In these unprecedented times of change, the unknowns we face on a daily basis can feel overwhelming and debilitating. The beginning of 2020 when life was “normal” feels like ancient history.
It’s hard to push forward and envision a brighter future amidst so much uncertainty. While we desperately want to return to normal life and work routines, the global pandemic presents a major obstacle.
With experts projecting a second wave of COVID-19 and plenty of economic uncertainty going forward, we need to find new innovative ways to make the wheels go round while staying safe and healthy.
While it’s unfortunately not possible for all, working from home is the safest way to avoid exposure to others and adhere to social distancing guidelines. Employers worldwide that have been resistant to allowing staff to telework in the past are now embracing it as an integral part of their future plans.
Remote work is a far safer alternative to physically going into the office each day, but transitioning to a primarily digital workplace is not without challenges. How do you stay productive? How do you manage distractions? Where do you draw the lines of work-life balance? What happens to the team camaraderie that we had in the office? How do you stay upbeat when it feels like you’re all alone?
These are real, legitimate questions that millions of people are struggling to answer right now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and unproductive, remember that you are not alone.
Find routines that work for you. Break up the day with simple pleasures. Keep your eye on the big picture. Stay connected with family, friends and colleagues. Believe that you will get through this and be stronger on the other side. Working from home is a major change — remember that and be kind to yourself.
As a team of seasoned remote workers, we’ve experimented with a variety of work from home strategies. Long story short, some have worked well. Others have not.
We put together a short list of remote work tips that have worked for us and hope you find them helpful:
1. Develop New Routines That Resemble Old Routines
Everybody has routines that work well for them. The most effective routines rarely are the first iteration of an idea. It takes time and experimentation to figure out what works best for you.
In the office, you probably had a daily routine that worked reasonably well for you. Perhaps you arrive at work at 8 a.m. each day and spend your first 30 minutes catching up on email. Then you head to the coffee machine for your morning caffeine boost and some chitchat with your colleagues before digging into the day’s projects.
Alas, when stationed at home, there’s nothing requiring you to get caught up with your emails efficiently each morning. There’s no urgency to get to the coffee machine before it’s all gone. The cheery banter that made you smile each morning is done for the foreseeable future.
Work is destined to be miserable and unproductive until you can return to your old routines. All hope is lost, right? Well, not exactly.
While it may seem impossible to replicate your routines in a remote setting, it’s actually more doable than you may realize — especially if you go into it with a positive mindset and a bit of patience.
Since you don’t have a morning commute, you can sleep a bit later and still get your emails cleaned up in time for your morning cup of joe. Speaking of your joe, you can make it just how you like it and rest assured that the coffee machine will always have enough for you. And if you’re craving your normal morning conversations, video call your colleagues.
It may seem a bit unnatural at first, but it is possible to build new routines that work similarly to your old routines. Experiment with different approaches and don’t be afraid to try something new. With a bit of strategy and improvisation, you can develop daily routines that enable you to be a happy, healthy, productive remote worker!
2. Take Breaks
Even in the office, nobody arrives at their desk at 8 a.m. and puts their nose to the grindstone for eight straight hours of highly productive work. Just like you would in the office, it’s important to build in some little breaks to step away from the screen and recharge.
Consider your typical workday in the office and how often you take breaks and what activities are most effective in helping you recharge. Is it possible to replicate similar break routines at home? Probably, and it might actually be easier.
Go for a quick walk around the block. Do a quick YouTube yoga energy booster. Grab a snack. Play ten minutes of Candy Crush without being judged by your colleagues!
Allow yourself to take the breaks you need and don’t judge yourself. It’s a stressful time and it’s unreasonable to expect that you can grind out a full workday in a different environment working in breaks.
Soon enough you will figure out your optimal break activities and time allotments and return to work revived and refocused.
3. Set up a Designated Workplace in Your Home
Sticking with the routine theme, find a quiet, well-lit, comfortable place to set up command central headquarters.
This should be your designated workspace. Ideally, you can close a door and keep outside noise to a minimum. Tell everyone you live with to steer clear when you’re dialed in at command central.
If possible, try to set up your at-home office somewhere besides your bedroom. It’s natural to associate your bedroom with sleep. Trying to be productive for 40 hours a week in the same space you nod off in is a recipe for disaster. Your productivity will go down and biorhythms will be thrown out of whack.
Think about the environments where you’re usually most productive and create something similar. Make sure you have all the supplies you need on hand. Dual monitors, sticky notes, highlighters — get what you need to make your home office feel like a place where you can be productive and successful.
