Last year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic we devoted the ME day to mental health, as a reminder that while it is important to take care of our physical health, we mustn’t overlook our mental health either. A year later, we’ve been through a lot and the issue of mental health is ever more pressing. So, to commemorate ME day this year, we decided to talk about making remote work – work.
As I am writing this, it has been 365 days since remote work has become the new norm across the world. We have swapped our office buildings for make-shift home offices that once were our wardrobes. Some of us had struggled with Zoom fatigue. Others had to watch their children or pets redo their living rooms mid-conference calls. But there were also people like me who saw remote work as a welcome change. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Working from home has its advantages and disadvantages. And all of us, regardless of our stance on working from home, made some remote work mistakes we aren’t aware of, yet. I know I have.
While some companies plan on returning to offices the first chance they get, many have cancelled their leases and have gone remote entirely. Regardless of which group you belong to (or quite perhaps you are a freelancer), remote work is in the books for the foreseeable future. So let’s not repeat our mistakes.
Remote Work Mistakes: Working With Noise in the Background
How about we start on an amicable note, and not get into the ‘non-negotiables’ just yet? Right, TV working in the background. Well, here’s the thing: all through last spring and a good portion of the summer, I had this little routine I called ‘working from an imaginary coffee shop’. My entire routine consisted of preparing a gallon of black coffee, nesting comfortably on my couch with my laptop, and turning the TV on – for some ambient noise. At the time, it seemed like a wonderful idea. It seemed to me as if I had the entire work from home figured out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. By the time I abandoned my imaginary coffee shop, I had already watched four seasons of Friends with the corner of my eye. Need I say how productive that was?
But as it turns out, I was on the right track. Moderate ambient noise under 70 decibels can boost your creativity production levels. So if you need that office buzz to keep you company while you work, try things like Brain FM or classical music.
Also, I wouldn’t recommend podcasts, but hey, we are all different.
Read more: How to Overcome Challenges of Remote Work
Remote Work Mistakes: Thinking All You Need Are Tools
While tools are necessary means for working from home, they are not where the ball stops rolling. Zoom, Slack, Miro – you name it, are great. But thinking that by downloading these tools, everything falls into its place is problematic. Yes, remote work would not be possible without these tools, but the mere tools are not enough.
Remote work greatly differs from working from the office space. Yes, how we communicate has changed. But what we often forget is the role of gesticulation and body language in sending our message. So what can we do to make the digital transition as smooth as possible? Or more precisely, remedy our mistakes?
Setting ground rules for the facilitation of remote work is often made at a management level. Still, if you notice you are deep into trenches of remote work, and it’s not working out, here are some suggestions you could make.
- Availability norms (stick to your working hours, no need for Slack messages at 9 PM)
- Setting expectations
- Remote work communication (overshare, but make sure you are communicating your message efficiently and effectively)
- Structure in executing orders
- And many more.
Every team is different, so it is best to talk it over with your team and find the best ground rules for your group.
Read more: Remote Working Tools for Any Business
Remote Work Mistakes: Not Finding What Works For You
I remember remote work as a fun and refreshing experience, a welcome change after stuffy offices (our offices are great, but I’m setting the mood over here). I once spent an entire summer in a mountain cottage working remotely. However, in the past year, remote work didn’t mean glorious-Insta-ready locations, on the contrary. Ridden by fear and uncertainty, the past year has forced us to remain inside the safety of our homes. Along with other prominent factors, this has done a number on our mental health. As a result, we might not be as productive or as focused as we were in pre-COVID times.
How to Stay Focused and Improve Productivity
It is harder to focus on tasks, and seeing how we are not in the offices, we might ‘sneak off’ during our ‘office hours’ and do our laundry, clean our house or maybe watch an episode of our favourite show. Being in a constant fear you’ll ‘get caught’ and doing your best to ‘prove’ you are working can lead to overcompensation. Instead of spiralling, how about a different regime?
A lot of remote work, and work in general, is based on trust. Your employer trusts that you’ll finish your tasks and deliver your work before the deadline. While it is ok to lose our focus and productivity levels, talk to your team leader about the difficulties you are facing, to find the best possible solution. But don’t stop there. Find a way to go around work distractions. Install an app that controls your access to websites and social media during your working hours. Mute Slack notifications that have you bouncing from one task to another. But more importantly, find a check-in system that will work for you. It can be clearing your task list on Trello or sending your team leader a Slack message checking out. Either way, it is paramount to develop a healthy relationship to work, even when we are working from the comfort of our homes.
