Where and how we work has been in a constant state of flux lately. No matter what kind of work we do, all of us have recently gained a better understanding of the needs of employees, the extent of our capacity to work remotely, and the necessity of facilitating a healthy work/life balance. Within that, what constitutes a “work day” and a “work space” has evolved. In 2016, 43% of employees worked remotely in some capacity, and 31% were working remotely at least 80% of the time. Those who work remotely reported they were more productive, experienced less burnout, and 99% of workers who couldn’t work remotely said they would have liked to at least some of the time.
When given the option, we’re bringing our offices home, setting our own hours, and cutting out the commute so we can make our careers work for our lifestyles, and not the other way around.
But now that the country is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of us are continuing to shelter-in-place and work from home to help slow the spread, the “option” to work remotely has vanished. A reported 66% of employees are now working remotely during the pandemic, according to a recent survey from Clutch. If you’re lucky enough to still have a job that can be facilitated at home and doesn’t require you to potentially expose yourself to COVID-19, creating a working space in your home is less a choice and more a necessity. We’re adapting to Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts, becoming accustomed to the ever-present pings of Slack and Asana, and staying “plugged in” more than, arguably, ever before.
The benefits of working from home have already been proven. A reported 43% of Americans who work full-time are hoping to continue working remotely even after the pandemic has passed and the country “re-opens.” But we’re doing more than just working from home — we’re working from home, caring for our children, and shouldering the emotional and mental stressors of a public health crisis that, to date, has no end in sight.
So if you’re feeling disconnected during this time — even when you’re in near-constant contact with colleagues, employees, and employers — try any one (or all!) of the following. Spacing out on Zoom is to be expected, but there are a few ways you can stay grounded, present, and connected while you work remotely.
1. Take frequent breaks
Just because you can stay plugged in for all hours of the day and night, doesn’t mean you should. While remote access to our emails has it’s benefits, and the ability to prioritize tasks and discuss deliverables with coworkers and managers via our phones lends itself to a more streamlined process, it can also make it more difficult for us to walk away from work.
Take frequent breaks throughout the day, so you’re not constantly in “work mode.” This will make it easier for you to focus on deadlines and during meetings. Just like you have the ability to be “on” constantly, you also have the ability to walk away. Take advantage of it.
2. Turn unnecessary meetings into emails
The need to feel in community with others is so real right now. We’ve spent months in lockdown, interacting with our immediate family only (or maybe no one at all), so wanting to schedule multiple Zoom meetings to have full-on adult conversations with other “grown ups” (instead of discussing the validity of Oscar’s grouchiness with your 5-year-old), is understandable.
But Zoom overwhelm is also very real. So while it’s great to talk with coworkers and managers, a “virtual hang” is not the same as an in-person meeting or Happy Hour get together. Having multiple virtual meetings a day is bound to burn you out, so when you can, turn a meeting into an email. (I mean, this should have just been a thing from the very beginning, but here we are.)
3. Take notes
What technology has afforded workers — especially those who work from home — is invaluable. But there’s something to be said about writing something down with a pen on a sheet of paper as a way to remain grounded and in the moment.
If you find yourself daydreaming during a virtual check-in or disassociating from a Zoom board meeting, take notes on the meeting by hand. Don’t type. Don’t record. Don’t rely on your iPhone to dictate. Having something you can hold in your hands — something tangible — that can serve as not only an anchor during a meeting but a reminder of what has occurred, is super helpful. You can look back on these notes and remember what was said, what is required of you, and feel good about moving forward towards your work-related goals.
4. Connect with coworkers “outside” of work
Yes, a morning coffee date is out of the question, at least without six feet of distance and a mask, and even the relative safety of that is deeply in question. And no, it’s not smart to gather around an actual water cooler to discuss office gossip. But that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with your coworkers “outside” of work, even if that means you can’t physically go outside.
Plan Zoom Happy Hours, dance parties, and other non-work-related activities. Should they be mandatory? No. Not everyone will take to a virtual hang-out and, honestly, not everyone has the time. But providing that option, in whatever capacity you’re capable of providing it, will only prove beneficial.
5. Shamelessly introduce any babies and/or cute animals during Zoom meetings
They’re cute. They’ll make even cuter noises. They’ll facilitate a necessary reprieve from monotonous conversations surrounding KPI’s and POVs and ROIs. This is why you procreate or adopt a pet, people: the entertainment. Take advantage of it while working from home as much as possible.
6. Utilize group chats
If you feel like you’re focusing more on your deliverables and less on your interpersonal relationships within your company, reach out to coworkers and/or team members and set up group chats that make it easier to communicate quickly and effectively. These chats will also create a sense of community within our company, whether it be within a specific fact of the company or the company as a whole.
7. Feel free to share personal milestones with colleagues
Working-from-home means that, inevitably, home life and work-life will bleed into one another. For working moms, this is probably nothing new — but this is still on a whole new level. Try as we may, setting boundaries and attempting to achieve the mythical work/life balance will not always work, and in certain instances isn’t feasible or beneficial.
So feel free to let your colleagues know how you’re doing outside of work. Are you obligated to share your personal life with your coworkers, managers, employees, or employers? Absolutely not. But if you’re craving that level of intimacy that is at least easily facilitated in a face-to-face, office setting, feel free to open up to those you work with. It might just make you feel more connected to the pep;le you’re now in almost constant contact with.
8. Don’t forget to unplug
Seriously — turn off your phone. Close your computer. Ignore Slack and Asana notifications. If you truly want to avoid burnout and maintain the ability to stay “plugged in” without dissociating or, for lack of a better word, losing your mind, take a break and focus on things outside of your work and/or social media. Chances are, any work-related issue will be waiting for you when you return. Create and facilitate time where you can focus on you and you only. After all, you deserve it.