In recent weeks this article has been going around the internet as the world was forced into a remote working environment due to COVID-19. I wanted to update this article because unfortunately some of my “Things to Help” are currently illegal. Here are some new ideas that are “shelter in place”, “stay at home”, “social distancing”, and “quarantine” friendly.
Support Your Back: At this point in the quarantine I am pretty sure everyone working remote has developed back problems from working from the couch, dining room table, bar chairs, bed, or wherever else there is room. If you do not want to invest in creating a small working space in your home or apartment, I would recommend buying an ergonomic seat cushion to help support your hips and back while you work. Some are designed specifically for hard chairs and they make a huge difference.
If you do think this is the right time to create a remote working space in your home or office, there are lots of creative ways to do it even in small spaces. Something I used when I worked remotely in an apartment was a folding desk. These are great options for creating working spaces during the day that can be folded up after work.
For many people I speak to, working from home is the ultimate dream. “You never leave your house and it’s so easy!” The reality is that working from home can actually be extremely challenging. The most obvious reason for that is you are still actually working. Work is not always easy or fun, even when you are sitting in your pajamas with your dogs by your feet. On top of that working from home disconnects you from the social support and energy of an office, as well as some of the luxuries such as a stocked break room, printer, tech support, and in-person communication.
I am going to give everyone a few disclaimers going into this article. The first is that I am an extrovert and so I gain motivation from that social office environment. Not all people feel the same way, and I understand that some offices are so toxic that working from a parking lot would be more enjoyable. The second is that I transitioned into working remote from an award-winning office culture. It was more of a shock than most people might experience.
The first two weeks I worked remote I had that new job anxiety everyone experiences to a whole new level. “Am I doing this right?”, “Is my boss happy with my performance?”. Those were hard questions to answer when I was not physically in the same office as my boss and getting non-verbal feedback signals of reassurance that I was doing well with my onboarding. I felt isolated from the world and it started to impact me during work and non-working hours. My boss and husband would both tell me to go work from a coffee shop or office. The thought of putting on real clothes and walking into public seemed so daunting and overwhelming, I genuinely didn’t recognize myself anymore.
Some quick Google searches seemed to confirm my greatest fear: my personality type was not meant for a remote working situation. I was doomed to fail. That research also led me to several resources for remote workers, and I felt like if I put more focus into the source of my emotions then I would be able to make this work.
Problem One: Feeling disconnected from my team and unsure of my performance.
I had a very open conversation with my boss about how I was feeling and we decided to adjust our communication patterns as well as my work. Every morning I would have a 30 minute meeting with my boss where we went over what projects were top priority and work through client details together. While this might sound like mico-managing, it really was just allowing for a scheduled but informal space for us to go over what was going on. The same way you might have a quick 1:1 with coffee in the morning and run through what is happening on accounts in an office. We would also get off topic and just chat about a funny story from the night before, or talk about something my dogs had done that morning. It was a great way to build our relationship and that trust that coworkers need to work together. After a month of these morning conversations as part of my onboarding, I had a good understanding of my role and expectations from my boss. We also had a foundation for our relationship and I felt comfortable being open and honest with him.
Problem Two: Feeling alone and trapped in my apartment.
This one took a little more work on my part. Get back to a routine and force myself to leave the apartment. To do this I essentially pretended I had to go to an office job again. Alarm set, taking early morning workout classes, taking the extra 30 minutes to do my hair and put mascara on (even though only my dogs would see it), these things all took intention daily. I also scheduled more social outings that forced me to leave including coffee shop working meetings with friends who also had remote flexibility, weeknight dates with friends or my husband, or simply blocking off time on my calendar to leave my desk and walk my dogs while listening to a podcast. I began to feel alive again as I pulled positive energy from outside my apartment back into it. When I signed off at night I felt relaxed in my space vs that trapped feeling I had before.
Fours months into my new job I feel like I have a solid routine and work-life-balance that I wasn’t sure was possible for an extrovert that works from home. Things I am extra grateful for include not needing to pay for pet care when my husband travels for work, having my kitchen available for healthy meals and snacks instead of unhealthy office treats, doing laundry during the week vs weekends, and the flexibility to work anywhere. I got my car fixed the other day and worked from their quiet waiting area with desks and strong wifi for three hours - at my old jobs that would have been a half a day of PTO. When family is sick I can travel to be there and still be connected to my job without missing a beat. Slack is also a lifesaver because it has helped create a remote culture where I can still chat with my co-workers about the Game of Thrones Finale on Monday mornings.
My number one takeaway would be that work is still work, wherever you are. You need to like and want to do your job even more when taking on a remote position because you alone are responsible for your own productivity and schedule. It can be the best thing ever if you take the time to make it work for you. My boss and I worked through a list of pros, cons, and solutions together. I hope this helps whoever is reading this find a perfect balance within a job they love.