The ICARDA MEL Team Reflects on Work-From-Home (WFH)

Published on: March 31, 2020, Submitted by Anna Aspenson on: March 25, 2020

Our Monitoring, Evaluation, & Learning (MEL) Team has always collaborated remotely with global partners. We provide a few tips to adapting to this new work setting in social isolation.

With the spread of COVID-19, we are all faced with a new routine — work from home (WFH). Online collaboration is now more important than ever. ICARDA’s Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning (MEL) team already supports the work of our farmers and field researchers remotely, but now we are facing unprecedented challenges because of  quarantines and cancellations. Many project activities, such as farmer field days, plantings, and workshops have been cancelled to halt the spread of the virus, and ICARDA office employees are working in emergency mode to support our stakeholders and project partners, while also adapting to their new home offices.

There are many benefits to WFH. The ICARDA MEL team has always utilized online and digital tools to connect with a range of people and perspectives across the globe. We are lucky to have nineteen team members, across fourteen countries in North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. We communicate with colleagues on a daily basis, and we schedule weekly and monthly check-ins with the team. In order to collaborate with project managers, we rely extensively on MEL in order to facilitate virtual collaboration on project planning and reporting, allowing us to maintain results-based communication with project stakeholders, partners, and the general public.

But working remotely and developing the tools that work best for you can be challenging. So as veterans of WFH, the ICARDA MEL team would like to share some tips on staying productive, connecting to your coworkers, and optimizing your newfound flexibility.


Be a good communicator

At first, it can feel isolating to work alone. It might be difficult to maintain motivation without the stimulation of team members working around you. There might be distractions, or it might be easier to find excuses to take breaks to tackle other pressing tasks, such as laundry or dishes. Maintaining communication with your team members can help you stay engaged, responsive, and motivated. Since you can no longer walk over to your coworker’s desk to start a conversation, it’s up to you to reach out to others and stay in touch.

Communication and sharing hubs such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Google Drive facilitate group collaboration on project materials and easy discussion across time zones. Arranging weekly meetings with your project team can be helpful if members are spread across different countries and time zones. Even if you are working on an individual assignment, being “online” during your work day can signal to others that you are available to communicate. Besides work, dedicated virtual platforms like these are great for casual chats and help maintain social connections in the workplace by providing an informal way for colleagues to touch base. You can use these online spaces to send quick comments or questions to coworkers about things you might normally discuss in the office break room or during happy hour. 


Create your ideal work environment

What kind of worker are you? There are some people who can be productive in their pajamas, or just roll out of bed and jump straight into a Skype meeting. There are those of us who are more productive late at night or in the early hours of the morning. WFH gives us the freedom to design our workday around our most productive hours and environment; no commute, no dress code, no problem. 

However, all of this flexibility can seem daunting to those who prefer structure. The challenge then lies in creating your own professional environment at home. Designating a place specifically for work, a desk or an area of your house is an important step in mentally separating your work and home life. Having a space where you can organize your materials and work in privacy will contribute to your productivity at home. Sometimes, getting dressed in work clothes can also help shift your mindset from “leisure” to “business” - without ever leaving the house. Finally, if you live with other people, set rules for sharing space with your family or flatmates so everyone can respect each others’ WFH schedules; work out a schedule with your tired partner or spouse for child management if needed, because if schools are closed, both they and the kids will also need some breaks.


Stay organized

A good first step for WFH organization is planning your work day around the tasks you have at hand. Make a schedule, stick to it, and don’t forget to take real breaks for self-care. Taking time to eat lunch away from your computer, exercise, read, etc. is healthy, and will ultimately help you be more productive during your designated work hours.

Last but not least, remember to log-off. It helps to put away your work things and step away from that space in your home, both physically and mentally. If you have teammates around the world like we do, you may receive emails or chat messages at any hour. However, it’s important to set a time to be “online” and up for work, in order to keep a boundary between your work and personal life. With all of the flexibility that WFH offers, it easily feels like being available 24/7 - so for your own wellbeing, don’t forget to maintain that work/life balance and support your teammates in doing the same. We are all in this situation until further notice, so find a way of working that you can sustain for the long run. Above all else, don't forget to prioritize your health.


Want to read more about WFH? Learn about the CGIAR response to Covid-19 here.


We would like to thank the brave farmers and farmworkers that continue to work to keep our food supply strong. This is a new time of adaptation and uncertainty for many of us. We hope this advice is helpful and that you are able to develop new strategies and tools that work best for you and your team. We may be acclimating to a new lifestyle but this does not mean we have to give up on connection, compassion, and understanding.


mel icarda mel platform coronavirus covid-19 remote work


About the author

Anna Aspenson is MEL and Risk Assessment Research Fellow at International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas - ICARDA.