Working Remotely without losing your marbles

Remote Working

It goes without saying, Covid has reshaped the way we live, interact and work.  I hope one day, we can return to some resemblance of the way things used to be, but many of these shifts will remain for good.  Companies that previously didn’t have teleworking or remote working capabilities, or even didn’t have any intention of ever adopting such models were thrusted into a forced remote workforce, seemingly overnight.

Many previously insurmountable considerations and precautions were thrown by the wayside as organizations worked tireless to enable remote services for their clients and employees. Although never perfect, in many cases, the results of this involuntary exercise were overwhelmingly positive.

For me, working remotely offered flexibility and freedom I didn’t know I had been living without.  After starting with my current employer over 10 years ago, commuting to downtown went from being a cool novelty to a boring slog, and finally to a mundane fact of life.  Somewhere along the line, I had conceded to the reality of spending anywhere from 1 to 2 hours per day in my vehicle driving to and from work.

Listening to podcasts, music and audiobooks numbed the pain a bit, which is why I lasted that long, but looking back, it sucked.  Like, really sucked! 

Don’t get me wrong, working downtown is amazing.  It’s hard to beat the life and rhythm of being in the city – It’s pretty magical.  Now, working from home gives me that time to do with as I choose (for the most part), but at least that 1-2 hours per day is given back.

There are however challenges, working from home presents that need to be overcome to ensure the experience and ultimately your balance is maintained.

Work Schedules

With remote working, impromptu face-to-face hallway meetings or by the clichéd watercooler just don’t happen.  Although from a workplace gossip perspective, this is very positive, staying current on small details of workplace projects and initiatives becomes more difficult.  As a result, schedules fill up with more and more meetings, in turn, filling up the day.  It can get quite intense trying to find a spot to book a meeting, with timeslots becoming a premium.

It is true we don’t waste time commuting, but there is always an eager beaver now booking a meeting much earlier (or later) than what was previously ‘normal’, just to be able to have their meeting with the needed participants.  If organizations are not careful, these types of behavior spreads and becomes the norm.

Before you know it, you are spending way too much time in front of video conference calls, and time becomes less meaningful.

One way to combat this is to book yourself off in the morning and afternoon after work.  Essentially, only make available the hours you should be working.  Studies have shown that blocking off time, showing you are “Out of Office”, instead of “Busy” is usually more effective in thwarting overstepping meeting bookers (although not always).

This can also be helpful over the lunch period, which also falls prey to timeslot predators.  I have spent many lunch hours eating (or not), in front of a meeting that is usually labelled “Quick meeting to discuss…”.  Don’t believe it, there is no such thing as a quick lunch hour meeting.

Get Dressed, girl!

When working from home, the temptation to roll out of bed in your PJs and hop onto a work call is so strong.  The simple act of not changing before and after work lends itself to blurring the boundary between personal and business activities.  While there is a comfort level to staying in comfy clothes, it is important to realize that keeping a routine of waking up and getting ‘Ready for work’ has mental benefits. 

Taking time to choose clothes, wash up and get ready allows for a gradual sharpening of the mind.  We’ve all jumped into early meetings and felt sluggish, and performance just isn’t indicative of what you would be normally capable of.  I know I’ve made some regrettable decisions in moments of fogginess.

In addition, it allows for a sense of professionalism, being presentable and proper.  You’ll be proud of turning on that camera for the video conferences as well. 

On top of everything, you’ll look fabulous and I don’t need to explain how great that feels. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be ready to answer the door in style when the Amazon delivery person shows up.

Kids craziness

With everyone working from home, you know quickly, who has young children at home.  The background noises, loud TV and occasional crying are sure giveaways.  Kids need structure and supervision.  Trying to balance work and parenting while working can usually feel like a losing battle.  A 2-year old just doesn’t care if you need 10 more minutes on a meeting when they are hungry.

If done properly however, it can be managed swimmingly.  Sitting your child in front of a TV for hours can be effective to keep them quiet but won’t necessarily win you the Parent of the Year award.  Make a point of carving out time during the day to have some face-to-face time with your children.

Book 30-minute slots during the day to sit down with them, interface and talk, do a craft, draw or anything, providing that it requires interaction and uninterrupted attention.  Most times, children will erupt in tantrums without knowing why, but it could be as simple as missing your interaction.

Keep kids on a schedule as well.  Getting them to sleep and up on time, plus lunchtime routines are crucial to reducing anxieties with them, which in turn help your own mental wellbeing.

Social hours

It was tradition that every second Thursday, after work, my department would meet up at the bar next to our workplace and hang out for a couple of hours.  This social interaction was integral in the building of relationships and improving the overall working environment.  When Covid initially hit, those obviously and unfortunately stopped.   

A few weeks in, with most of us still craving that social interaction, we booked an online meet over Zoom during the same timeslot.  It took a few weeks for people to feel comfortable with the new concept, but it caught on and at one point, we had close to 60 people on at the same time.

We introduced some games and trivia like – Guess the Employee from their baby picture, etc. and it was a hit.  Now, we all look forward to it again and although not as good as the original face-to-face version, it provided a relief to the day-to-day mundane video conferences we were all part of.

Overall, I would say that I have enjoyed working remotely.  Coincidentally, it is one of the mandates of my work program – To improve our digital workplace through better user experiences, so I am slightly (actually – very) biased.  In talking to many colleagues, the overwhelming majority prefer the freedoms and flexibility remote working has offered them and most would not come back to the office if they had a choice.

We will need to see how it pans out, but one thing’s for sure, the workplace has officially modernized and will never be the same again.

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