Lessons from the Pandemic: What We Learned Working From Home

March 11, 2020. It’s a date that is seared into my brain.

It’s the last day that Vanguard staff worked from our newly renovated offices. The conference room chairs still had that new fabric smell. The communal spaces around the office were a novelty and all of us looked for opportunities to use them. The beautifully appointed wellness room was a mini-oasis, calling our names when in need of a break. And all of the new closet storage was a welcome reprieve from the eyesore of exhibits and other event supplies we had previously kept behind a purple velvet curtain.

In the days leading up to March 11, I had been consumed with uncertainty about what to do to protect our staff. When should I close the office and ask them to work from home? I devoured the news from our local officials looking for answers. For several days, I fretted about whether today was “the day.” The previous week I had asked staff to be sure to take their laptops home with them every night just in case we had to pull the plug on the office.

On the afternoon of March 11, Mayor Muriel Bowser declared both a state of emergency and a public health emergency for Washington, DC. I walked from office to office and let everyone know that it was time to pack up their things and head home until further notice. After everyone had left, I walked the whole office and felt a deep sense of loss. While many hoped that it would only be a couple of weeks, I was concerned that controlling a global pandemic would take much longer. That kind of timeframe only happens in the movies. I felt like I was turning the page on a new chapter for Vanguard and I had no idea what it would be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that last day in the office. While I didn’t think we’d be working remotely for only a couple of weeks, I certainly never thought that we’d still be doing so more than a year later. But here we are. And, while the new chapter is still being written, we’ve learned so much about ourselves and what we can achieve under duress.

In the last 12 months, our team has welcomed human and fur babies; several have moved to other parts of the country; some have gotten engaged and one tied the knot. While none of us contracted COVID-19, many of our family members and other loved ones did. We’ve experienced painful losses and searched for joy wherever we can find it. We were a close-knit team prior to the pandemic, yet it feels like we’re even closer now. Putting our communications skills to work on behalf of critical social issues in pursuit of an equitable and inclusive world is more important than ever. While our world looks far different now, we’ve grown and learned alongside each other and our client partners.

To commemorate the past year, I asked our staff to share something they’ve learned or adopted that’s enhanced their life. Take a look.

  • Not all meetings need to be video meetings. Walking and talking is a great way to alleviate Zoom fatigue, get some work done and get some exercise. — Maria Rodriguez
  • All through 2020 I did a short meeting on Fridays with my supervisee called “high/lows.” In the meeting, we each said one high point and one low point from the week — everything was fair game. It got us through some pretty tough moments and it also gave us a weekly opportunity to share and celebrate moments of joy. — Tomás Harmon
  • Dress for work (or at least casual Friday) in your home office. Don’t work in your pajamas! — Lisa Swanberg
  • Practice daily gratitude. Starting each day by writing down a couple of things you’re grateful for helps shift your mindset to focus on the good things rather than dwelling on the bad. There is always something to be thankful for — no matter how big or small! — Shannon Walsh
  • It forced me to slow down and in doing so I am noticing more of the beauty in nature all around me and the joy of being in the moment. — Tracy Packard Ferrell
  • Ask for help when you need it. Be open and share what you need with your networks — work, family, friends, neighbors, social media — whether that’s brainstorming how to resolve a work dilemma or finding a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for an older parent in another state. We’re all in this together and we will get through this by helping one another. — Crystal Borde
  • I’ve learned the power of a little sunshine on your energy level and mood. While working from home it’s easy to open a curtain or take a quick walk around the block to help channel positivity. I will be bringing that lesson back to the office when I head back downtown! — LeAnne DeFrancesco