Working Remotely in Uncertain Times
- Pandemics are not normal. Working, as part of a purposeful life, is normal.
- Calm, organization, and self-discipline help to tether us in unexpected times.
In his famous 1919 poem, The Second Coming, Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote, Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Many of us may share this sentiment as people around the world are infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus, spiking fatalities and causing anxious speculation about who is safe and how long before we flatten the exposure curve, knowing the normal we eventually will return to will be far from it. Schools close, sports tournaments are cancelled, friends and neighbors disperse, businesses shutter and, when they can, send employees home to self-quarantine.
Perhaps those of us who can work from home are considered the lucky ones, given the masses of people dependent on their hands, feet, and serviceable skills who cannot log in and keep a livelihood going. Yet, working remotely comes with its unique mindset and rhythm that, even in the best of times, may challenge otherwise confident and productive individuals. During social isolation, unforeseen challenges arise—like tending to restless children missing their teacher and school friends, worrying whether that next trip to the grocery will find in empty shelves or, worse, avoiding a chance sneeze or cough coming your way. At what point will your hours be cut back or eliminated? Or how long will your savings last, now that your retirement fund may no longer assure a comfortable future?
For now, let’s not rely on denial, untethered fear, or magical thinking. Let’s do what we can to find purpose, which for many is remaining productive and accomplishing what work we can. There are people good at compartmenting, especially when under duress. They can seemingly block the world out and focus on the tasks at hand. Such people, however, are not common. For those of us prone to multitasking or waiting for instructions, working remotely can be a series of hurdles. You sit down to start an email when a friend or family member calls to touch base. You’re working against a deadline at the same time that the dirty laundry is practically standing up to be washed. You’re on a web conference when the new puppy proves that housebreaking remains touch and go. You promise yourself to work late into the night to spend time with kids during the day, only to find yourself exhausted by 7 p.m. If any of the above sounds familiar, here is some advice to consider.
Be Thoughtful about Your Workspace
Do your best to separate worktime from being-home time. Avoid switching back and forth between work and domestic life. When possible, avoid the kitchen table and set up your workstation in a quiet room. Don’t spread your work around your home. Avoid the temptation of bringing your laptop to bed and checking your email when you can’t sleep. Place your workspace near a window. Open the curtains or shades to boost your mood and work satisfaction.
Try to Keep Regular Business Hours
If possible, maintain the hours you would were you at work. Review what you accomplished yesterday and what remains to be completed. Plan your day by scheduling certain tasks, meetings, breaks, and personal time hour by hour. Check and reply to emails and voice messages at least hourly. Let your manager or team members know when you’re available or temporarily away. Many email or chat apps allow you to set “Available” or “Away,” so others know at a glance. Put a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign up during important phone calls to alert family. You may find yourself more productive for the very reason that remote working may not appeal; you’re socially isolated with little distraction. Toward this end, do your best to shut down work no later than typical business hours.
Front-Load Your Day
Many remote workers find that they’re most focused and have the fewest distractions early in the day. Dig into your most challenging tasks early and you’ll find that the rest of the day flows more smoothly.
Keep Yourself Healthy
No binge snacking! It’s a temptation knowing that the refrigerator and pantry are steps away. But best to grab an apple and some nuts. Avoid sitting for hours and hours. Take a walk. Run up and down the stairs for exercise. Follow a workout video. Meditate. Practice yoga. Get up and dance! After all, who is around to laugh at your moves? (The kids will find it entertaining…well, young kids, at least.)
Take breaks from video screens. Worktime isn’t the best time to watch that movie you’ve been waiting for or peruse your social media. Give yourself at least an hour separating computer or video screens and going to sleep.
Follow public health guidelines. Know that this, too, shall pass. Meanwhile, be kind to yourself and others.