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Home work: Locals who began working at home during pandemic share advice, experiences
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Home work: Locals who began working at home during pandemic share advice, experiences

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Larry Gawatz doesn’t have to deal with heavy traffic during a morning commute. Work is only a few steps away.

He doesn’t have to worry about packing a lunch for work. He can just walk to the kitchen.

He does, however, miss the snack machine, free soda at work and, most of all, interacting with colleagues.

Gawatz, like millions of other Americans, adjusted to a new normal of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, most workers who said their jobs could be done mainly from home rarely or never worked from home, according to results of a Pew Research Center survey from late 2020. But 71% percent of those people began doing their jobs from home all or most of the time during the pandemic. Given a choice, more than half of the work-at-home folks (they’re called teleworkers) would like to continue working from home after the pandemic, according to the survey.

Gawatz has has two primary sources of income. An entertainer, he performs as Elvis Presley (he takes bookings at thecompactking@yahoo.com) and sometimes as other characters. He said he became an ordained minister to do Elvis weddings in Las Vegas and the Tulsa area.

Entertainment gigs dried up during the pandemic, but Gawatz was able to continue working, albeit remotely, in targeted sales for Coca-Cola Bottlers Sales and Services. He said his employer made a concerted effort to create an engaging and supportive experience for those working at home by doing things such as hosting fun virtual events and increasing leadership communications.

The Tulsa World conducted Q&As with three individuals who have transitioned to working at home during the pandemic. Pros? Cons? Best advice? Their responses are below.

Larry Gawatz

Targeted sales, Coca-Cola Bottlers Sales and Services

What do you miss most about the workplace?

Socializing and everyday interaction. In-person meetings. Listening to Monday morning stories about the weekend. Getting free drinks all day long. And dressing up during holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas and passing out candy to get smiles and raise the morale.

Have you taken any steps to keep home from “feeling” like work?

I keep all work things in my office so when I come out of my office it’s like coming home.

What’s your best advice for people who have found themselves working at home?

Talk to someone during your breaks and lunches to help with not having colleagues around every day to keep your mental state up. Go for walks during breaks and lunches if you are able. Look away from your computer screen every 20 to 30 minutes to help with eye strain. Talk to family and friends about your hours and the ground rules during those hours. Assume that anything can interrupt you, like Amazon delivery during a critical call or a dog barking in the background during a video chat.

Workplaces have their own distractions, but have new distractions popped up when working from home?

Dogs barking, dogs wanting attention when you are home and solicitors (just a few) knocking on the door to want to offer lawn service, windows, etc. I ignore them but they cause the dogs to bark.

What have you found to be positives of working from home?

Getting honey-do’s done during the day at breaks and lunches like laundry, dishes and tending to pets. I have no kids at home, so we’re good there. Also among positives: No more traffic. No waiting on a bathroom stall. Some would say not having to get up as early, but I get up the same time.

When working at home, the refrigerator is close to your office. Good or bad?

At first it was bad because I’d binge eat just because it was there easily, whereas work you had to walk a bit to get to it. Plus, you didn’t take the whole kitchen to work with you. But, after seeing what it was doing to me, I learned to control myself and bought healthier choices.

Arlene Laxamana

Intake Specialist, Behavioral Health, CommunityCare

How has working at home affected your work routine?

It turns out that I can do most of my job at home, other than one aspect of my role that I have to do in the office, and I go to my office building every other week.

What’s your best advice for people who have found themselves working at home?

Enjoy the extra time you have that you used to burn commuting and waiting in traffic. I exercise more and see my son more than I used to. That extra time is a gift that should not be wasted!

Workplaces have their own distractions, but have new distractions popped up when working from home?

My dogs tend to camp out next to me when I’m working, so their barking can be a distraction sometimes. I send them outside now that the weather is nice.

What have you found to be positives of working from home?

The biggest positive of working from home is being present for my family more. I’m part of the “sandwich generation” — raising my son and taking care of my parents. I was able to take better care of my mom before she died in August 2020. As I stay home, I can monitor my 86-year-old father better. He suffers from epilepsy and dementia. It’s nice to be here to be able to help him after he’s had a seizure.

