Remote-Working in the Age of COVID-19

by WLALA President-Elect Jessica Kronstadt and  WLALA Labor & Employment Committee Co-Chair Member Jacquiline Wagner

April 2020

In 1992, legendary rapper and producer Dr. Dre dropped his first solo album, “The Chronic.” Inarguably visionary and groundbreaking, the epic album showcases the adroit musings of Dre’s protégé, then genre newcomer Snoop Dogg.  Lore to be spawned while Dre was on house-arrest, “The Chronic” was produced almost entirely within the confines of Dre’s Calabasas home.

In addition to evincing the creative genius and incredible talents of both artists, “The Chronic” unequivocally demonstrates that even restricted within the four walls of one’s home, one can flourish, remain productive and produce high-quality work.

Though it may feel like it at times, none of us is on house arrest.  However, pursuant to the COVID-19 global pandemic, most of us are confined to our homes under Governor Newsom’s and Mayor Garcetti’s Safer-at-Home orders.  Many of us have been directed to work remotely to minimize exposure to and prevent the spread of this disease.

Before this became the “new-normal,” for many, the concept of remote-working was entirely mythological.  For those of us working in government agencies, teleworking capabilities are, for the most part, not available.  So, we have had to “face the music” without preparation, feeling less like the prolific Dr. Dre, and more like we have been forcibly thrown into a cut-rate local pub’s drunken karaoke night without even knowing the song (much less how to sing said song on pitch).

Especially taxing is the expectation that working parents with school-aged children transform themselves into a Mary/Marty Poppins homeschool teacher while simultaneously maintaining the same productivity and quality of work expected of us as if we were in the office without our children and/or spouses or partners working less than six feet away from us.  Oh, and we are supposed to meet our billable hour requirements, too. Having a hard time envisioning a sippy-cup-toting toddler pulling on Dr. Dre’s leg, whining for goldfish crackers, asking him to provide constant entertainment while he laid down the track, “Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat”?  We are, too.

Adding to the strain of being thrust into the role of work-at-home-while-homeschooling-all-our-children-parent is the pressure to perform.  We recognize that this social experiment is, in many ways, a test for working parents: can we successfully and meaningfully maintain productivity and produce high-quality while teleworking, even after the pandemic? Over the course of the last two weeks, we have heard a variety of responses that range  between two extremes: a resounding affirmative response from the Sheryl Sandbergian “Lean-In” (and we mean Lean-In-So-Far-You-Fall-In) camp; and a flat-out “no!” from the exhausted, realistic and self-aware camp.  We fall somewhere in the median.

Here, we endeavor to address some of the concerns we have heard and with which we have become personally acquainted while sheltering-in-place, working remotely and educating our children. 

Flexibility and Creativity

Maintaining productivity and quality of work while remote-working requires flexibility, creativity and patience.  Patience with others and yourself.  In most cases, stringently adhering to an exacting “nine to five” schedule is simply not feasible, especially with young children under foot.  It will also drive you, and those who live with you, crazy.  We recommend taking advantage of the “bullet-working” concept, instead.  Work full-throttle during your children’s “screen time,” nap time and bedtime hours.  You may find, as we have, that bullet-working affords you the ability to maximize productivity without distraction. 

As often as possible, include your children in portions of your day that you would otherwise perform alone.  Since you cannot hit the gym, seize the opportunity to work out with your children, being creative about your form of movement.  What workouts can you do?  We are so glad you asked!  Many fitness companies and studios are offering free classes on their Instagram and Facebook accounts.  Peloton is offering a 90-day free trial for all of its digital content.  And, Peloton just released dance cardio classes!  Have a favorite instructor at your preferred fitness studio?  Reach out to her or him.  There is a high likelihood that she or he is offering workouts via Zoom that, if not free, will cost you much less than a single class.  YouTube and YouTube Kids have plenty of free workouts available (Cosmic Kids Yoga and GoNoodle have been big hits).

Staying in Control

Against the backdrop of flexibility and creativity, harnessing some level of control in this new era of chaos will be your greatest ally.    

We have all seen and balked at the color-coded block schedules created and proffered on social media by incredible and well-meaning homeschoolers (as well as the hilarious spoofs, memes and gifs thereof).  Those schedules – for which we gather many of us have, at some point, set aside as tone-deaf – put you in control of the day. 

