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Mastering the Art of Working Remotely: A Checklist

By CARTER HAMMETT - September 28 2021

After COVID-19 hit back in March 2020, few realized the impact it would have on the world of work. Working remotely is now part of the “new normal.” But for many workers, it’s anything but. Overnight, employees were asked to navigate unfamiliar territory and the challenges that went with it. Fortunately, there are pundits to help with practically everything! With that in mind, here are a few tips from the pundits themselves to help you keep your space—both physical and mental—in good working order.

A Room of One’s Own?
And that doesn’t mean bed! Whether it’s the kitchen table or a balcony in warmer weather, anyplace will do so long as you associate it with work. One day people might even be able to return to their local coffee shops. In downtown Toronto, where space is at a premium, this could be challenging, but as long your designated area is associated with tasks, this will make your job easier. I choose to work in as much natural light as possible in an area usually reserved as the dining room. This spot’s between my kitchen and balcony, both in easy reach of breaks if needed. Add your own elements, like pictures or specific lighting if you feel it will help you be both more productive and comfortable.

Time Management
There’s exactly 168 hours in a week, which leaves you plenty of time to both start and maintain a schedule. Whereas we once structured our day around commuting to-and- from work, that model has gone the way of the dodo. Some feel that productivity suffers, but anecdotally there are several people who report being more productive working from home.

Some tips include:

  • Try to start and finish your day as you would if commuting
  • What outcomes need to be achieved by the end of the day?
  • Try to keep meetings at the same time each day
  • Review emails and return phone calls at the same time everyday as well. These are important for service continuity, while helping you stay organized.

Breaks Breaks Breaks
Many people don’t take self-care into account while creating their own structures, so this makes taking breaks even more important. Keep them short and space them out across the day. Also, sometimes it’s a good idea to step away from your workspace, to create a psychological break as well. While at the office, I used to take walks during lunch, which helped me prepare for the afternoons ahead. No reason why that can’t continue while working from home. Breaks are supposed to be rejuvenating and should be no different than breaks that would normally be taken working from any other location. Some folks factor in time for a lunch time nap or catching up with friends. Whatever works, so long as you create some cognitive space between you and your work station.

Boundaries Boundaries Boundaries
With COVID-19 looming overhead, a number of people suddenly found themselves stuck with the kids. News outlets and social media have been great sources of inspiration when it comes to setting creative boundaries with children, but sometimes it’s difficult to separate work from private life. There’s going to be details in your life that you just can’t control. But what you can control is how those boundaries are stated and framed and being clear about when you’re going to be accessible. Kids are more likely to respond when they know and understand you’ll be available. It will also give both of you something to look forward to.

While this should be taken as a given, it’s not always easy to be aware of our feelings, or the feelings of others. We all have different coping styles and triggers and take it as a given that we will often never know when we’ve crossed a boundary until it’s too late. Likewise, some people may be coping just fine, thank you very much and that might be uncomfortable to others as well.

You will never understand what others are going through, so try at least being mindful of how your co-workers and clients are experiencing isolation and being cut off from potential support systems. Some people have never worked from home before either and may be finding it difficult to cultivate an infrastructure for themselves.
It’s never a bad idea to reach out and “check in” with each other. You never know what effect a simple gesture like that might have on someone’s day. A question like, “how are you doing?” just might tighten the fabric of someone’s day a little more.

Communication: Can We Talk?
Out of sight out of mind? While working from home, communicating with the people you’re accountable to should be top of mind. There will be calendars to update, Zoom meetings to schedule, check-ins to be aware of and the dreaded emails will most likely be even more important to read.

Some tips for staying in touch:

  • Try to have at least brief, daily check-ins (preferably via video) with your team or superiors
  • Consider a mentoring or a coaching program or, at the very least, an accountability partner to keep you on track, to check in and commiserate with.
  • Despite the obvious benefits that platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts offer, they don’t replace face-to-face communication. Sometimes body language becomes more difficult to read and non-verbal cues get missed. Try to be as mindful as possible about this.

These are just a few suggestions for managing a sudden shift in expectations, both of yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to ask others, especially on social media, how they find themselves coping. You never know: a suggestion you never thought of might help steer you into the sunlight and out of the perpetual emotional dusk you may have been feeling.

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