Working remotely proving challenging yet rewarding for Kansas employees

BY BRADEN HOLECEK

Change is never easy. And during these difficult times, the general public is adjusting to a new normal.

When the coronavirus started to take over, businesses were affected just as much as any entity. Many people learned they would now be working from home for the foreseeable future.

What did that mean logistically? How about financially? Those businesses were going to have to adjust on the fly, just as much as their employees.

“How are we going to get the work that needed to be done to students, in my case,” said Kevin Kohls, a teacher at Kansas City Piper. “How were we going to answer questions if they didn’t understand the work?”

Kohls has taught at Kansas City Piper for roughly 20 years. But he has never had to experience anything like this.

Meanwhile Andrew Kohls and Jameson Sedlacek, who both work for service departments at Kansas State University, had mixed reactions to the stay-at-home orders. 

Andrew Kohls is a senior assistant director for the Kansas State Career Center. Sedlacek is director of communications services at the Kansas State University Foundation.

They already have a large sum of individuals who they are involved with daily. So this change was bringing on new challenges, in different areas.

“My first reaction at first was this might be fun,” Sedlacek said. “But then I realized, it might not be.”

For Andrew Kohls, he was “kind of angry” at first. 

“I decided that it would be a good idea to take all of Spring Break off,” he said. “I took off just for vacation. I was mad that I didn’t work on campus that week, knowing that we’d be working at home for months.”

Looking back, he was crushed, and then the realization set in.

“Just trying to get used to the new setup and everything, and then just nervous about the first couple of days,” he said.

When this adjustment to working from home came to fruition, there were also mixed feelings on organization, compared to feeling out of sorts.

“Since most of what we’re doing is digital, it’s not too bad staying organized,” Kevin Kohls said. “But there are times when I want to grab something to add to an assignment or work. I don’t have it because I can’t get into my work building.”

For Sedlacek, staying organized is not necessarily hard. However, he says there are so many different levels of communication, so he has to work harder at it.

This involves email, messaging, working on Teams or using a specific software from Kansas State University.

“One day, I was trying to find a message, and I went through three or four of those places just to find it,” Sedlacek said. “Everything is much more intentional now.”

This change was not as difficult for Andrew Kohls. His department already used Slack messaging and Zoom to communicate.

“Just becoming more adept at using that was important. But, where do we find doing what we need to do to feel more accomplished,” he said.

Productivity was the main question for how Andrew Kohls was feeling moving forward.

While this has been a difficult, hectic change of events, there have been positives.

“It’s been nice to be able to take projects I’ve been doing in the classroom and change them into digital projects instead,” Kevin Kohls said. “It’s also been nice to have more time to work on projects and develop them and refine them more.”

 Andrew Kohls’ outlook has greatly changed. For an outgoing person, he has a new love for remote working, so to speak.

“Now that I have my routine, I have all my same tools,” he said. “I kind of enjoy it. Now, I can encourage other students to (work remotely) more.”

On the other hand for Sedlacek, “there is a greater sense of empathy for each other.”

“Everybody has different situations at home,” he said. “It requires understanding, and if anything, it’s brought us together.”

“I want to go to the office and have somewhere to go everyday,” Sedlacek said. “I need that social environment.”

“Not being able to answer questions when people don’t understand the work they’re supposed to do directly and quickly” has been a challenge, Kevin Kohls said.

Making the remote-working transition more smoothly has had to be one of the biggest challenges businesses or places of work have faced with their employees.

“They have kept us informed and they have made sure we understand how to use digital communication like Zoom,” Kevin Kohls said. “They’ve been communicating to the stakeholders, which in my case are our parents, to make sure they understand what’s expected of them and their students.”

Both Andrew Kohls and Sedlacek do not have to deal with students in that way — though, the biggest hurdle has been co-workers.

“They’re overcommunicating to make sure we’re at ease,” Sedlacek said. “They showed a new set of values, which dispelled our fears. Also, the IT staff has done a lot to make everyone’s experience go as smooth as possible.”

Andrew Kohls said they were lucky. Early on, the order changed so much so quickly.

“I think it could have been better transitioning than it was,” he said. “I had another monitor at home, so that was helpful for me.

“My department did send Amazon microphones and headsets to our houses. They have also conducted meetings to continually check in and update our calendars. I do know that others wish they had a second monitor or ergonomic chair at home.”

Adjusting to working from home has brought on new ways of life.

“I’m working more in solitaire instead of with a group of people,” Kevin Kohls said. “And it’s meant maybe being a little more lenient or understanding with the projects they’re doing.”

“It has also meant that I’ve got to be very thorough and precise when I’m assigning work to do,” Kevin Kohls said.

The ebb and flow of the daily routine has been altered.

“Structurally, my daily routine has drastically changed,” Sedlacek said. “Not having that 8 to 5 and then clock out schedule, means I can take time to go outside with my cats. You’re used to being in this one spot at this certain time.”

“I’m not a morning person,” he said. “I can get up and things are a lot more leisurely. I can get coffee and not feel as stressed as just getting to work.”

The effects from the pandemic have brought on different views.

“So it’s been nice to have a little more freedom and latitude and time to build on the work I need to do,” Kevin Kohls said.

“I can offer feedback more immediately to the work that’s being done.”

Sedlacek hopes to one day return to the workplace in person.

“I want that place to go and communication that comes with everybody being in the same place,” he said.

Andrew Kohls wouldn’t mind going back to work. On the other hand, “I’m honestly OK with working from home. I’m enjoying it.”

He would prefer an alteration to what he had before and what there is now.

“I would like a mix or split schedule,” he said. “I really think that this was the push that businesses and companies needed to move to the next level.”

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