Children generally operate most optimally with structure.  Drafting, printing and following a flexible written schedule creates a sense of control for you and provides everyone in the household a visual representation of what needs to be accomplished that day.  Let your older children draft their own daily schedules.  Putting them in control of their schedules will make them more eager to follow said schedules because, after all, they made them! 

Make sure to include in your written schedule pre-designated opportunities for “recess,” lunch, screen-time, workouts and “time-alone-time,” etc., which will minimize opportunity for disruption during work time. 

Anticipating the Needs of Your Supervisor

No one is more appreciated by a working parent than a supportive supervisor.  Taking a moment to provide a personal experience, Ms. Kronstadt shares:  “In response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, the District Attorney’s Office devised telework options for its employees and has supported remote-working by its employees.  My current supervisor has consistently supported such efforts.  He worked tirelessly with the multidisciplinary team within the hospital within which we work to devise creative solutions that allow for teleworking.  His support and flexibility have yielded productive and grateful prosecutors who want to shine in these unfamiliar working conditions.”  Let’s face it:  you can impress – or, at the very least, placate – even the least supportive of supervisors by using a handful of simple tips and tricks.  Proactively architect opportunities to make your supervisor’s job more streamlined. Doing so will curb scrutiny and micromanagement.  Be responsive to emails and texts so supervisors respect and feel comfortable with your autonomy. Be accessible and available, similar to how you would be in your office.  Schedule pre-planned check-in calls with supervisors to minimize the possibility that such a call takes place at a most inopportune moment.  Like when your kid has refused to put on pants and participates in a Zoom preschool class with her back facing the screen so the entire class can see her underwear…and you are trying to stop that.

Do Not Fall Prey to Over-Extension

Studies show that the pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on working women insofar as we traditionally shoulder more domestic and childcare responsibilities than our male counterparts.  If you are partnered, we implore you to avoid burn-out, over-extension and sheer exhaustion by ensuring the domestic workload is divided as equally as is possible.  If your partner struggles with tasks on the domestic front, be vocal about what needs to be done.  Create a plan or schedule with your partner.  Write it down and post it somewhere.  Inevitably, conflicts will arise and both of you will have to be flexible with each other when such conflicts arise.  You may likely also need to lower expectations, sometimes significantly, about how well the tasks are accomplished.  But, do not go this alone. 

Maintaining Mental Health

Central to being successful at working remotely is maintaining your own mental health.  Without a healthy mindset, you cannot be an effective employee, parent, spouse, partner or human.  During this lockdown, you must carve out time – which hopefully has been prescheduled – to check out, decompress and recalibrate, even if tethered to little humans (who are probably just as disappointed as you are that neither of you is permitted to leave the house).  Gratitude journaling can be practiced by the whole family.  So can daily meditation, yoga, breathing exercises and workouts. Consider subscribing to a virtual therapy application platform. Do something for yourself every day.  As discussed above, there are plenty of exercise classes available online or on apps.  Get outside.  Mayor Garcetti made clear that getting outside for a walk, run or ride is permitted so long as you abide by social distancing protocols. Get a great playlist together, put on a motivating or interesting podcast and move your body outdoors. 

Many mental health professionals will work with you using Telehealth, via conference call or on Zoom.  Remember, Zoom is great for work conferences; it is also wonderful for virtual happy hours with friends.  WLALA will be hosting these happy hours.  We welcome you, we are here for you and we hope you join us for our future happy hours.

Redefining Success

To maintain your mental health while you are working remotely under the stay at home orders currently in place, redefine what it means to be “successful.”  On some days, taking a shower is going to be a “success.”  On others, “success” will mean finalizing that brief, preparing all of your witness outlines for an upcoming trial, winning a motion for summary judgment, negotiating a settlement or reaching a plea bargain.  Be kind to yourself.  As working women, we do not permit ourselves to be mediocre at anything.  In fact, we are allergic to mediocrity.  We are living in a pandemic.  We now wear pretty much all the hats.  Allow yourself room for mediocrity and give yourself permission to disappoint periodically.  You are more than enough.  You “Ain’t Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang, baby.”

Jessica Kronstadt is a Deputy District Attorney at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.  She is President-Elect of WLALA.  Jacquiline Wagner is Associate General Counsel for the Los Angeles Unified School District.  She is Co-Chair of WLALA’s Labor & Employment Law Section.  The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own.  Ms. Kronstadt and Ms. Wagner are eternally grateful for educators, essential service workers, and supportive supervisors.