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Guest opinion: Managing our presence in a new virtual work environment


By Cindy Hughes Anliker | Associate director, general management for UnitedHealthcare

Like millions of Americans, I am adjusting to a full-time “work from home” environment. Given what we’re up against with COVID-19, so many of our career norms, routines and rules have changed in a matter of days or hours, even for those who already have a virtual office setup.

We have unprecedented distractions in the days ahead, whether it’s home schooling our kiddos, learning about the alarming facts that scroll across our news feeds, or worrying about our loved ones who are now unemployed, at high risk, and who are on the front lines of taking care of those who are sick. Let’s not forget the nonmedical professionals who are putting themselves at risk to keep our communities safe, operating and in supply.

Lately, I’ve thought about how I can maintain my work presence when I am homebound and managing the distractions I typically don’t experience in the office. Here’s what I’ve learned in the last several days:

1. Give others grace. A dog barks, someone rings the doorbell, or a child videobombs a conference call — it’s inevitable. I’ve learned to laugh it off and commiserate with my colleagues about our latest “workplace distractions.” It’s wasted energy to get frustrated at a colleague for unexpected distractions. I’ve also recognized the importance of giving my loved ones grace, as they are learning to adjust as well.

2. Give yourself grace. There have been two occasions in the last several days when my dog Mickey has snuck in my office and barked when I was facilitating conference calls. I’ve learned it’s best to apologize and move on. More times than not, your colleagues will understand and relate to unexpected distractions. Taking a few deep breaths and having an extra cup of coffee also has magical powers of grace.

3. Create a space that feels like your office. I’ve had a home office for years, although I didn’t make it seamless with my typical work environment up until recently. Now that I’ve incorporated the day-to-day tools I need to do work in my home office, I’m much more efficient and productive.

5. Set ground rules with yourself and others who share your home space. Ground rules are different for everyone, and I’ve learned to set rules that make the most sense for my career and for my family. For example, when my office door is shut, my husband, Clark, knows to text me first to see if I’m available, or waits until the door is open. The same rule applies for me. We do not want another Anliker videobomb to happen.

6. Focus on what’s in front of you or in your ear. Being present when using your digital tools like your computer screen or headphones is just as important as being present when having a in-person conversation.

7. Be flexible and open to change. The hard truth is our reality will never be the same after COVID-19. Companies will have to operationalize differently, and we will have to adapt as well. As a result, I’m thinking about how I can flex my skill set and be open to new ways of doing things.

COVID-19 has challenged all of us, and we are learning as we go. For those of us who are fortunate to work virtually, we can do our part by staying at home and effectively managing our presence in our adjusted work environment.

Cindy Hughes Anliker, a Business Record 2014 Forty Under 40 honoree, is currently an associate director, general management for UnitedHealthcare, and has spent most of her career in health-related marketing communications. She earned her Master of Science in organizational performance at Drake University in Des Moines, and a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Cindy lives in West Des Moines with her husband, Clark Anliker, and their dog, Mickey.

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