If you're not used to working from home, it can be a huge transition. Here are 5 simple tips for making remote working better to help ease your transition to the virtual office space.
You might be tempted to only use your voice during conference calls, but you will miss the depth of the human-to-human communication experience. While we can use words, tone, inflection, volume, and more in our speech, there's much that's lost on us when we can't "see" who we're talking with. There are loads of non-verbal communication cues that we exhibit.
Expressions. When we are speaking and listening, our faces naturally morph and change shape. These are what we call "facial expressions". Most people do this whenever they're angry, happy, sad, elated, etc. Since birth, we've been trained as humans to recognize and look for these cues and for most people it unconsciously helps them communicate with other people every day.
Body language. Going beyond facial expressions, you have bodily expressions, or what is commonly called "body language". There's a reason it's called body language, and not just bodily expression. There's a whole language that can me communicated just by the positioning and movement of our body. While we often don’t see full length video of people on video calls, you can see a lot of language in the head, neck and shoulders.
Attention. When you're on a video call with folks, you can tell when people have checked out. It's fairly easy to spot sporadic clicking, loss of attention and more in a meeting. In my experience, I've been called out in meetings and seen others do it enough to know it can be easily seen.
Turning your video on provides a more intimate level of communication that fosters better human communication and sympathy with others on the call. When you can't see the other person, something often feels missing. It's why phone conversations can feel awkward. These non-verbal cues are missing. Do yourself a favor and others, and turn on your video…even if you don't have your makeup on or aren't wearing your neatly pressed coat and tie.
When we're at home, it's easy to look for the most private corner to get our work done. That's great for focus and productivity, but it may not best for our long term mental state. It's already a challenge to be isolated when working remotely, so thinking of ways to fight that isolation can be tremendously helpful.
One of the most practical ways of fighting this "dark corner" isolation is to position your work space near a window, preferably so you can take a break from staring at your screen, pivot your head, and be looking outside. Not only is this great for your state of mind, but it's also great for your eyes. If you can't find a way to work near a window, at least get up from your workspace every hour for a quick walk by a window to grab some water, take a bathroom break, or just stretch your arms and legs.
If your living space doesn't have any windows, you can always try stepping outside for a few moments to breathe in some fresh air and just look around. See the trees, grass, shrubs, animals, and other nature around you. This can help ground you in the reality of the world, rather than succumbing to the consuming nature of the virtual world.
There are devices and lights that will replicate the spectrum of natural light (and those can be highly beneficial in a pinch), but (in my opinion) nothing beats the real deal and feeling the warm glow of the sun on your smiling face.
Remote work can be some of the most productive time that you have, since it's much easier to get into a deep focused groove. In fact, I even recommend scheduling time on your calendar for undistracted work where you can turn off notifications, go dark, and hammer out some solid work. However, this undistracted working time brings a liability...isolation.
One easy way to fight this is to schedule blocks of time dedicated to responding to email, checking Slack, video meeting with people, or sending a Marco Polo. These human touch points can help remind you how your work integrates with the rest of the world and keep you from feeling the worst pains of isolation.
If you want to take it a step further, find ways go beyond talking about just work and build meaningful relationships with the people in your digital work space. This can be a huge help when you and those around you are feeling isolated in the remote space. Try talking about friends, family, hobbies, and recent events in each other's lives. Think of 2-3 questions you can ask to learn something new about the person.
We certainly want to be highly productive in our remote environments, but a healthy balance of human connection must be maintained or that productivity will eventually fade.
When I began working from home many years ago, I would sit for 8 hours straight and forget to eat or drink. It was awful for my mind and body. In fact, it really damaged my cholesterol numbers. I began finding ways to get up and get around the house like making coffee, constantly drinking water to force me to take a restroom break, and instituting an afternoon mixed-nut and dark chocolate snack that I prepared for myself each day. In the last 18 months, I've also begun running my bike each day at lunch to get my body into shape and fix those cholesterol digits (...and it's been working great!).
To beat that stagnation at your desk, get up and move at least once every hour. Walk around your living space, take a journey up and down a set of stairs, stretch your limbs and neck, and generally get your body moving.
If you can get out of our living space for your movement it will reap double benefits. Take a walk outside if you're able. Smelling the fresh air, moving and stretching can refresh your body and your mind. And who knows, you might just solve a problem while you're doing it.
Plus, according to studies, our bodies release endorphins when we expend energy during activities like a brisk walk. Those endorphins help ward off stress, and help foster a more positive mindset.
It is important to protect your home life from work. It's far too 'normal' for us to let work creep in. If you're anything like me, it's easy to 'just keep working' even when you're off duty. You can manage this in there distinct realms: physical, digital, and time.
Physical spaces. Setup a small physical location in your home where you can get up and walk way from. The point is to establish some sort of physical boundary that you can cross which prevents you from re-engaging with work.
Digital spaces. Most of the time we blend our work apps with our personal apps on our devices. You can group apps together, create workspaces, or use separate apps to try and establish some clear realms in your digital space. Try not to blend them.
Time spaces. Generally everyone has expected working hours. Setup reminders on your devices to take breaks and end your day. Since you've lost your commute time working from home, it will be important to help yourself stop working, and transition back to home life mode. Maybe you can end your day with a walk, a quick chapter in a book, 5-10 minutes of hobby time, or some other activity. The goal is to help you establish clear times when you're working and when you're not while aiding the transition of your mind as well.
In the end, these should help you be in 'work' mode when you're working and focus on personal life when you're not in the 'digital' office. Of course, everyone's situation is different, so you may need to adjust these principles for your unique circumstances.
These are just a few of the simple principles that I've been practicing for the past 7 years working from home, and they've been a huge benefit to myself and my family. Everyone has a different situation and restrictions, but I want to encourage you to exhaust every possible resource you have to make remote work better. You can feel trapped by it, but you don't have to.
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