Scores of Americans are a nearly two months into changing their daily routine of going to the office to staying at home, often with children, working their regular jobs via zoom meetings and only email. They will likely face many more weeks of this scenario as the CIVID-19 pandemic continues and medical experts seek to flatten the curve.

Charles Calderwood of the Virginia Tech Department of Psychology investigates how employees perceive, respond to, and recover from work stress. He also is a parent, working from home, balancing work duties and teaching online classes while being a full-time father and husband.

He offers advice on how employees and students working from home can maintain their work levels to the best of their ability during a time distress.

The following is edited from a Q&A with Calderwood via zoom and email.

How can working moms and dads, now assigned to home, juggle the stress of the job when kids are needing home schooling, classwork help? “One of the biggest difficulties that we have is that we’re being put into a situation where we’re not necessarily working to our strengths and our preferences. We’re in a situation where maybe we don’t want to work at home, we can’t reasonably accomplish certain work tasks at home, or we don’t like to work at home. One thing that can be really helpful is try to carve out the control that you can have over your work life. So, if you think about different ways that you can still maintain some of your old habits, some of your old routines surrounding work, that can be really beneficial. Particularly if you have older children, try to talk to them and communicate some boundaries about when you are going to be working. For employees who have younger children or children who might have heavier care demands, it’s going to be a really tough circumstance. Striving to be realistic with your expectations of what you can get done in a given day is important. Set smaller but more attainable goals within during work periods, recognizing that those work periods are likely to be shorter and more prone to interruptions than would be typical.”

How can employees focus on jobs during constant news updates, and other stressors such as worrying about aging parents? It is important for employees to set ambitious but realistic goals surrounding what work can be accomplished at home each day. Further, accomplishing even these more scaled back goals will require setting strong boundaries around how frequently you check in with the news and social media updates, which as we all know have been understandably anxiety-provoking and drawing a lot of our collective attention recently. Coping with balancing family demands, particularly for those caring for young children or family members who are sick with coronavirus, will obviously be a much more significant challenge. It is important for us all to look out for and help our co-workers who might be particularly affected by challenging personal and family circumstances connected to the outbreak of the virus.

What are some tips for employees dealing with the stress of isolation from their normal job routine, colleagues, and work comforts? Positive social interactions at work are highly enriching and can be very productive, particularly from a creativity perspective, so we should all endeavor to build in opportunities to connect virtually with our co-workers. If you have co-workers that you benefit from bouncing ideas off of at work, try to set up regular virtual meetings just to chat, even if you don’t have anything concrete on the agenda. If you were holding regular in-person lab meetings to toss around ideas prior to teleworking, try to simulate that experience virtually in some form or fashion. And I would note that not all of these opportunities to connect need to be via formal meetings or highly structured. If your place of work typically hosts lunches, parties, or happy hour, get creative in ways that you could still hold that type of event virtually. The social element of work is really important to our overall work-related satisfaction and well-being.

About Calderwood

Calderwood is an assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology in the Department of Psychology, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science. His research focuses on investigating how employees perceive, respond to, and recover from work stress. A recently completed study focused on whether a person’s workday experiences influenced how safely he or she drives on the way home from work. He is currently working on a National Science Foundation-funded study that involves the psychological and physiological impact of employees’ whose jobs requires them to work non-traditional shifts, such as hospital staff, police, journalists, 911 dispatchers, and restaurant workers, when compared to employees who work a traditional schedule, i.e., a Monday - Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.

Schedule an interview

To set up an interview with Calderwood, including how communities and families support first-responders and health-care personnel, email Bill Foy in the Media Relations office, or call 540-998-0288.  A pre-recorded video interview with Charles Calderwood is available on request.

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Finding reliable experts for media interviews is especially important during this difficult time. Virginia Tech's television and radio studios can broadcast live HD audio and video to networks, news outlets, and affiliates interviewing Virginia Tech faculty and staff. The university does not charge for use of its studios. Video is transmitted by LTN Global Communications; Skype, FaceTime, or similar products; or file sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, We-Transfer, etc.). Radio interviews can be transmitted by ISDN, Comrex, phone, smartphone recording, or file sharing.  

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