You’ve Been Forced to Go Remote – Now What?
Like many of you, Canadian Payroll Services recently made the transition to working remote full time. With an existing work from home flex plan and a business continuity plan to go remote, our transition was smooth, but not every organization had it so easy. By now, most teams have gotten to the top of the Zoom learning curve, established a meeting schedule, and worked out any IT issues.
But for many individual workers – for people – adjusting to remote work during a time of extreme stress is still a work in progress. We have lost much of the structure that defined our days, including commuting, lunches with colleagues and a clear separation between work and home. We’ve also lost the ability to drop by our colleagues’ desk to catch up or go for a walk together over lunch.
Generally, I have nothing but good things to say about working remote. I’ve been a remote worker off and on for ten years now, and while it does take some time to adjust to connecting with colleagues only through company chat and meeting software, and establishing new routines for yourself, it’s great once you’ve completed the transition. After all, you save time by not having to commute, save money by eating at home every day and not paying for transit and gas, and can, if you’re disciplined, enjoy better work life balance.
But these are not normal times and many of you have had to make this transition in a hurry, and without being consulted. Some of you never imagined working from home and haven’t even begun to adjust. So in this blog, we’re going to look at some strategies to ease this transition, keep yourself productive, and take care of your mental health.
You Don’t Have to Climb Professional Mountains During Quarantine
Take it easy on yourself. Like the rest of you I’ve been inundated with blogs and social media posts about quarantine being a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn a new language, write a book, or start a new business. It’s not.
Everyone knows someone in the Covid-19 high-risk category, whether it’s an elderly grandparent or neighbour, or a colleague with high blood pressure or diabetes. And as the pandemic spreads across the world, soon everyone will know someone, even if just through social media, who has contracted the disease. Too, every one of us has been affected both materially and psychologically by social distancing or full lockdown orders.
Don’t expect yourself to be able to be at your best every day, much less learn to play banjo and tap dance in your spare time. You are going to have some bad days. We all are. One of the most important things you can do for yourself right now is to set reasonable and forgiving expectations for yourself and your colleagues. My Monday was difficult. But Tuesday was better, in part because I didn’t let myself get hung up on Monday. I just moved forward.
At the same time, don’t let go of your expectations entirely. Self-imposed structure and goals are a great way to keep focusing and looking forward.
Create Structure and Schedules for Working Remote
Everyone’s telling you to create a schedule for yourself and you’re tried of hearing it. But this advice is so common because it’s essential. Your work from home schedule doesn’t need to be identical to your in-office schedule. In fact, it should and must be quite different. You should, of course, try to maintain the same or similar working hours, but there are some fundamental differences between in-office and home working that you should learn to work with, instead of against.
Remote workers tend to be less distracted than in-office workers, thanks to being able to control their environment and minimize disruptions from others. Many of you will find yourselves with more focused work time than you’re used to – that doesn’t mean you need to use every minute to its fullest potential. Schedule yourself reasonable blocks of time for working with a deep focus, but also blocks of lighter work like sorting through email and completing easier tasks. Your brain can only maintain deep focus for so long and the last thing you need right now is to burn out.
On the other hand, some of you will struggle with staying off social media or from checking the news. With no coworkers looking over your shoulder, it’s natural to give yourself a bit more slack on these kinds of distractions than you usually would. While I don’t usually sweat the small stuff, like team members taking a short Candy Crush break, social media and news breaks can quickly become self-destructive. It’s too easy to fall down a scary news spiral right now, especially with the absence of happier news. Embrace your working hours as a chance to think about other things.
Instead of social media and news breaks, take stretch breaks and walk breaks – and take them often. You move more than you think you do at work, whether it’s walking to the copier ten times a day, or going to meetings in the conference room. I get up every hour or so to do a quick lap around the house or to stretch. This gives my brain and body the same kinds of breaks it’s used to experiencing throughout the workday. If you have a FitBit or smartwatch, set it to remind you to take movement breaks.
Create a Healthy Work from Home Environment
Some of you have been working from bed or the kitchen table but it’s time to stop. Just as you will benefit from designated working and relaxing hours, you need to create physical distance between work activities and the rest of your life.
If you have a den, it’s time to get it set up for dedicated remote work. If you live in a small space, consider ordering a small standing/sitting desk that will fit into your apartment. If possible, consider setting up two workspaces so that you can adjust your posture throughout the day and add variety. This physical separation will help keep you focused on work during work hours and will also help you to decompress after. And if you’re sharing your workspace with a loved one or roommate, get headphones. They’re a must.
Next, make sure your workspace isn’t doing damage to your body. Is your computer screen high enough? If you’re hunching or leaning forward it’s probably not at the right height. Experiencing eyestrain? Your workspace may not have enough light so consider moving over a lamp. Back pain from an unsupportive chair? It’s best to order a new chair but if that’s not possible, keep moving throughout the day, stretching and switching your workspace up from couch to desk and back again.
Finally, set a tidying and cleaning schedule for your workspace and home. I’m not going to cast aspersions on your regular cleaning schedule – maybe you’re a neat freak! – but you’re going to be cooped up in your home for weeks or months and your environment has a tremendous impact on your mental health. Keep it clean, keep it tidy, and keep your work things in your work space, not in your kitchen, bedroom or anywhere else.
In our next blog, we’ll go over some apps that will help you complete your remote work transition successfully.
Stay home and stay safe!