Work Remotely Without Losing Your Mind - OZY | A Modern Media Company

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Remote work is becoming a reality. Here's how to make it work for you.

Working from home (herein: WFH) can seem like a dream: Unlimited access to the fridge. No annoying “how was your weekend” back-and-forths when all you want is to use the communal coffee maker. And of course, pants-optional dress code.

But when you’ve been told to work from home –– as many of us have been in efforts to lessen the spread of the coronavirus –– that can be stressful. After all, you had no time to prepare. And the thought of all that time at home (which may involve listening to new annoying sounds –– like your guinea pig squeaking –– or realizing that your neighbors like to roller-skate around their flat) can be anxiety-inducing.

But fear not, new WFH-er. Here are some ways to make it, well, work.

Create a Routine

Fail to plan, plan to fail. It’s a cliche found in management books you now have time to read. If you’re used to commuting, you now may have a few extra hours to yourself each day. How will you use that time? Not panic-reading Twitter. Instead, go for a run, do an online workout (exercise boosts brain action — it’s science!), read a book or prep meals for the day. When you use those hours for yourself, you’ll be ready to dive into work.

Set Up an Office Space … and Have Some Fun in It

You’re going to be spending a lot of time in space that’s not your usual desk. Look at making your at-home desk as comfortable as possible. If you can, find a quiet space –– preferably one with a door –– and a quality chair (lumbar support is a plus!). Once you’ve got the basics covered, make it fun. Decorate your space with stuff that makes you feel good, just like your desk at work: photos, silly trinkets, stress balls. And that includes being creative about what appears behind you in video meetings!

Turn on the Camera for Meetings

Yes, you might need to shower, but since part of COVID-19 prevention is practicing good hygiene, you should be lathering up regularly anyway. If you have a video meeting, make sure your face is seen, and encourage co-workers to do the same. That’s because you likely get more out of a conversation if you have visual and auditory cues. Not only does your brain process the information better, but turning on the camera helps you avoid the temptation to multitask. And you can keep up with Danielle’s ever-changing hairstyles.

Make time to goof off or prep a lunch you’re excited to eat instead of a sad desk salad.

Have a Virtual Coffee Klatch 

All that time spent by yourself might end up making you feel lonely. It’s a common problem amongst remote workers. Proactively finding ways to connect is key. Maybe that’s a 2 p.m. FaceTime hangout with your favorite co-workers. Or setting up some off-topic Slack channels so you can talk Outlander or your new favorite book (I love seeing peeks into my OZY co-worker’s Kindles.). The point: Bringing in these small social interactions into your remote work situation can help you fight loneliness and make you feel part of a team.

Be Upfront About Availability … and Your Challenges

COVID-19 is changing the way we work. You might have to pick up your child, have elder care responsibilities or check in on a housebound neighbor. Maybe you need some time to decompress or eat lunch or do some meditation. Put that time on your calendar and let people know you’re unavailable, even if it’s just for half an hour. If your job demands active availability, make it clear how co-workers or clients can reach you more immediately in your email signature line.

Treat Yourself (and Your Coworkers)

Even the most monotonous at-work day can come with bright spots: A conference room birthday party with cake. Sharing a hilarious GIF or creating a killer communal playlist. Bring some of that light into your at-home office. Make time to goof off or prep a lunch you’re excited to eat instead of a sad desk salad. You get the point. And the same goes with co-workers: Ask for a catch-up call from that person you love chatting with at the elevator, but don’t actively need to communicate with for work.

Listen to Your Coworkers (and Staffers)

Are you a manager? In the office hierarchy, you’re now also the captain navigating your employees through this weird new situation. It’s okay to admit you don’t have the answers. But let them see your human side. Share app suggestions for keeping calm or send out virtual awards for the best pet or best meeting background decor. The more you can provide room for questions and admit it’s a learning curve for everyone (face it: most of us are winging it!), the more reassured everyone is going to be.

Go With the Flow

Here’s a truth: Remote-working is never going to be as magical as you may have dreamed from your cubicle. Sometimes you might feel isolated or lonely (you could always set up a virtual office for staffers to enjoy virtual watercooler chats). And it might actually be tougher to create boundaries between your work and personal life. There will always be distractions. A “where are you?” missed message from your boss will always cause your stomach to sink. And the saddest truth: When you WFH, you will never, ever get a “cupcakes in the kitchen!” email.

But with solid coping methods, you’ll be more in control of your time, your mental health, your productivity and your Spotify playlist. Now get to work. 

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