If you’re experiencing the remote work glare for the first time, you’ve probably felt surprised by all the increasing things you need to keep an eye on that you never considered.
Perhaps you’ve heard it all about remote work by now, including its crowning promise of more time and peace to focus on the things that really matter, both in life and work.
Remote work definitely has its perks, as you get to decide your own schedule and to adjust your workspace as you please. But as you’re on your own, you're also susceptible to being carried away for the momentum you create and forget about yourself.
We’re all creatures of habit, so in the end, we’re all just a few hours away from overworking and isolation, a few more keyboard strokes from carpal tunnel and back pain, or a couple more bites on that squeaky chair we love from overweight and a sedentary lifestyle.
But hey! It’s not all bad! Noticing these patterns in our own lives simply points out an unspoken truth: we’re animals, and these habits we build start from somewhere, so let me share with you seven little changes that can make a big difference in how your life turns out some years in.
1. Dress up!
Let’s start with some basics: Apparel. Besides revealing some intrinsic truths about who we are, the way we dress has historically been a way to signal people about our backgrounds, where we’ve been, and what we do; needless to say it’s also been an important part of our work lives.
As creatures of habit, we’ve learnt to depend on these signals to provide a safe and reliable environment for us in a way that we can’t even notice all the time. These signals save us time and mental effort, so if you want to create comfort around your work too, you can rely on them to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
Dressing up has been associated with several mental health benefits derived from this. Keeping up your routine is a good way of avoiding the uncertainty the brain picks up when it finds itself in a new (and potentially unprotected) environment, thus reducing anxiety.
The disruption of our routines has put plenty of stress on our lives already, but following up on this simple habit, you’re not only choosing a less stressful life over the long term, you’re choosing a less cluttered routine, product of the unconscious patterns you immediately pick up when you switch to work mode under your favorite office outfit.
2. Set up your own space
If we follow the same train of thought, you can see where I’m going with this one, and it’s true. The benefits of maintaining your routine can also be extended over this point.
The best part? It’s one of the smallest changes, since most of your effort is going to be put on finding and setting up the right space, the rest is committing to it.
While it’s not the most accurate thing to generalize about our work lives, when you settled down at the office, you were probably allocated a fixed (and hopefully proper) space to carry on your daily activities, including a desk and a chair, proper lighting, and ventilation, in compliance with the general safety measures of the organization.
But now you’re home. Maybe you don’t need a safety officer running quarterly training sessions to assess the safety of your flat, but you do need safety policies at work.
At the most basic: Consider assigning a dedicated place for the long run. We don’t know how long it’s going to take us to go back to our offices, or if we’ll ever want to do so.
After that, take your wellness into consideration, first and foremost. Find a place with proper lighting and ventilation, far from your bed, from noise, even from your lovely dog; and invest in a quality chair if you can. The rest is committing to that space, after all, the place you work affects how you view remote work.
3. Keep your health in check
Yes, staying healthy should be a priority no matter what, but I know how easy it can be to make a wrong turn when you’re working remotely.
To keep things small, there are three battle-tested changes you can implement to keep your health afloat in the following years:
Use that space you built up to protect your eyes, hands, and back. Maintain a proper lighting source at all times, whether you’re doing shiny visual work or just reading. If your company maintains a safety officer, ask for periodic training sessions on Zoom to minimize the impact of carpal tunnel and back pain; use YouTube as your last resource to arm yourself with proper work break workouts.
Don’t snack too hard. Unsurprisingly, people at home, especially since the pandemic, have been snacking more than usual. A lot of those are sugary foods. I don’t have to tell you about the dangers of sugar now.
Use your idle time to take a short walk, chat on the virtual watercooler, play a game, or take a short meditation session instead. No guilt, only watch out on what habits you take in.
Run periodic health checks with your team through your favorite team chat platform. Try DailyBot for free
4. Start your day with a plan
Time is one of the fundamental reasons why people love remote work. Truth is, without a plan, you probably don’t understand why you’re feeling more busy and burnout than usual.
Your boss is not there to give you timely feedback, your colleagues are probably miles away from you, sometimes hours away from the chat. Employee performance still relies heavily on active communication, for good and bad, and without that instant input from the office, adding the lack of a detailed plan, you’re probably working more, not less. And less effective if I might add.
This change is one of the simplest ones here. Take some time before you start your day to list the things you want to do in the day, and try to stick to it, this way you can assess your working energy in real time and prioritize what you need to on the spot.
Also, if you find it favorable, consider time blocking (Pomodoro style) to divide the tasks and avoid the dangers of too much “context switching”. If you use this technique, find a block for meetings and emails and put it above everything else on your calendar.
Run daily check-ins in the chat so you and your team can stay on top of your days. Try DailyBot for free
5. Check out at the same time every day
One of the biggest dangers of remote work, and one of the most subtle, is overworking. Either by a lack of physical routines (dressing up, non-dedicated work space), or a lack of good planning, we tend to work more, not less, while remote.
It’s almost five. There are emails pouring in, a meeting you have to assist, and a bunch of uncompleted tasks you haven’t prioritized well yet. If you’re doing the previous point already, this is the time where you own your daily accomplishments and call it a day. Save the unfinished tasks and start on point four the next work day.
If day after day you still find yourself with a lot of meetings and unfinished daily tasks after four, the problem is most likely of task estimation, a topic for another article.
6. Maintain a social life
Longer working hours also mean generally less time for yourself. If you’ve been working from that old kitchen stool from your last birthday, you’re probably going straight to bed after a long day of work. Perhaps you just want to relax and skip on the nice dinner you had planned with your friends for a couple of days now.
Maintaining a social life is an integral part of any human life. While I’m not going to tell you how to build a life, at least outside of work 😉, I can speak on behalf of countless social studies on the impact of social isolation in your life.
We all want to live greater, more fulfilling lives, which starts by bringing meaning and joy to our days. If you’ve been a bit reckless lately on this front, this little change can help you return to work after the weekends more motivated and energized. Do it periodically, and add it to your weekly planning if you need to, but make some time in advance.
If you’re already doing this, keep it up, and remember to protect yourself and those around you.
7. Do one-on-one sessions
There’s many things you can’t replicate in a remote environment, and work social life is one of them. But in the spirit of being consequential with our previous habits, we can’t simply give up on this. Team communication is an integral part of our workflow, and in an office setting, this part is greatly facilitated by our enduring social life.
Building rapport with your teammates extends beyond the scope of your daily tasks, and it involves trust, clarity, and transparency, values that are more naturally developed in a physical context.
One-on-one meetings tend to be seen as brilliant places for sharing our ideas and frustrations, but we can only make full use of them if we’ve already built enough rapport with the person at the other side of the screen.
Whether you’ve been doing these for a while or it’s your first time, try implementing more 1:1 sessions within your team. Use this opportunity to get to know more of your team, everyone can benefit from a heart to heart once in a while, your work will appreciate you for it.
If you arrived at this, you’re likely trying to make some changes at work. It doesn’t matter if you work in a Fortune 500 or in a startup with another four people, implementing these little changes will most certainly make a big difference with your remote work environment.