MSUM employee group discusses working from home with children during pandemic
As our country grappled with how to move most interactions online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, MSUM’s faculty, staff and students took on the strain of working and studying remotely.
Though the situation is not unique to Minnesota State University Moorhead staff, MSUM leadership's support for employees during this awkward transition was distinctive.
In mid-March, a “work/life balance” group began meeting weekly on Zoom to discuss the experience of juggling work responsibilities, parenting (often alone due to partners' essential work schedules), caregiving and distant learning. Formatted as a friendly check-in, group participants were able to share what is effective and what's not with simultaneous parenting and working, and to offer each other tips on maintaining a sane balance between the two.
Lisa Karch, interim dean of Graduate & Extended Learning, became the host of this group when she realized that she “was struggling and feeling isolated in trying to navigate” these roles. “It became clear to me that a group like this – a judgment-free zone – was needed to support each other (including myself), to listen and to offer advice.”
An eager participant, Kayla Stenstrom jumped at the chance to swap joys and woes with fellow moms and dads:
“I started at MSUM as project coordinator for the marketing department one month before COVID-19 moved us all to working from home. It was jarring to just get a sense of my duties before being thrown into the overlapping roles of full-time parent, teacher and employee. While adjusting to a new normal, it was a huge encouragement to see that the MSUM community recognized this difficulty, and I appreciated the intentional space to process with peers. It was a sign from the college that my work was valued, my struggle was acknowledged, and that I was allowed (and encouraged) to put my family first. In our first Zoom call together, I was amused to see other toddlers in laps and hear silly antics in the background. I laughed and felt relief knowing I wasn’t alone.”
Jamie Skrove, a case manager in Counseling Services, attended several of these Zoom sessions and seconded the importance of feeling understood and valued. “I continue to feel that my supervisor has trust in me and knows that I put in both expected quality and quantity of work, just in a revised schedule.”
When the group first met, Karch wanted to “show MSUM colleagues how much I care about each of them and to remind each other we are each doing our best.” In turn, she was humbled by the opportunity to hear others’ stories and be invited virtually into their homes to learn about their families.
About 20 employees participated in the weekly Zoom groups, which were held until mid-May when the MSUM and K-12 school semester ended.
But the coronavirus landscape is still changing. So Karch reminds us to “give yourself love and compassion” and to “focus on what you can control and let go of the rest.”
To keep up with the latest MSUM COVID-19 policies, visit https://www.mnstate.edu/emergency/covid-19/.
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