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I Started My New Job in a Pandemic, Here’s What I Learned

March 16 was my first day at Salesforce. It was also the very same day our local government announced its shelter-in-place order.

This means that as my Salesforce backpack arrived at my front door and I opened up my new MacBook Air for my first two-hour Trailblazer learning sessions, my husband was frantically returning from the supermarket with 144 eggs. (Later, remorseful for his hoarding impulse, he attempted to return half of the eggs. Safeway, of course, refused to take them.)

I’ve described the subsequent months as a whirlwind, a hurricane, a wild ride, and many of the other widely accepted metaphors for the experience of working from home during COVID-19. I came to Salesforce from Vox Media, so had to adapt to the world of a huge corporate technology company as I got cozy with the idea of a global pandemic. I also have yet to meet most of my colleagues face-to-face.

Of course, multitudes of publications have offered up their sage advice for making “the whole working-from-home thing” easier: from making sure you have a dedicated area to leaving the house to liberal use of the out-of-office reply. I must admit, I have done none of those things religiously, but here are four unexpected things that have allowed me to feel like a sane human being since March 16. 

1. Be mindful in chat rooms

If Michelle Obama is suffering from “low-grade depression” we can be sure many of our colleagues are not in their finest shape. It’s mentally exhausting to stay focused on email and meeting preparation when you share space with your family, care for children, and/or suffer from loneliness. But I try to remember we have a chance to lift each other up with each chat room interaction we have. And it’s so easy to be terse on Slack and Google Hangouts. I find my good days are the ones when I pause and ask my colleagues how they are doing, share a joke, or otherwise connect on a personal level. We don’t have water coolers or chance encounters anymore. Chat is all we’ve got. So try to make the connection something that fills you up instead of drains you.

2. Block unstructured time

We are not robots. In a corporate work-from-home (WFH) environment it’s very easy to schedule out your whole day with meetings and tasks and forget that you are a human being, who — much like a plant — needs nourishment and sunshine to thrive. Block off time on your calendar to walk around the block, engage in small talk with colleagues, or finish unexpected work- or home-life tasks that might get thrown your way. One thing’s for sure, if you overschedule yourself, you are headed for burnout. 

3. Put yourself first

I’m lucky I work at a place where leaders continually remind us to care for our mental health. But despite these missives, most of my colleagues have enough work on their plate for two people. At the end of the day, putting yourself first is up to you, not your boss.

What does it mean to put yourself first? It means identifying that moment when you start to feel stress in your body as the time to stop, close your computer and take a walk, pet your cat, or pick up the phone and call a friend for a quick chat. It also means powering down your devices at a set time every day so you can get a good night’s sleep. Ultimately, it means being real with yourself if you’re not feeling great at the end of the week and working hard to figure out what you can change in your day-to-day in order to lift yourself up. 

My personal method for putting myself first? I try to do something that brings me joy every day — whether that’s a quick yoga class, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, or playing Unstable Unicorns with my husband after our son goes to sleep. 

4. Stop the video madness

Yes there are a lot of articles about Zoom fatigue out there. At this point, if you work in a corporate environment, you know all of these video calls are bad for you right now. And we know nothing about the long-term effects. Some experts advise a limit of two hours of video calls per day. That’s very difficult to achieve at a company like ours where one can easily have an entire day of meetings. But if you keep your meetings to thirty minutes each, you can take four of them, and then take the rest from your phone and turn off your camera to give yourself a rest from performing. It’ll do wonders for your body and your mind. 

From home office setup to employee communications and forums, take the Trailmix on managing a remote workforce.

Carolyn is the Director of Brand Editorial at Salesforce. Prior to Salesforce she worked in editorial team management roles at Vox Media, Google, and San Francisco magazine. The author of the James Beard-nominated Rich Table cookbook, she is passionate about meditation and mental wellbeing at work.

More by Carolyn

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