Paul and I have been working remotely for close to 15 years now. We love working from home and can’t wait until we can take our remote work on the road when we start our poker pilgrimage in just a couple of years. A couple of years ago we wrote about all of the things that we love about working from home, as well as some of the challenges that we encounter. Now that so many of us have abruptly transitioned to working from home, we thought that it would be helpful to revisit some of the challenges of remote work and share how we cope with them.
COVID-19 has also thrown in the extra double-twist for many of us of working from home while your kids (and your significant other) are all sharing the same space 24-7. I thank goodness that Paul and I are currently residing with a 16-year-old and a 20-year-old, who are generally self-sufficient. I feel for those of you trying to work alongside 6-year-olds and 10-year-olds. You deserve a medal.
How to Address the Challenges of Remote Work
While we love working from home, remote work definitely poses a number of challenges. Especially now that we are all in it together.
Too many distractions
It’s so hard to focus these days. If you’re not watching the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus graph 24-7, you are checking the news to see which celebrities are newly sick, or hopping on Facebook to see all of the new coronavirus memes. Even if (unlike me) you have the super-human strength to avoid such distractions, it’s almost certain that one of your children (or partner) will be bored/ hungry/ wanting to communicate before you can finish this sentence. If you’re not careful, you can find that your entire workday has gotten sucked down the Tiger King rabbit hole.
There are a number of methods to avoid losing your day to distractions:
- Shut down your email – Or at least set limits on when you allow yourself to check messages.
- Block social media – Several free apps are available that will block social media for set times. StayFocusd is a Chrome extension which makes it easy to keep you on task. We also use a great extension called RescueTime, which tracks all computer activity to see exactly what your internet weaknesses are (mine is the Washington Post). For a monthly fee, you can block yourself specifically from the sites that are killing your productivity
- Pomodoro – The Pomodoro Technique is a great way to increase your focus on a given task. Using this technique, you commit to working for a given amount of time (say 50 minutes) without distraction. You set a timer to enforce this restriction and to let you know when you are due for a break. At your break, you can check your email, wash the dishes, or dance to your favorite Imagine Dragons song.
- Plan your day – At the start of the day, you know what errands, chores, or activities you need to do. So begin by making a schedule. Build in your work time, your exercise time, and your other tasks. This way you are not constantly distracted by the things still undone.
- Set limits – If you are lucky enough to have a room to work in where you can shut the door, use it. Put a sign on the door which tells family members whether you are in a work meeting, doing a Pomodoro, or able to be bothered. Alternatively, you can post a time when you will be available for consultation.
- Take turns – If you have small kids at home, a sign on the door probably won’t do. Someone will need to supervise them whenever they are not asleep. In this case, you can work with your significant other or teenage child to take turns doing work that can be interrupted, work that can’t, and taking a break to focus on the kids. If your assistant is a teenager, bribery works.
Lack of boundaries on work time
Putting some boundaries around your work time is as important as freeing yourself from distractions when you work. Working from home makes it particularly hard to distinguish work time from downtime, especially when your family is all around. But working 24/7 is the quickest route to burnout.
Some methods for putting boundaries on your work time include:
- Identify a designated workspace – Make sure that you have a physical office or designated work-space. During the time you intend to work, use that space. During your family time or downtime leave that space. Resist the temptation to sneak back in on Sunday afternoon and finish up that “one thing.”
- Resist the email – Protecting yourself from work creep means leaving those emails behind. There is nothing so important at 7pm that can’t wait until 7am the next morning. If you look at that email now, it will be in your head. Don’t make friends and family fight for your attention during time that should be theirs.
- Schedule, schedule, schedule – Officially designate your work time and your free time. The more physical reminders you create to remind you that you are off the clock, the more likely you’ll stay off the clock.
Of course, if you are under a Stay at Home order with your entire family, you may be praying for a little social isolation right about now. However, if you are living alone AND not allowed to go out, you very well may be struggling. If your remote work is happening at your kitchen table, you may go days without seeing another human being. About now, you may be feeling like you live in a universe of one.
Paul and I are lucky enough to be working remotely together. If you find yourself out there alone, there are measures you can take to find human interaction:
- Join an online group – There are plenty of ways to find groups that meet weekly or more often. Through Meetup you can find a networking group, a discussion group, or a book group. Meeting folks who share your hobbies is a great way to break through the isolation of remote work. And, in the current environment, many have moved meetings online.
- Reach out – Don’t lose touch with friends and family. Remember that one of the perks of your remote work is flexibility of schedule. Set up a Zoom happy hour, call your mom, or Skype your entire family.
- Take a class – Taking an online class to learn a new skill or update old knowledge can also serve as a networking boon. Even better, if you find a work-related class, you can write it off on your taxes!
Lack of exercise
It is easy to become sedentary when you are working from home. There are some days when I get up, walk down to my desk, and don’t go much farther.
It is incredibly important to make exercise a regular feature of your remote work lifestyle. While some of us are under orders to stay in our homes altogether. Others live in states that are encouraging us to get out and breathe that fresh air (while keeping 6 feet from others!).
- Take a walk – Build some time into your day to get outside and take a half hour walk. The health benefits of walking are clear. And a little Vitamin D will benefit both your physical and emotional health.
- Exercise at home – If the weather is just too extreme to get outside, make sure you have an at-home alternative. Buy a used treadmill, download a free exercise app like Sworkit, or build some heavy housework into your day.
- Schedule it in – Exercise, like so many things, can fall through the cracks if you do not plan for it. Again, design a schedule each morning and make exercise a part of it. Whether that means walking around your neighborhood or doing yoga in front of the laptop, find time for your body.
We have learned to thrive in a remote work environment the hard way over the last 15 years. While we love the freedom that remote work has given us, we are always struggling against the obstacles. If you’ve been forced into remote work against your will, give it a chance. You may decide you never want to go back to the office!
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