Over the past couple of weeks, the coronavirus has changed a lot of things, and quickly. One of the less scary disruptions is the fact that unlike usual, when I’m writing from my desk or one of the other spots around the Element Three office where I like to set down, I’m actually writing while sitting on my bed at home. Like many other businesses, we’re enforcing work-from-home protocols to try to stem the spread of COVID-19, which means working remotely in the near term.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty minor concern—but as things feel more uncertain, anywhere you can build a feeling of normalcy matters more and more. So let’s talk about some ways that we can make remote work feel less like a wrench in the works and more like business as usual.
Build a dedicated work space
Working from home can feel somewhat dissonant. Home’s a place of comfort and rest, and most of the time, comfort and rest aren’t exactly conducive to getting your work done. Take it from me, a guy who, like I mentioned earlier, is writing from my bedroom right now—it’s a lot easier to be efficient and productive when you’re at a desk in a home office than it is when you’re sitting on a bed.
If you have the space and the means, set up a dedicated work space in your home. It doesn’t have to have a multi-monitor rig and all the other bells and whistles you’re accustomed to at work—though if you’ve invested the time and effort into a sweet setup, that’s a bonus. But if you don’t already have something like that, the next best thing is to simply practice good workspace hygiene (no, not that kind of hygiene—though that’s obviously going to be important too).
In short, try to keep your work as separate from everything else going on in your house as you can. Are you going to completely isolate yourself from everything in your home? Probably not, kids and pets are unpredictable (and as I’ll get to shortly, that can be a good thing too). But if you do your best, you’re going to be able to get more done, and it’ll be better work.
Communicate more, not less
It’s easy to keep in touch with your coworkers when they’re just in the next room, or a couple of desks away. You can just walk over when someone has a question, and if you want to grab a group to brainstorm or collaborate on a sticky situation or a problem, it’s just a matter of finding an open space and getting it done. But when each person is in their own home, it’s no longer as simple.
This, of course, can’t mean you simply throw up your hands and isolate yourself professionally. In fact, it means something quite the opposite. Remote work makes collaboration and teamwork more important than ever before, not less. It’s just a little more difficult.
Thankfully, we live in the future now, which means that technology can help us find the answers to some of these issues. Utilities like Zoom and GoToMeeting provide the ability to schedule and hold meetings of groups both small and large no matter where the individual participants are, and messaging clients like Slack and Gchat allow you to keep in touch with your team members between scheduled meetings for short chats and questions that don’t require face-to-face contact.
But as we lose our in-person contact, it’s even more important to communicate. When we’re isolated, it can be easy to get stir-crazy, and that can lead to going off half-cocked. You might come up with a cool idea that could help the business, but you also might devote hours to something that could have been better with some consultation from your teammates—or you might even find that someone else has been working on something similar, or directly opposed. Regular communication means everyone’s on the same page, and that means ensuring everyone on your team is doing the right work, the right way.
Mimic normal office socialization (as best you can)
Think about your typical day at work. It is not, of course, all “work.” You might swing by a coworker’s desk to get help on a problem you can’t solve, but just as easily you might stop to chat about this week’s episode of Westworld or The Bachelor. Maybe you have a question about a mission-critical change to a product or service, or maybe you’re just both soccer fans and want to chat about that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal. If your company culture is strong, you probably spend at least some time on a day-to-day basis socializing with your coworkers. And, just like with work meetings, that’s a lot harder when you aren’t in the same office every day.
This might feel like a relatively minor casualty to the necessity of working remotely. But your company culture is important. Good culture breeds good work. So if you’re going to be out of the office for an extended period of time, now’s a good time try to bolster office socialization where possible.
We’ve actually already taken a few steps to do just that here at Element Three just in the few days we’ve been away from each other. We’ve set up a video conference meeting to (optionally) have lunch together a few times a week, just to chat about something that isn’t work or the current medical situation. Our creative team has a group Google chat as well, for the same reason. And we’re even thinking of maintaining our monthly trivia contest on a remote basis.
Are these the most important things in the world? Of course not. But if we’re going to continue working, we obviously want to do good work. Otherwise, what’s the point? Keeping in touch with your coworkers on a personal basis, as well as a professional one, is helpful. It reminds me why we’re doing all of this. It keeps us going.
Make a date to decompress
When you’re at work (that is, in the office), you don’t simply work continuously for eight or ten hours and then go home. If you did, the previous section would be pretty pointless. But in addition to chatting with a coworker, you might take a moment to read an article in a business journal in your break room, or take a lap to stretch your legs. You might even just look out the window for a bit to clear your head.
This isn’t a lack of efficiency. It’s a necessity. We all need a moment every now and then, and if you’re locked away alone in a room somewhere all day, honestly it’s all the more important. And without the natural ebb and flow of a day in an office, it can be easy to get lost in the weeds for an unhealthy period of time. The solution? Make time to step away. Take a couple moments to do something that isn’t work. Remember earlier when I said the unpredictability of kids and pets can be nice? Here’s where they can help. Throw a tennis ball for your dog a few times, take a lap around the block with the kids, something like that. Don’t allow yourself to get more run down working from home than you would if you were working normally.
Normalcy in uncertain times
I think it’s pretty safe to say that none of us really expected to be where we are right now. We’re all doing our best to make it through a tough time, and every little bit helps. Being there for each other—figuratively, if not literally—is important. But it’s also important to be there for ourselves. It’s not selfishness to take care of yourself, and taking these steps to try to make remote work feel more like a regular workday is one way to do that.
Things aren’t likely to be actually back to normal for a little while. So every bit of normalcy we can find is helpful. Make work a little more normal, and get a little more done. And take a moment to look out the window every now and then. You won’t regret it.
Thomas fills a few roles at E3—writer, editor, and resident European soccer expert—but his chief responsibility is content creation. When he's not crafting thoughtful content for the Element Three blog, he's captaining our kickball team, watching the Mets, or talking up Indianapolis to anyone who will listen.
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