This is new to all of us.
According to the Owl Labs Report State of Remote Work 2019 62% of the U.S. worked remotely (at least some) in 2019. This leaves about 38% of our colleagues (minus those who cannot work remotely) experiencing remote work for the first time.
Although the benefits and perks of remote work, such as flexibility and absence of commute are well known, what is less known is the psychological toll the isolation of remote work can take on a person over time. I’ve said many times “remote work is not for everyone!”.
As a remote worker veteran and presently a full-time remote worker, it seems timely to offer some tips I have learned over the years to maintain engagement and productivity from afar. Although my current work arrangement is “business as usual” for me, it is not for many of my colleagues and effective collaboration is key for all our success. This is the reason for my claim that “this is new to all of us”, whether you were previously a remote worker or not.
Before I go further, I want to make clear this is not about “tech” or “company culture”, etc. There are plenty of other articles with different angles right now. This is about self-management.
You must accept responsibility for your well-being and engagement. No one is going to do this for you, you have to own it. Like so many other “secrets” to success, the simplest yet most challenging factors are self-awareness and accountability. A good read on this topic is “Managing Yourself” by Peter F. Drucker.
Here is my cherry-picked curation of insights I have used at one time or another to stay on track;
This may seem obvious and at the same time out of place on this list, not to mention the number one spot. Here is why. Aside from the obvious risk of physical injury from prolonged use of an ill-fitting workspace, you may first experience frustration, agitation and fatigue. That can lead to an unconscious avoidance of your (unpleasant) work and that tension can show up in interactions with others, including co-workers and family.
It’s one thing to set up at the kitchen island for a couple hours or a day or two, it’s another to settle in for full time remote work. It’s even better if you can pay attention to details like lighting, climate control and décor. You will spend a lot of time in your workspace. You should like being there.
Make your workspace ergonomics your number one priority. Most organizations are accommodating to any legitimate request for equipment or supplies that assist with proper ergonomics.
2) Make your bed
By now we’ve all heard this bit of advice. I include it for the same old reason of starting your day with a simple accomplishment, but for me it represents much more. The morning momentum of order and pride serve as the kick-starter to other good daily habits including nutrition, stretching, hygiene and posture (and actually folding that pile of laundry!).
3) Listen actively
With respect to diversity and inclusion, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that we have come a long way. The bad news is we have a long way to go. This moment in time presents a unique opportunity to up our collective game. I have held for some time that “diversity” has had more emphasis over the years, in part simply because it is easier to see and understand. Now, it’s “inclusion’s” time to shine (which also fosters diversity!).
To be fully effective (and engaged) remotely, active listening is not an option. Sure, the webcam allows for the periodic face-to-face chat, but those are normally one-on-one or small groups and represent a small fraction of electronic communication including emails, phone calls and collaboration software.
Learn to listen for what is not said. On conference calls, recognize your colleagues may be hesitant to speak up for any number of reasons; maybe they’re introverted, or they have a thick accent. Perhaps they don’t understand what is going on and feel embarrassed to ask questions in front of a large (virtual) group. When you notice this, it can be a great opportunity to help draw out (diverse) opinions and ideas from others. Make a point to include them.
Why is this important for the remote worker’s mental health? If you are focused on discovering (active listening) and satisfying your client’s, manager’s and colleague's needs, you cannot at the same time dwell on how alone you feel. You will feel engaged and connected, and your team will appreciate you for it.
4) Speak effectively
For all positive and meaningful relationships, it’s important to have authenticity and trust. This can take a long time to establish yet can easily be damaged through miscommunication. It’s incredibly easy to misinterpret electronic communications. (The High Conflict Institute provides a framework for effectively dealing with challenging email situations).
The pre-requisite success factors to speaking effectively are to know who you are, what you want, and to be unafraid to ask for it or to offer it up. Use mental models to sharpen your thinking and pitch.
Then, practice clear, succinct writing and speaking. Avoid emotion, jargon and colloquial terms as much as possible, and you should (almost never) reply all!
This last tip is the broadest in nature and you will personalize it around your own circumstance, and yes, you effectively make a game out of your work. (e.g. behavioral design + points/levels/badges).
Think of “gamification” as incentives. Anywhere an incentive could be used gamification can be applied. While managing yourself, you may need to provide some incentives to yourself to perform at your highest level. The cool thing is, you get to design the rules and determine the incentives! I typically start with my annual performance goals and build my ‘game’ around them.
This technique can be especially useful for holding yourself accountable to improving quality, volume or consistency of boring or difficult tasks, for example. You can also incorporate other well-being measures into your “game” such as taking breaks, drinking water, etc. Two great resources on the topic are Octalysis Prime and the Quantified Self.
The best part? It’s really fun, makes time fly and if you align your “game” to the needs of your organization and execute properly, it will make you a high performer. You will have the points, levels, badges and results to prove it.