Suddenly, a lot of people are working at home. And they're doing it 100 percent of the time.

It's a shock--and while we hate to admit it, this could go on for quite some time.

So, what can you do to increase the odds of being happy and productive while working and living in a confined space? Well, let's latch onto that word: "space." 

Because there's a federal agency that's spent a lot of time studying how a certain group of people can remain happy and productive for long periods of time--all while confined to small spaces.

We call that certain group of people "astronauts." And, it's critical for NASA to put them in the best position to succeed--especially over the past 20 years, as we've had astronauts routinely spend six months or more at the International Space Station.

The agency now touts five skills and behaviors that it trains its astronauts to adopt. 

I heard about these first from a Twitter post by astronaut Anne McClain, who was on the space station in 2018 and 2019. (The full thread is at the end of this article.)

Drawing on the work of NASA psychologist Dr. Al Holland and retired astronaut Peggy Whitson, here are the NASA "Expeditionary Behaviors," as summarized by McClain. 

Skill 1: Communication

The definition here, according to part of what McClain wrote, is to talk so you are understood, and listen actively so that you understand. That means picking up on non-verbal cues, and looking out for areas where you need to resolve conflict.

It also means sharing information, talking about your intentions, and admitting when you're wrong.

  • For business leaders and teams: Set and accept reasonable expectations about how relationships will work when you're no longer in the office. Then, be prepared to regroup and adapt based on how it's working out.

Skill 2: Leadership and Followership

Here, we're talking about how quickly a team can adapt to new situations. Trust is key between the group's leader and other team members.

How do you achieve that trust? First, you accept responsibility, adjust your style to the environment, and assign tasks and set goals. Then, there's a lot of emphasis on giving direction, feedback, and encouragement.

  • Make sure that employees have the tools they need to do their jobs while working from home, whether it means equipment from the office, or help setting up a separate place within their homes to do their work effectively.

Skill 3: Self-Care

Oh, this one is right on the nose. NASA believes that your psychological and physical health, "including hygiene, managing time and personal stuff, getting sleep, and maintaining mood" has a direct impact on astronauts' output.

This means assess your strengths and weaknesses, and how you work within your larger group. Also: "Be social. Seek feedback. Balance work, rest, and personal time," McClain writes. "Be organized."

  • If you're having trouble with this, some of the advice you've probably seen in every basic "working from home" article lately will apply: set up some structure, and make work-life balance a priority.

Skill 4: Team Care

This is related to Skill #3 of course, but it's more about how each team member's psychological and physical health affects everyone else. 

NASA's advice: "Demonstrate patience and respect. Encourage others. Monitor team for signs of stress or fatigue," McClain writes, and "Encourage participation in team activities ... Share the credit; take the blame."

  • One common practice among successful dispersed teams is that often they all get together once or twice a year to build rapport and teamwork. We're just at the start of this experience for a lot of people, but that's something to think about if it lasts for a long time.

Skill 5: Group Living

This final skill perhaps applies more to how you're getting along with family (or roommates) while working from home, as opposed to your business team. But it's important. 

The advice: "Cooperate rather than compete," McClain writes. "Actively cultivate group culture. ... Take accountability, give praise freely. Work to ensure positive team attitude. Keep calm in conflict."

  • Obviously, there's no "going for a walk to clear my head" in space, and limited room for astronauts to truly unplug from the office for any real length of time. So that's an advantage for people who are just working from home--versus working in a 240-foot shell, 254 miles above the planet.

Here's McClain's original thread. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Published on: Mar 23, 2020
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