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By Christine Vogt
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning
The global outbreak of COVID-19 has us all facing a new normal in the weeks ahead.
As someone who has telecommuted full-time for the past eight years, I’ve been thinking a lot about those who are now faced with the new reality of working remotely full-time. The fact is, at times, you will feel isolated, disconnected, and alone. Understand that this is normal (and expected) even under the best of circumstances—which we can all safely agree is not what we are experiencing right now. So, I want to share some tips on how I have learned to manage some of the challenges of working in a virtual environment.
Develop and keep a routine: Of course, this is going to mean different things for different people. When I first started to telecommute, it was strange to not “go to work” and instead wake up and already be at work. I am not one who relishes the thought of working in my PJs all day (and believe me, if you think this sounds awesome—it will get old). So, I had to get creative and change my mindset. You can, too. For starters, change the concept of your morning routine and commute. For me, it is essential that I am up early, and that I get ready for my day just as if I were going to an office. My “commute” (as silly as this may seem) is now walking my dog—but honestly, it can be anything you want it to be. It can be a walk around the block or your yard, a run, meditation, whatever works for you. My general point here is that developing and keeping a routine helps you to be productive and provides you with a sense of control and normalcy.
Have a plan: There is an inherent structure to the day when you are in an office and around your co-workers. When you’re a remote worker, structuring your day requires a bit more initiative. You might want to frame this time as an opportunity to learn and explore how and when you work best. For example, if you’re most productive in the morning, frontload your more difficult tasks for that time of day. If you find you need help with accountability, communicate your expectations of yourself to someone else. At times I have found both of these strategies useful.
Structure your environment to help you focus or minimize stress: If you haven’t already, set up a workspace (or two), so you can set aside a place where you “do work” that’s apart from where you relax in your home. I find that this helps to combat feelings of “I’m always at work now.” Listening to music is another strategy that can help alleviate stress. I micromanage my Alexa device more than anyone else in my home office. I am continually bossing her around to play different types of music, depending on my mood. If you can work and listen to podcasts/talk radio (sometimes I can and sometimes I can’t), it can help create a feeling of being more connected to other people and the outside world.
Schedule breaks: Be sure you get up and move around throughout the day. I have found (and research supports) that the tendency is to become more sedentary when you work remotely. To combat this, schedule times throughout your day to invest in this self-care. Get up, stretch, move around, dance—whatever, for at least five minutes every hour. This will do wonders for your mind as well as your body.
Reach out to your co-workers and community: I’m a people person, so it was a difficult adjustment for me to do without the natural social energy that exists in an office environment. I realize we are all are having to get a little creative here as we practice social distancing—but being virtual doesn’t mean you have to lose contact! Schedule check-ins; it is helpful to see and talk to another face, even if it is on a screen. Just because you can’t physically go “stand at the water cooler” (am I dating myself with that reference?) doesn’t mean you can’t experience the same type of social interaction in a virtual environment. Video/audio calls are also a great way of virtually developing the creative synergies that occur naturally in an office environment.
Build in a little fun: Laughter helps alleviate stress by harnessing the power of optimism. And I think we could all certainly use some positive energy and laughs right now. So, make an effort to build in a little fun to help each other pass the time. Perhaps come up with virtual “ice-breaker” games to know each other a bit better. Or maybe there is a different type of “March Madness” activity. There are countless ways to build fun into your day and engage with your co-workers—so be creative and enjoy!
As we navigate through these trying times, remember to be kind to each other, be safe, and above all—wash your hands!
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