After many years working in small and large offices, I am at a place now in my career where I can work remote…and I prefer it! My natural working habits include a lot of time alone without the distraction of coworkers stopping by with questions or small talk that can derail my train of thought.
It’s a little bit like being out with a metal detector hunting before the sun sets and having a stranger stop to ask a bunch of questions about what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s okay, but when time is short or you’re in a groove…it really stinks to stop and try to be friendly.
I am more productive, more balanced in my life needs, and overall more creative when I work from home.
But now we’re in strange times – COVID-19 has many people transitioned to working from home for the first time. Obviously many careers aren’t possible to take remote. We need to thank everyone in healthcare, food, transportation and delivery, first responders, utility company technicians…and so many others who are working and taking more risk right now to help us. Not just thank them…we need to fight to make sure those careers are paid well and supported!
But for those of you who are faced with working from home for the first time…it’s not usually like this. At least part of the stress you feel right now is shared – we’re all facing the uncertainty of this particular virus situation. Then there are other stressors caused by our unique environments.
I’m working from home alone, so I don’t have to fight for quiet space when I’m on a conference call. I just have to mute when my cat meows in the background. I also don’t have kids to monitor or a dog to walk. But being alone also means I need more interaction time in my off hours with friends and family via phone, text, etc.
So your set of challenges may be different and may be causing an additional layer of stress. That’s still not typical for remote working. Generally when it’s a choice you’ve made, you would have had a chance to set up a home office with all the equipment necessary to be productive. And your kids would still usually be off to school or daycare…aaaaand you wouldn’t be worried about a global pandemic.
So cut yourself some slack right now if you’re a parent. Your colleagues are probably enjoying your kids and pets interrupting during Zoom calls. Allow yourself the space to be human and remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. What you likely need the most help with is communication, environment, focus, and discipline.
There are some unique challenges depending on your work. Maybe your internet connection isn’t as fast at home as it was at the office. Certain things are probably taking longer than usual – let your managers and supervisors know! It’s important right now that we all embrace communication and transparency about our struggles.
We also have to work harder right now to prioritize and stay connected. If you don’t have a team chat room, it might be time to start one. There are free services out there like Discord that you could use to create chat spaces for your teams. Or if you aren’t using a project management software yet, it might be time to start. Check out services like Asana.
A home office is different than your desk in a traditional office space. Take some time soon to set up your space or reconfigure it to suit your daily tasks. Take advantage of whatever view or spot in the sun you can find and make sure you are comfortable, aren’t slouching to see your computer screen, and have access to most of what you usually have on your desk. Don’t choose a spot that you have to clean up or put away each day unless you have no other option. Let this become your spot.
You also have more options when stepping away for a break. Once you figure out how to manage it, it’s a blessing. But right now you may find it overwhelming and distracting.
This is going to be important during this experience because we’re all still trying to get work done. Yes, deadlines might be a little tricky, but as a remote worker it’s important to find times when you can focus and get through your tasks.
When you get up for a drink or to take a mental break, have a plan for what you’re going to do and for how long. Sure…take that time to throw in a load of laundry, wash a dish or two, or walk the dog. But then keep it to just that activity during your work hours. Some find it very hard to resist tackling additional chores and then before you know it, you’re away from the work mindset for an hour or more. If you find that certain break activities are pulling you away too easily, save those for after hours.
You’ve likely heard this advice everywhere already. Keep up with good healthy habits and establish some new ones specific to this odd quarantine time. But discipline isn’t just for your work, it’s for your personal life and health too! Keep track of how much time you’re spending in focus mode and don’t let it eat too much into your time with family, pets, and yourself.
Just like with caretakers, you are more helpful to others if you’re taking care of yourself. Find time for stress-relief and aerobic activity. Maybe your normal habits are still something you can do, but if you can’t (like metal detecting for me), then you might need to find an alternate for the spring months. Make a list of activities that you’d like to do and reference it when you’re feeling stressed or bored.
Bizarre Tip: Try wearing house shoes. If you can dedicate a clean pair of comfortable athletic shoes to wearing in the house, you might find that it helps you feel more productive or capable. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!
Good luck to all of you. Say thank you to people in your life who are in healthcare or healthcare-related fields. Make sure you reach out to your family members. Even the people in your life you think always “have it together” might need a phone call. They may be silently in need of some communication time too.