Six Lessons Learned from Working Remotely
August 26, 2020
We’ve now been working at home for nearly six months with no end in sight. Through my own personal experience, information gathered from coworkers, and from two sessions geared towards remote working at a virtual conference I attended, I have learned what works well, and what doesn’t work so well when it comes to working remotely.
#1 Everyone Is Equal in Meetings
When all participants are remote while attending a meeting, each person in the meeting is on equal ground. Although my company used Zoom prior to the pandemic, most meetings were held in-person in a conference room, with Zoom used to supplement the meeting if there were people calling in virtually. It was difficult for anyone working remotely to feel included in the meeting.
At the conference I attended, I learned about the idea of a Remote First policy. This policy meant that if even one person was remote for a meeting, then everyone was expected to take the meeting from their desk and join the Zoom call. This way, everyone on the call has equal voice and an equal opportunity to participate in the meeting.
#2 Flexible Schedules Can Work
For me, when the stay at home order was put in place, it meant juggling two small children at home while somehow working. By necessity, I needed to have a flexible schedule. Now that daycares have reopened and I am able to be on a more normal schedule, I still appreciate the flexibility working from home allows. I can take a midday break to go for a run or walk, and I can easily schedule appointments during the day.
The most important key to having a flexible schedule is communication. My coworkers need to know when I am available and when I am not. Without communication, flexible schedules can actually be a major downfall of remote working. My colleagues and I have become more adroit with capturing our status on Slack with emojis, ranging from pizza icons to symbolize lunch to running shoes to indicate a wellness break.
#3 There Is No Substitute for Spontaneous Interactions
Although a distributed team has many benefits, social interaction is very difficult to maintain virtually. I miss turning to my desk mates to share a story from my weekend, or discuss what’s growing in my coworker’s garden as he’s preparing his lunch. There is no replacement for spontaneous office chatter, so it is important to create intentional social meetings to keep relationships going and avoid feelings of isolation.
My company has hosted virtual coffee hours and happy hours as an opportunity for staff to get together casually. Additionally, we have used a Slack integration called Donut that pairs individuals randomly each week for one-on-one chats. The Donut chats are a great way to catch up with my coworkers, and a great way to connect with coworkers that I didn’t normally talk to much prior to the pandemic.
#4 It Takes Work to Maintain Work/Life Balance
Balancing work and life while working from home can be extremely difficult, especially during these crazy times. There are remote workers who are easily distracted, and those that are workaholics. For both types, it can be extremely helpful to block out time on work calendars for work time and break times. For the easily distracted—guilty!—daily to-do lists can also be helpful as they keep me focused on what I need to get done that day. For workaholics, it can be helpful to have a separate device for personal use to avoid “just checking in” or “just doing one little thing” while on their device after hours. A few of my colleagues take a walk before and/or after work to mentally simulate their “commute”
#5 An Effective Office Space Is a Must
At the beginning of the pandemic, we anticipated working from home for only a few weeks, maybe a month. At that point, working from the kitchen counter or dining room table didn’t seem so bad. Quickly, weeks turned into months, and it became clear that we are not going back to the office anytime soon. A designated home workspace is important for many reasons: ergonomics, effectiveness, and for work/life balance. I was lucky to already have a home office set up. But for many, it meant having to carve out a separate space with a monitor, and proper desk and chair setup. Being comfortable, with the right tools for the job, will make you more productive, effective, and happier while working remotely.
#6 Lack of Commute = Less Stress
Each morning, I had to rush my daughter out the door, drop her off at daycare, and then trudge through the morning rush hour to get to the office. Each evening, I rushed home after work to make it home in time for dinner. The benefits of not commuting seem obvious: better for the environment, more time saved, and not having to sit fuming in traffic. What I didn’t fully realize about my commute before was the stress that was involved. I never wanted to be late, whether it was late to the office in the morning, or late getting home after work. It is so freeing having one less stressor to worry about. Mornings are less stressful, which has a positive effect on my daughter too. She used to dread when I left her at daycare and cried almost every morning, and now she runs in happily with a quick “Bye, mama!”
Overnight, it seemed, we were all thrown into working completely remotely. Although it is challenging, remote working has many benefits and can actually open up new levels of productivity. In fact, so many of my coworkers are liking working from home, that once life returns to “normal,” many of us will likely be doing it a lot more than we did prior to the pandemic.