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How to Survive Remote Working Amidst Coronavirus and Self Isolation

Andrea Price March 20, 2020

working from home

Two years ago I started remote working. At the time I was anxious at the prospect of working from home. I didn’t know how I’d be able to manage my work around constant daily distractions so I asked around for advice. I’ve taken the best of this advice and compiled a list of tips for you below.

Create productive working habits

Create habits that can enhance productivity. By applying productive working habits to the remote working environment, such as starting your day at a certain time, arranging your working environment in a certain way, not checking social media, personal emails (or work emails) at certain times, we can lessen the likeliness of any distractions overpowering the motivation to work. In your normal working environment, many habits built over time carried you through your day: now is the time to re-program yourself for productive, self-motivated work habits.

Wake up at the same time 

Turn your remote working ‘later-start luxury’ into an ‘early-finish treat’. Remote working may seem like it grants you the luxury of a lie in, but the longer you delay the start of your day, the longer it will take you to ‘reboot’ in the morning and the harder your routine becomes.   If your day used to start at 6.30am to accommodate getting ready and your morning commute, try to maintain that early start if you can and reward yourself at the end of your productive day with an early finish.  

Keep your environment clean and clutter free

When you first start remote working,  procrastination your enemy. You may try to justify why it’s more important to do the washing up, before you start your day - or how that leaky tap needs to be fixed before it causes a distraction… You will convince yourself that completing the long list of domestic duties is absolutely necessary in order to create a productive working environment. If there are tasks to do around the house, ensure they’re completed the night before or in the morning before you start your working hours; any chores left undone in your new remote working environment will become another excuse for distractions later in the day. 

The earphone rule

This is one you may already incorporate into your working day, having worked in an office environment.   If you have family or young children around when you’re trying to work remotely, operate the earphone rule: when the earphones are in, you’re invisible and if someone needs you, they have to draw a picture or write a note to you and place it next to you.   

Noise-cancelling earphones make all the difference. I use Bose, which are initially pricey but a worthwhile investment.  They’re both great for concentration and also a great remote working habit to form: the minute I open my laptop in the morning, the earphones are immediately plugged in.  By creating the habit of plugging in my earbuds when I first open my laptop, I am set up with clear focus for the day resulting in improved productivity.

Set realistic goals

Make a list but prioritise and attack the list in a realistic way.  This one may seem obvious, but so many of us approach our task list in a counterintuitive way. If you have a list of ten things to achieve, don’t try and attack all ten at the same time. Working in this way leads to fatigue, procrastination and feelings of failure. Instead, aim to lock in an hour, or even half an hour, to work on one task, review your progress and reward yourself with a treat once you’ve done that.

Ultimately, the biggest distraction to a lengthy task-list is our personal social media. Here, you can turn the distraction into a reward once you’ve achieved your 30 minute burst of productive output - if mindlessly scrolling the comments section on Instagram can be considered a reward? Once you get into a good rhythm with remote working, you may find the temptation to check personal social media during productive hours disappears entirely.

Stay online and visible

Stay online and connected to your colleagues. If you don’t have colleagues, start a slack channel, a Whatsapp group or a Google Doc. and commit to regular progress check-ins on a certain project.    In social sciences it’s called The Hawthorne Effect, but it’s almost certain that people perform differently when they’re in company. In a digital world there are many different ways that your employer, colleagues and your clients can keep a track of your productivity.    It doesn’t matter how strict your workplace is, the leadership style or who your colleagues are, it is human nature to act differently when other people are around: this rule applies for remote working too.   Stay connected, stay visible and stay accountable for your working progress.  We’re all in this together, and you’ll quickly realise that remote-working isn’t so lonely after all. 

Anticipate a meeting but stay comfortable

There’s mixed advice on this one. Many articles you see will tell you to dress professionally every day, as you would to a meeting, and some say to ditch the suit and get comfortable.  For some the better option is to dress half and half: a shirt /smart top with pants (guilty), but make sure there are no mirrors close by during a Zoom meeting, as this could put you in an embarrassing position. For me, the great thing about remote working is the ability to get the job done in the way that suits your working style best.  Professional yet comfortable. 

Video Lunch (Vlunch) with colleagues, friends, or LinkedIn connections

I did this just two days ago and I’m so pleased I did.  I updated my LinkedIn status to see if anyone was free to chat and I received a response from  Vikash Dudhia , someone I’d known previously and hadn’t spoken to in many years.  Seemingly Vikash is currently offering training for video presenting and conferencing skills, which is something that I’d recently been interested in building on.  And he was also interested to hear more about HubSpot. This was a particularly fruitful lunch, but it doesn’t have to be formal. Even if it's a casual hello to a friend or connection instead, it’s always good to connect on a level deeper than just an accepted ‘LinkedIn connection’ request.  

Don’t go near the couch

As enticing as it may be, stay strong guys. Do allow yourself to take breaks, but make sure those distractions and breaks are as close to your work-life-norms as possible. 

Utilise those emojis

Research shows that the use of emojis in work related communications can weaken how your communication is perceived by the reader. However, in this new era where a whole company could be working remotely, we are stripped of subtle but essential communication queues such as intonation of voice, facial expressions, posture and physical articulation which can be problematic i.e. in a short form message you could have the same conversation as you did last week, with the same person this week but in writing rather than in person, and this time the laughter is replaced with anger. Maybe it's time to explore the use of emojis as an acceptable and professional level of communication, if everyone buys into the experiment.

The final and most important tip - give yourself credit

The fact is, we all experience many distractions throughout the day so don’t be too tough on yourself. But try and eliminate these distractions before you start your day, or turn unavoidable distractions into rewards instead. 

These are testing times which could mark the dawn of a new era. But this current situation does have me feeling hopeful because there has never been a better time for businesses to grow on social media and through digital means.   

Stay healthy, strong and united everyone.  Happy remote working!

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