by Shayne Thomas
01 Apr 2020
4 Tips for Thriving in a Remote Work Environment
How to stay motivated and productive when working from home
Just a few short weeks ago life was business-as-usual. We were coming and going to work as we pretty much do every week, maintaining what was essentially our “normal” routines.
And then everything changed: the world suddenly stopped in its tracks as it faced the brutal reality of the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight many of us had to bid (a temporary) farewell to our offices and quickly settle into a new remote work environment.
While this may have felt like a sudden and drastic change for many, it’s important to keep in mind that being asked to work from home is a much better alternative to the job losses faced by millions of people around the world, as many businesses were forced to shut down, with no opportunities for their employees to continue working remotely. (Just for perspective…)
Now, working remotely is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. Many of us, myself included, have enjoyed and thrived in a remote work lifestyle for many years—and have truly mastered how to be successful at it, too. But that doesn’t mean everyone’s cut out for it. Some people honestly love the office environment and the many opportunities it provides to interact with coworkers face-to-face. For them, it can feel like a “break” from personal life. And although many incredible technologies today make it possible to stay connected in real-time, sitting in front of a Zoom conference is not quite the same as sitting across a conference table.
Needless to say, adapting to any kind of change can be hard—much less when you have very little time to mentally prepare for it or find yourself confronting the brutal reality that the once cherished boundaries between work and life suddenly collide in a work-from-home situation.
This can throw people off entirely. So, don’t be surprised if your or your team’s productivity takes a momentary dip as people adjust the new working dynamic. After all, there is a reason why people talk about work-life balance so much; it’s because some people really need those boundaries to be successful in both parts of their lives. In times of crisis, however, we have to be flexible and remember that life will go back to normal sometime in the near future.
And even though this new normal that we’re living in today may feel like a verifiable jolt to the system, one thing is true: remote work is still work—and, as always, it needs to get done.
Whether you are a business leader, a manager of a team, or simply someone on a team, there are a few best practices to follow to ensure that you remain successful, motivated, and, above all, productive when working remotely:
1. Forget “normal” business hours
A big misconception about working from home is that people will have a lot of free time on their hands and simply not get work done. This is not the case whatsoever. As governments have asked people to stay at home, this means that, for many working professionals, working from home is a balance between work, partners, roommates, kids, animals, and other unique factors that we all inevitably face daily. It’s more than just sharing space; we have to share our time with the people and the obligations around us. (After all, Fido isn’t going to walk himself!)
While there is a benefit to maintaining a schedule of sorts while working from home, there needs to be some flexibility built in, especially at an unprecedented time like this. Work may happen early in the morning or later in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. And that’s perfectly fine. That’s why Cornerstone has instituted what we call a “compassionate work schedule,” or, in other words, recognizing that there are a lot of other life factors that could compete for an employee’s attention during this period of isolation.
But this can’t be an excuse either. The situation we’re in today requires us all to find solutions that can keep work moving along swimmingly. That’s why, as a rule of thumb, it’s important for managers and their teams to communicate constantly about scheduling challenges or other potential issues that may crop up while working remotely; this is the only way to ensure that everyone involved remains successful at all times.
2. Communicate more than ever before
Working remotely changes how people communicate. What once could be a peek over a cubicle wall to ask a question now requires picking up the phone, sending an email, launching a video conference, or chatting through a messaging app. Communication may not feel as instantaneous when you’re not face-to-face with your coworkers, but today’s technologies can actually make it quite a bit smoother than you may think.
This issue, therefore, is not the lack of connectivity, but rather the lack of comradery. When so much communication gets pushed through digital means, however, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of only talking about work or staying focused squarely on the task at hand.
Sure, from a productivity standpoint, that makes a whole lot of sense. But from a human standpoint, and knowing that we are all communicative creatures by nature, it’s important to use these technologies to continue the relationships we have with our managers and our coworkers, too. Spend a little time during a Zoom call to catch up and see how people are doing. It’s a tough time for everyone; showing our human side, albeit through technology, will help everyone get through this crisis together.
That being said, managers must make an extra effort to do this, setting aside time for daily check-ins with their team members and constantly coaching their employees to succeed. Just because we’re all working remotely doesn’t mean that the employee-manager relationship goes out the window. In fact, this relationship must grow even stronger during times like this. Some employees will have a really hard time coping with this new dynamic, and thus, it’ll be up to managers to keep their teams accountable and high-performing at all times. Ongoing communication and feedback is absolutely critical here.
3. Smile for the camera
At a time when we’re all sequestered at home, it’s more important than ever to maintain face-to-face relationships to keep us all feeling connected. And while it may be easy to hide behind texts, chats, emails, and calls, when you have the choice, opt for a video call.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in your pyjamas or if you haven’t put on makeup for the day. No one is judging you—because everyone is in the same boat. In fact, this is one of the rare times when the rule of keeping up appearance, if you so choose to call it that, can go by the wayside. Most of us spend the vast majority of our waking hours at home. We don’t need to put on a suit and tie just to show up for a conference call. (Here’s a secret: what you wear doesn’t make you do your job quicker, better, or more effectively!)
Remember, this applies to group communications just as much as it applies to one-on-one communications. Just recently our team at Cornerstone decided to organize a virtual “happy hour” and we gave it a theme: crazy hats! Not only was it a fun way to see each other’s faces and wind down after a busy day, but it was also a reminder that, even when working remotely, we’re still a team—and nothing changes that whatsoever. It also gave us a sneak peek into each other’s lives; some people had their kids say hi to the team while others invited their pets to join in on the fun. The long story short: our lives may be contained in the digital world for the time being, but that doesn’t mean can’t take moments to remind us that we’re all human and, more importantly, we’re not alone—even though it’s easy to sometimes feel that way.
4. Embrace every opportunity to learn
Learning how to work remotely is no different than learning a new skill. So, create new opportunities for your employees to thrive in this new (and temporary) environment. At Cornerstone, for example, we launched a Remote Work Essentials content subscription to help our teams learn how to improve productivity, manage stress, collaborate effectively, embrace new technologies, deal with constant change, and recognize the signs of physical, emotional, and psychological trauma caused by the global health and economic crisis swirling around us.
Oddly enough, while learning these skills is more critical now than ever before, they are also skills that will apply once the COVID-19 crisis is long behind us—and will benefit everyone within a business, from leaders to manager to employees, in the long-term.
And, of course, once you’ve mastered the art of working remotely—that is, as long as you haven’t started having conversations with inanimate objects, like your plants—take this time to keep on learning. Give yourself a challenge to learn a new language, build a website, master new yoga poses, become the baker you always wanted to be, and so on. When working from home, it becomes ridiculously easy to do work for hours on end. Before you know it, it’s time for dinner, then bed, and then the alarm clock wakes you up to start all over again. Use this time to enrich your heart, mind, and soul; it’ll make you more successful in everything you do.
Take care of yourself, friends
This is a tough time. We won’t try to sugarcoat it. Humanity is being tested in ways that it has never experienced before. It’s up to us to overcome adversity and to be bigger than the crisis at hand. It won’t last forever. Life will return to something called “normal” sometime soon. And while we don’t know when that will happen, we owe it to ourselves to make the best out of a tough situation. Part of this involves embracing a work from home lifestyle. Just follow these best practices, and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. (You may actually learn to love it, too!)