Other positives are saving on fuel costs because I don’t have to drive as much, and having time to take care of myself better (more time for exercise). Self-care for a caregiver is crucial!

What do you miss most about the workplace?

Chatting with my co-workers. CommunityCare is a great place to work.

Have you taken any steps to keep home from “feeling” like work?

Not really. I have an “office area” that I don’t need to enter when I’m not working.

When working at home, the refrigerator is close to your office. Good or bad?

Bad! But as I said above, I’m able to exercise more to keep off the pandemic weight, although, I do tend to use Door Dash a lot more.

Sammye Walton

Senior IT Manager, Delivery & Innovation, Cherokee Nation Businesses

How has working from home affected your work routine?

My routine has not changed that much. I worked remote for many years prior to joining CNB, so I learned that keeping a routine is important. I get up at the same time and make sure I am “camera ready” by 8:30 a.m. My only struggle is cutting off work at the end of the day. We have a lot going on, I am passionate about our mission and I often get into a flow that is hard to break. When I was in the office, we had visual cues that told us “it’s time to pack up and go home.”

What’s your best advice for people who have found themselves working from home?

I have four rules I live by for working remote. First, it is important to remember that you are still going to work, so I don’t let myself fall into the comfort trap. I get up and get myself ready as if I were going into the office. Yes, the clothes are much more comfortable, but the ritual is a great way to get your mind into business mode and to make the shift from home to work.

Second, a dedicated work space is key. When the pandemic hit, I thought we would be back in the office after a couple of weeks so I didn’t put much effort into my work space. I initially had it set up at my dining room table, then in my bedroom, then finally carved out a space that was not in my primary living areas. I found that this helped with my stress levels and to separate home from work.

Next, I know people have mixed emotions about video, but for me it helps to maintain a human connection with my team and co-workers. It also ensures that I stay engaged on web conferences because I am conscious of my own presence and body language.

Lastly, you have to get up and move around. Scheduling a 30-45 minute walk or active activity over lunch or in the early afternoon does wonders for stress, anxiety and focus. When I ignore this ritual, I can feel it.

Workplaces have their own distractions, but have new distractions popped up when working from home?

Now that the kids are back in school, my home is pretty distraction-free with the exception of the occasional doorbell ring or cat walking across my keyboard. When the kids were in distance learning, even if I was not involved in the instruction, my mind was always wondering if I should be dedicating more time to supporting my son. So, the guilt was a distractor and a stressor.

What have you found to be positives of working from home?

I am definitely more productive. There are less distractions, and I spend the time I would be commuting on work. I see the same with my team. The load they are able to handle is much larger. I also love the casual dress code. I can stay more focused when I am comfortable, and I am more mobile to stretch and walk — things I should do in the office but I don’t because of the comfort factor. I am also able to pick up my son from school most days, which gives me a little break and allows me a few minutes to check in with him.

What do you miss about the workplace?

The people, for sure. I have a great team and co-workers, so I miss them. I also get my energy from people, so I miss getting in a room with a whiteboard and ideating with others. It is just not the same experience in a web meeting. Video helps a lot, but it does not replace that type of interaction.

Have you taken any steps to keep home from “feeling” like work?

I have tucked my desk away, so it is not front and center in the house. The setup is also totally “me,” which is different from my office environment, and it blends in well with my taste and decor. I am just finishing a graduate degree, so I’ve spent a lot of time at my desk working on that as well, so the work area is more of an all-purpose space and not just associated with work.

When working at home, the refrigerator is close to your office. Good or bad?

It’s great, actually. I can make healthier choices and don’t eat out as often. My on-site office is at the Hard Rock, which has way too many great food options to pass up. There is also no one to stop by and say, “let’s take this meeting over a latte,” which I dearly miss, by the way.

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Scene Writer

I cover pop culture and work as a feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, I have written books about former OU coach Barry Switzer and former OSU coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389

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