Our Top Tips from 12+ Years of Remote Working
By National Farm to School Network Staff
National Farm to School Network staff are experts in many things… including remote work! Since launching in 2007, NFSN has been a remote-based organization, with the majority of our staff working in home offices from coast to coast and many places in between. At this time, when we know many people with the ability to be able to work from home are being asked to do so, we’d like to offer up some of the tried and tested strategies we use to do our work as a remote team every day. It’s a small gesture in this unprecedented situation, but we hope that these tips might be helpful to those of you who are joining us for the first time in the “work from home” world these coming days and weeks.
Get dressed (really). For some of you, my advice may be laughably obvious. Whereas others (including some of my co-workers) may feel that I am dead wrong: don’t spend all day working in your pajamas. Take a shower. Shave (if that applies). Put on regular clothes. Regular clothes can mean something as simple as shorts and a t-shirt, but don’t work all day in pajamas or a bathrobe. This basic level of preparedness will help focus you on the work day ahead. -Scott Bunn, Development Director (North Carolina)
Create a dedicated work space. Working in your living space can present some challenges, perhaps most commonly the uncomfortable blurring of lines between the two. I’ve found it helpful to have a dedicated work space that I stick to. I’m lucky to have a specific room for my home office. But, this could also be a desk in a bedroom or your dining room table. I’ve never had success working from the couch, but that might work for you, too! Wherever you set up shop, create a space that will put you in a work mindset. When you sit down in the spot, you’re working. And when you walk away from it, you’re not. If you’re like me, you’ll want to avoid working in the kitchen - it prompts too many snack attacks! -Anna Mullen, Communications Director (Iowa)
Pick up the phone. Email, G-chat, and Slack are all great ways to stay connected and share information with your team. But it’s easy to get stuck in a virtual world and many decisions and conversations are just made easier by talking it out. One five minute phone call can save many back and forth emails and there is the bonus of actual human interaction. A quick work or social chat can brighten your day and remind you that you are not in this alone. -Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager (Missouri)
Schedule time for movement. When I first started working remotely I had this fantasy that I would take multiple mini-exercise breaks throughout the day and I pictured myself in peak physical form. That might work great for some but I believe you still have to schedule it in! I find it's way too easy to push off those mini-breaks if you're engaged in a project, so now I try to exercise first thing in the morning before starting my work day. If I can get extra time for breaks throughout the day that's even better but at least I've already done something active. Also a standing desk setup is super easy to fashion out of all kinds of props you probably have laying around your home, or I have this super affordable and convertible option that helps me quickly switch setups so that I am not just sitting all day. -Tracey Starkovich, Operations and Events Manager (Illinois)
Get outside! The best part of working from home is being able to step outside as time permits, such as walking during a phone call or tending your garden while mulling over a major decision. I personally recommend pulling weeds to work out frustration or resolve a problem! You may not be able to connect with co-workers face-to-face, but connecting with the land is an excellent way to feel whole. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)
Make yourself lunch – and eat it away from your work area. If you're working on the couch, eat at a table. If you're working at a table, eat on your couch. I often eat my lunch standing up in the kitchen or followed by a short walk around the block. Taking mandatory breaks to enjoy food and giving your body and mind a change of scenery is key to maintaining focus during critical work hours - and feeling motivated to get up and do it all again the next day! -Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate (Colorado)
Feedback is critical. Working in an office provides for multiple opportunities for feedback including both verbal and non verbal cues that are necessary for moving projects along. When you are home working alone, you may find yourself wondering if you’ve completed a task as expected or if your work overall is up to par. Supervisors should take more care to give employees feedback on their work, and employees need to feel empowered to speak up about their questions and needs. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)
Set boundaries, and stick to them. When you work from home, it’s easy to let work creep into your home life. A good way to mitigate the constant feeling of being on (and not letting that actually happen) is to set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t just map out your work time, calls, and projects. Also map out when you’re going to exercise, eat lunch, take breaks, and end your workday. Build in time to take care of yourself. Turn off notifications during your off hours. And remember that if you don’t stick to this, it has a ripple effect on your colleagues. Ultimately, we cannot show up as our best selves at work if we do not take care of ourselves as whole people, where work is but one part of who we are. -Helen Dombalis, Executive Director (Colorado)
Monitor morale. In general, and especially while we are feeling the impacts of COVID-19, it’s important to keep a pulse on staff morale. Working remotely can create new and exacerbate existing morale issues. Make dedicated space to address staff concerns on an ongoing basis, whether it be through group video meetings, HR services or one-on-one check ins. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)
Working from home has its benefits too! #1 - flexibility! Don’t hold yourself to unnecessary rules and take advantage of your new work environment. Enjoy having your dog, cat or other pet keep you company during the day. Enjoy more casual office attire. Enjoy moving and stretching throughout the day without feeling self conscious, because no one is watching. Enjoy taking some of your calls al fresco. We find that the more flexible we are with our time and resources, the better we perform.
We know that there are millions of American who are not able to transition their work to the dining room table - including many who work in the food and school systems. This health crisis has put a spotlight on the many inequities in our current economic system that have shown these members of our communities to be disproportionately impacted. Here are some ways you can support them, too.