4. Be an Active Participant in Virtual Meetings
Working remotely means you are physically distant from your colleagues, but it doesn’t mean you have to be socially distant. To the contrary, it’s actually more important to participate actively in a virtual work environment.
Speaking up in team meetings can feel unnatural and contrived, but it’s important for maintaining those human connections with your colleagues. It makes team collaboration much easier when all members are engaged and the dialogue flows smoothly.
We all have experienced that awkward silence when a presenter asks for feedback and everyone just stares blankly at their screens waiting for somebody else to chime in. Don’t be that passive observer hiding out on the sidelines. Share that idea. Ask that question. Suggest an alternative approach.
Being vocal in remote meetings sometimes requires you to step outside your comfort zone, but it’s an invaluable skill. The team will appreciate your initiative to speak up and follow your lead in future meetings.
5. Redouble Your Efforts to Communicate Clearly
When your task list keeps growing and deadlines are approaching, it’s only natural to cut corners with your communications. Vague directions, abbreviations, typos and unclear semantics are all too common when you’re in a hurry.
In a fully remote work environment, the consequences of unclear communications are often more consequential. If you’re in a rush and shoot off a quick Slack message asking a teammate to help you finish a task, take an extra minute to reread your message and make sure everything is clear.
It’s a lose-lose when your teammate wants to help but she has questions and you’re unreachable. Attach necessary documents. Link to relevant project management tools. Cc other teammates who might be able to help.
Clear, direct, respectful communication is critical in any work setting, but especially remotely. When you’re rushing, it’s easy to come across as tone deaf and convey a different message from what you intended. Go the extra mile to ensure that your communication is crystal clear and the recipient understands exactly what she needs to do.
6. Look for Opportunities to Learn New Skills
Periods of major change often present opportunities that were unavailable before. Think about how you can maximize your new work situation to learn some new skills and develop professionally.
Maybe cutting out your hour commuting each day frees up some time to learn some coding skills. Or maybe now is the perfect time to dive in on learning a new language. Or maybe there’s some home maintenance projects that you’ve been dreading because you don’t have time or energy to learn how to do it yourself.
The possibilities are endless if you approach your remote work transition as an opportunity to broaden your horizons and grow — professionally and personally.
7. Set Aside Non-Negotiable Personal Time
Many people transitioning to remote work for the first time struggle with time management. When working in the office, they would leave at 5 p.m. and leave “work” out of sight and mind until tomorrow.
Alas, when your office is next door to the bedroom and kitchen, it’s easy for those firm work-life boundaries that you established to become blurred. Your neat and tidy eight hour workday can easily stretch out to 14 semi-productive hours if you don’t set some parameters for your time.
Experiment with different boundaries and see what works best for you. Sign off from your email at 6 p.m. everyday and don’t look at it again until the morning. Go for a late morning jog when you will be unreachable. Take an afternoon siesta and sip some tea after to recharge. Use your normal commute time to develop a daily yoga routine.
Find activities that are meaningful to you and set aside time where you devote your undivided attention to them. Don’t slide down the slippery slope of “working” all the time and rarely being present in anything else. Detach from work by setting healthy boundaries and your overall work productivity, quality and happiness will all increase.
8. Remember That Things Will Get Better
Bad days are part of life, and unfortunately when going through a major transition, they rear their ugly heads more often than we would like.
Remember that shifting to remote work is not simple for anyone. Your company is aware that shifting remote on a whim will be difficult for employees. Your colleagues are struggling with similar challenges.
Instead of dwelling on the negatives and wishing things would “go back to normal already,” try to take a long-term view and remember that things will get better. Based on how you’re feeling, it may take a leap of faith, but it’s worth putting in the effort.
Don’t let the downs cloud your judgment and fog out that things will get better.
There will be a vaccine. The economy will bounce back. You will be able to go back to the office. You will be able to go on that vacation you had to cancel.
Stay the course. You will find a way to persevere through and be stronger for enduring these trying times.
9. Be Positive
Remote work is not perfect for everyone, but with a positive attitude, you can make the most of it.
Express gratitude that your job can be done remotely. Appreciate the technology that makes telecommuting possible. Provide support for your colleagues. Focus on doing the best you can with what you have. Enjoy your new extra time. Experiment with new routines that enable you to grow. Develop healthy routines. Spend quality time with family.
Remember that many of the opportunities you have right now would not be possible during “normal times.”
With a positive attitude and sense of gratitude, you will be able to look back on 2020 as a period when you successfully transitioned to working remotely and made the most of a difficult time — both professionally and personally.