I do! We’re all trying to find workarounds as we accept this new reality. I’ve found the Adobe Sign program to be helpful when it comes to getting documents signed by multiple people, and I hope that’s something we can rely on more when we’re able to go back to the office. It’s very efficient!

Jenny Choi:  Since working from home, I haven’t felt like my work life and personal life have been much different. In fact, since I don’t have to wake up early and commute to work, it’s actually saving me a lot of time. We’ve set up a company-wide Google Chat so we can talk with co-workers and everyone gets the message right away if there’s an urgent project issue or update. For me, the downside of all of this is not having my co-workers right next to me. In times like this, we have to be flexible and creative to continue doing our best work for the team and for our clients.

Christine Diamond: My productivity strategy is to get up, get dressed and stay as close to my normal routine as possible…except that I’m at home. I get my work done by sending lots of emails and texts and participating in the occasional Google Hangouts video meeting.  I have actually been using Google Hangouts and Zoom to keep in touch with my friends, family and sewing circles as well. For me, the biggest challenge has been staying focused but I tackle that by setting up a separate space for my at-home-office – a place that I can walk into and out of. Now, when I’m in that space I’m at work and am focused on the job. Then after work, I shut the door and focus on family. Since I have a much smaller workspace at home than at the VCPS office, I have to be much more organized. Nothing can be set aside to be put away or finished later. That’s a new habit that I hope sticks with me. The habit I don’t think I’ll be able to keep is how I live in my slippers now! It’s going to be hard putting heels back on when we head back to the office.

Kelli Van Pelt Jurgenson:  With kids at home, I would say the greatest challenge has been balancing their distance learning responsibilities with my own work responsibilities. In order for all of us to be productive, it’s crucial for me to set a daily schedule for them, complete with their school lesson plans and to-dos. But I must admit that I’m willing to let the schedule go when things get hectic; we’re all finding that we need to forgive ourselves and each other if things don’t always go perfectly smoothly. Also, we all need to take care of ourselves. I’ve been working out more consistently since working from home. It really seems to lessen the stress and focus my mind. To stay on top of projects and communicate with co-workers, Zoom and Google Hangouts have been great. I’ve even used both of those tools for evening and weekend social get-togethers. In fact, I think the fact that we’ve all been “forced” to use these tools has opened the minds of those who may have been resistant to new technology.

Alex Lim:  I’ve been conducting a morning routine that’s similar to going into the office and designating specific time blocks for work, which help me with productivity when working from home. (I also find enormous productivity benefits by not having to commute two-plus hours each day.) I’ve also created an at-home work environment that is suitable for phone and video calls. I do find it easier to get distracted and lose track of goals while working remotely, but my VPCS team maintains shared Google Keep lists and notes and we review those together on a daily basis, which keeps everybody on top of what we need to know and do. I’ve been pleased with how efficient the video call meetings have been, and I’d like to engage in more of those after this is all over.

Colleen Alexander:  I’ve found that designating a space at home that’s just for me has been really important. It’s where I go to “go to work” every day. For the most part, it’s all been going pretty smoothly. Although we had a bit of excitement the other day when the cat brought a dead rat into the house and left it under my desk. My husband tackled that challenge for both of us! I’ve been disciplined about taking a break every day to walk the dog. It’s been nice to get outside and get some fresh air. I hope I keep that habit up after all of this is over. I always come back refreshed after a quick walk.

Larry Fogelquist:  When I work from home, I always try to dress as if I’m going to work, sit down at my desk at about the same time each morning, and keep the door to my office closed. Showers, it seems, are optional. The biggest challenge while working remotely has been getting my project questions answered, but my fellow team members and my manager are always very available via Google Chat to get me the information I need and to collaborate. (It’s also been a challenge to stay out of the kitchen, but that’s another topic altogether!) I actually really like the positive impact of having fewer interruptions. I’d like to figure out a way to replicate that when things get back to normal.

Jess Joseph-Smith:  It’s been hard to manage my kids’ home school lessons while also being productive and accountable to my VPCS team. Luckily, we have great communication in this company, and everyone has been really understanding. I think the best part is people’s resourcefulness and the understanding that we’re all encountering things that we would not normally have to multitask. But we’re getting more creative about how to be stay organized and innovative, and I hope that continues because it will help us stay at the top of our industry. I am also grateful for the way my team allows me to help keep my kids on track and let me work around them. My kids and I eat lunch together and then take walks every day. That’s been a really nice way to break up the day; it’s something I’d like to incorporate it into my post-pandemic schedule.

Molly Burke:  I don’t have an extra room for an office, so I set up a fold-out table in my bedroom that serves as my office. Having an established workspace focuses me and sends the message to family that I’m at work. Also, maintaining a morning routine of getting to my desk at the same time with coffee in hand keeps my day consistent. All in all, it’s actually gone pretty smoothly. I’ve had a few occasions where I needed something in the office or wanted to look at a hard copy of a document, so I’ve had to make a few quick runs over there. Otherwise, I’ve been able to do what I need to do from home. I find working from home to be productive both professionally and personally. There are fewer interruptions throughout the day and the workday starts earlier because travel time has been eliminated. This means more time for sleep, exercise and family. Honestly, I think working from home has some great advantages. In this business, we’ll still always need to meet with clients and walk job sites, but I’m definitely a fan of some of the upsides of telecommuting.

Minh Dao:  I’ve relied heavily on Google Hangouts and texting while working from home, and of course email continues to be key. The main challenge I’ve faced is the way things can get lost in translation during virtual meetings. At in-person meetings, I’m able to explain things or ask questions if something comes up that I need to clarify a bit. Online meetings can be tougher in that regard; there’s a risk that things might be misinterpreted. But we’re putting in the extra effort to make sure everybody gets what they need through these channels. While working from home, I’m making sure to get up and stretch every hour. Before coronavirus, I spent my time going back and forth to sites but in the past few weeks I’ve been spending a good chunk of the day in front of a computer. Remembering to stretch helps me avoid the aches and pains!

Ray Green: As a senior project manager, I’m not able to work from home at all times because it’s still critical to have management presence on active job sites. When I am in the field, what’s really different is how we interact with contractors. We follow all social distancing protocols, whether that’s having a conversation in the parking lot or walking the project. For remote interactions, we’ve had good luck with different platforms – using whatever tool is easiest for all parties to adapt to. I have marathon web meetings with one of our CMs; with a simple text, he and I both log on and we can collaborate on the same documents and review the same drawings and change orders simultaneously. We’ve been able to prove to clients and colleagues not only that we can get things done this way but that we can do so seamlessly without missing a step. On those days when I work from home, I have to admit that my biggest hurdle is my dogs. I struggle resisting those cute little faces; eventually, I give in and take them out for a run around the house and we all feel better.