Need more ideas for successful remote working? Drop us a note! We’re happy to help in whatever ways we can.
Supporting Our Community: Farm to School and COVID-19
By Helen Dombalis, Executive Director, and Anna Mullen, Communications Director
At its core, farm to school is all about community: when schools, farms, children, families, organizations and businesses come together in mutual support for mutual wellbeing, there’s inherent strength and resilience. That’s the power of community and the power of farm to school. And during this challenging and unexpected moment, it’s the energy of collective community that’s keeping us going. While many public spaces have been closed and our daily routines altered, we know that many of National Farm to School Network’s Partners, Advisors and members across the country are working harder than ever to care for those most impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. Your efforts haven’t gone unnoticed - thank you for all you’re doing. You are the people that make our communities strong.
As a national organization partnering with communities across the country, NFSN is adapting internally as a staff and externally in the work we do day-in and day-out to keep supporting you, the farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) community, in this rapidly changing and challenging environment.
How we’re approaching our work
NFSN is committed to centering our work in racial and social equity, and that need is especially urgent now. This means shifting our energy to focus on advocacy efforts that can help address inequities that directly intersect with farm to school and ECE and are made more glaring in this current health crisis. It also means adjusting some of our other planned work, like postponing the 10th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, a decision made through a health equity lens; reprioritizing projects to give Partners more time and space to take care of themselves, their families and communities; and supporting our staff - who already work from home - with additional flexibilities to do what they need to take care of themselves and those closest to them.
We’ve also been listening to our state and national Partners about what support they need during this time. The situation has been fast moving and the needs, strategies and concerns of the farm to school and ECE community are fluid and still evolving. We’ve received questions about resources for helping school meal and child nutrition programs and other feeding efforts respond to the most urgent needs - see our compiled list of resources here. We’re also receiving questions about what the rapid changes to meal programs means for farmers, food producers, food hubs and others who rely on school markets as part of their business plans. Like many small businesses, this is an incredibly difficult situation for them. Our team is working right now to identify helpful information, strategies and tools that can address this sudden change in farm to school practices. If you have ideas or recommendations for this, please contact Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager, at email@example.com. More coming soon.
Advocacy opportunities for action now
In the meantime, there are actions we can take right now to keep supporting our community in the coming days and weeks. In particular, we know that this health crisis is exposing numerous inequities that intersect with farm to school and ECE – including millions of children living with the daily reality of not knowing where their next meal will come from, if not from school or early care. As a systems change anchor and advocacy organization, here are some relevant action opportunities we want to share that prioritize supporting those most vulnerable in our farm to school and ECE community:
- Support Hungry Kids and Families: Encourage legislators to take action to support families that rely on breakfast and lunch from school and early care settings. See six recommendations from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) here.
- Support Child Nutrition Programs and Staff: School nutrition professionals are doing extraordinary work to ensure ongoing access to child nutrition programs during school closures. Community partners can help support these efforts in numerous ways, including amplifying the message about sites that they are operating. FRAC has more information here.
- Support Early Care and Education Providers: Child care is essential and this crisis has shown that early childhood educators are a crucial part of our nation's fabric. The National Association for the Education of Young Children has 10 steps that states and districts should take to support child care here, and you can ask lawmakers to take federal action here.
- Support Local and Regional Food Systems: Farmers and food producers are under strain. There are actions that Congress and USDA can take now to unlock already-appropriated funding to support them. Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have an overview of these actions here. Additional information about mitigating immediate harmful impacts on those selling through local and regional food markets is available here.
- Support Family Farmers: In addition to school and institutional markets, many family farmers rely on direct-to-consumer sales for their livelihood. Most farmers’ markets are still open and they are taking extra precautions to help family farmers keep providing fresh, local food to their communities. Be sure to support them! See more from the Farmers Market Coalition here. Additionally, National Young Farmers Coalition has a "Call to Action" to urge your Members of Congress to keep young farmers and ranchers at the forefront of their relief efforts here.
- Support Native Communities: Native communities and economies are in serious danger under this current health crisis, and ensuring food access in tribal communities is a top concern. The Native American Agriculture Fund, Seeds of Native Health, Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative, and the Intertribal Agriculture Council are partners actively working on these issues. We are in touch with them, and will share actions that can be taken to support Native and tribal communities in the coming days and weeks..
- Support Your Local Community: Get in touch with your NFSN State Partners to see how you can support local efforts with donations, volunteering or other efforts.
In the immediacy of COVID-19, NFSN is here to support any and all efforts to ensure food reaches all children, families and communities. Please reach out to our team if there are ways we can support you. And, join our network to stay informed on our activities and actions in the weeks ahead.
Despite the extreme difficulties and pain that our global community is facing, we remain hopeful that this is an opportunity to unite in strengthening a just and equitable food system. We’re seeing in real time just how important this work is. While we may be physically distanced, we can spend this time virtually connected and planning and preparing to leverage farm to school and ECE to rebuild community food security and reinforce community connection. Community is at the heart of farm to school. And it’s community that will carry us forward through this time.
In health, solidarity and community,
Helen, Anna and the NFSN team