Remote Work Mistakes: Not Communicating Effectively
Oversharing possibly became a slogan of remote work. It took us a little while to get the hang of it, but it seems that we are oversharing just fine right about now. But, oversharing doesn’t necessarily equal effective communication. While yes, tossing all the info and explaining everything in great detail is a necessary evil, it is vital to overshare effectively.
The first rule about communicating effectively? Never assume someone understands what you are talking about. Especially if you’ve typed your directions in a hurry.
The second rule is a bit more relaxed: avoid overcomplicating and using vague words.
The third rule of remote work communication is all about how, when and where. Or in more concrete words, give a context, deadline and clear directions.
The fourth rule – some things are better said face-to-face. For more complicated matters, organise 1 to 1 meeting where you’ll guide a person through.
The fifth rule of remote work communication: let’s avoid ‘he said-she said’. Instead, know your sources, and from whom your tasks came. Follow the chain of communication and make sure that you leave no room for interpretation.
The sixth rule of remote work communication: Work zone. Communicate with colleagues when are the most appropriate times for calls. We all have kids, flatmates, pets or some other forms of distraction, but it’s important to communicate this to our colleagues. On the other hand, try and establish a schedule with your flatmates or kids about quiet time. While only a start, it is a great way to avoid making some of the remote work mistakes.
Sure, the 8 rules of Fight Club were more entertaining than the ones I’ve listed, but hey, how about Remote Work: How to Work Productively from Home?
Remote Work Mistakes: Not Switching Your Camera On
Well, lean back and stay with me. Well, there’s this fantastic colleague of mine. She’s a great team leader and writer, and it is amazing being a part of her team. (I know how this sounds, but this is not even loosely based on me. Ok, maybe just a little, but only what’s about to come).
Every other day we have these ‘stand up’ meetings where we go over our progress and main pain points. Her camera is off. Then, there are meetings with clients, and I still cannot see her face. At last, one day, I was knee-deep in deadlines and needed just a short break with a familiar face and an ally against these mounting tasks.
So, I invited her for a 15 minutes long virtual coffee break. Again no camera. Not being one to shy away from curiosity, I finally asked why she always keeps her camera switched off. Her answer? Not camera ready. I took a peek at my video frame, and honestly, I was far from camera-ready. You might wonder what’s the point of my monologue right about now. Here it is.
Seeing familiar faces, even if through screens, helps us not feel alienated. And while letting your colleagues see your fabulous face is healthy for your coworker relationship, it will also help you get your message across in a much smoother way. So much of our intentions are hidden in non-verbal cues, that by switching your camera off, you’ll appear less persuasive than you’d like. Not to mention losing on transparency and visibility within your team.
Moral of my story? Keep your cameras on, dress ‘corporate clean’, and stop apologising for the distractions in the background – we’re in this together.
Bonus Tip on Remote Work Mistakes: Creating Ineffective To-Do Lists
While yes, I am a sucker for a good to-do list – can’t help myself, the truth is they don’t always work. Sure, a good organisation is not only privy to remote work, but work in general. Yet, prioritising your tasks is a key to making it through the day, and wiping your Trello to-do list clean. So when do our to-do lists become monsters in disguise?
As a rule, your to-do list should not expand beyond what you can really achieve during your workday. By adding more to it, you are setting a trap for yourself. And Raymond Chandler was right when he said “There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself”. Trying to achieve more than possible, or getting lost in inefficient habits and tasks might leave us feeling drained and depleted. So, what is there to do?
Each day, when setting a to-do list, employ a simple ‘what will have the biggest impact’ method. Start by evaluating the list of things you need to finish and organise your tasks in order of importance. Once you do just that, ask yourself – are you the type of person who eats their favourite candy first, or leave it for the end. Depending on your answer, begin with tasks that will have the most impact on your productivity and morality levels. Oh, one more thing – for this to work, you need to complete your list every day.
ME Day Holiday
In 2015 we started a ME day holiday that celebrates what makes us unique – a day to admire all of our achievements, embrace our one-of-a-kind personalities and connect to what is really important to us. Schedule March 16th in your calendar as a day when you will make time to celebrate and share what makes you unique and indulge, nourish and develop your passions and skills. Encourage your friends and family to do the same, and don’t forget to share your ME Day experience with a #MEday hashtag on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!