I packed up my office at Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation on a beautiful spring afternoon in April 2019. I was approved to work remote full-time, and I was thrilled to begin my working from home (WFH) journey full of stretchy pants and no commutes. My visits to the office as an official teleworker were met with a mix of envy, and exactly the opposite: some colleagues dreamed of working remote full-time, while others felt they could never thrive in a remote environment.
Fast forward to a chilly, not-quite-spring-yet afternoon in March 2020, when the Foundation made the decision to close our US offices due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Unaware at the time that our domestic offices would be closed for the remainder of 2020, staff began packing up their essentials. Regardless of a person’s working style or penchant for working from home, the pandemic rapidly normalized shifts that forced many of us to adjust and embrace change in a time of uncertainty.
Remote work has shifted into a long-term reality, which creates a new set of challenges with connectivity and communication, time management, and motivation. Below are just a few things I have learned along the way:
Create a ritual to mark the start and end of your workday. For better or worse, most of us had a commute to signal the milestones of starting and ending a workday. When we live where we work and we work where we live, it can feel hard to know when to start and stop working. Your ritual can be something as simple as making a fancy coffee to start the day, or going for a walk outside to enjoy a podcast at the end of the day.
Establish designated working hours with your team. Having a structured, yet flexible schedule sounds like an oxymoron, but finding that balance can be beneficial to a harmonious working relationship.
Eat. There is nothing worse than the sudden feeling of a headache, only to realize it is 2pm and your stomach is begging for lunch. The “sad desk lunch” also takes on a whole new level of sad in your home. Take a proper lunch break away from your workstation, if possible. A lunch break can boost productivity and combat the mid-afternoon slump we have all come to know and hate.
Communicate with your team on how you are feeling. While some of us may be feeling particularly isolated, others may be suffering from Zoom fatigue.
For those who are feeling isolated, utilize your organization’s resources. If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program, use it! Take advantage of technology and schedule virtual video happy hours or coffee breaks, reach out to new hires or others who may be feeling isolated, or get creative and start an office book club. Not all workplace interactions need to focus on work. They can be a means to foster and grow relationships that we otherwise would do in-person (pre-pandemic, of course).
For those with Zoom fatigue, review the frequency and length of meetings to determine if they are necessary. As a way to reset and achieve greater balance, the Foundation recently declared Fridays “meeting free.” We hope that employees can use Fridays to catch up and plan with fewer distractions.
My final advice is to cut yourself some slack. Whether you are juggling your children full-time, constantly silencing your barking dog during Zoom calls, adjusting to being around your partner or roommates 24 hours a day, craving the social activity an office provided, or dealing with feelings of uncertainty, it is important to be kind to yourself. And don’t forget the stretchy pants.