The term Covid-19 conjures images of lock downs, shut ins and self isolation. Admittedly, this is an important move at this time to prevent the spread of a pandemic riddled with uncertainties. Yet with the rush to move indoors, many companies, schools and other organizations have rushed to move their product and service offerings online and in a remote way, without preparing the labour force, parents, students and more for working remotely.
What we have therefore ended up with are persons who have always craved more “time off”, anticipating they’d be more productive while working from home. But in a world of distractions, are people truly being productive? negative nada, nope. In fact, I’d dare say not everyone is fully prepared or fully equipped for the remote life. The good news is, you can utilise key steps and routines to take you one step closer to mastering #ThatRemoteLife.
How do I know? Throughout my professional journey, I have often lived and loved the remote life. While working in the Caribbean for example, I reported to Chile and fielded meetings with colleagues in Rome. I have also worked across language barriers and worked across continents and time zones. It was commonplace in several instances to be presenting in meetings where attendees were dispersed across varied geographic locations but most importantly, I have mastered several direct work ethic and soft based skillsets necessary for being both polite and productive while working remotely. Today I share my top 7 tips for taking you towards a productive culture while in isolation or generally working remotely.
Step 1. Preparation is key: Solid internet connection, other work tools and trustworthy device aside, how prepared are you really? Preparation will include everything from having a positive mindset, a ‘yes I can’ attitude to physical preparation. Will you be working within a team? are you prepared for those team dynamics? When will you meet? What time should you eat? Can you follow on with a phone call? restricted to internet only contact? What is the earliest and latest time frames you can call? Answers to these questions are crucial for planning ahead and having some order in your work flow. While preparing, also ensure that those you are collaborating with are aware of deadlines, so they too can meet them.
Additionally, seek to prepare yourself as much as possible in line with your usual routine. Set alarm clocks, make your favourite brew and if being dressed differently helps, include that into your daily preparation.
Step 2: Schedule and stick to it: Now more than ever a schedule will become important to ensuring you maximize the use of your time and also do no leave some tasks hanging by the wayside.
When scheduling, prioritise tasks and be very aware of your productive hours and incorporate as many of your routine tasks as possible, including a lunch break. Since you will also be working within a home environment, schedule in occasional stress buster break to stretch, tend to the needs of loved ones and get water. Use a timer too to encourage you to work through deadlines and turn your phone off if necessary to help reduce distractions. Remember, it is better to do 4 hours of work in your most productive period than to do 4 hours of work over a 8 hour period.
Oh and here’s a bonus, schedule emails too. I have never been more thankful for email scheduling capabilities as they enhance my work flow. Now you can work on a document at 6:00 a.m. and neatly schedule same to arrive in inboxes at 9:00 a.m. Sweet!
Step 3: Create Productive Space: Whether you have already begun your remote work journey, or you are just about to begin, it pays to prepare yourself physically, including a space. For many, the sunshine is making its appearance.
Where feasible, position your workspace in a well lit area, have a desk space if possible, sit upright most of the time, add family, pet or abstract photos and positive words if you wish. Just generally try to replicate your most productive space within your home. In the event there are children and other loved ones that will demand your attention in an ad hoc manner, seek to establish rules from early out. Include some “their time” in your schedule and outside of that time, encourage limited disruptions through boundaries such as “Only disturb me if…..
Step 4: Know your tools: Technology is your friend during this phase and it pays to know your tools. Many educational institutions and organizations may already have internal video collaborating tools, but for those who don’t, additional tools include ones for video or audio meetings, file sharing, file collaboration, team management, financial management and more.
Generally, some easy to use tools include:
- Video/Audio calls: Skype, Xoom, Google hangouts and even whats app, which allows you to fit up to 4 video screens at a times,
- file collaboration: Google docs, Email
- Team work: Slack,which is sorta like an online workplace and offers the option to create multiple channels such as ‘work convo’, ‘research stuff’, ‘new ideas’. Asana is also neat for general project management and Trello is like a great things to do list.
Admittedly, if you are pressed for time and just want to stick to one platform, multiple folders in Google docs does the trick. Just remember to check in on folders often and tag persons so they can be alerted when there are more urgent matters to be addressed or a task has been assigned to them.
Step 5: Take healthy breaks: Sure, you may feel you just have to complete everything today, yet on the upside, remote work really provides you with more flexibilities. For starters, if you are scheduling as you should and prioritising tasks, your day goes that much further. Next break your work in chunks or batches and include healthy breaks.
Some breaks may be location specific such as taking deep breaths even while seated, closing your eyes and stretching, deliberate walk to the kitchen to fill a water bottle. Others are time specific and may be scheduled before or after you’ve cleared your work load. These include exercise, yoga and meditation, family time and self care time. Creatively too, healthy breaks include calling your mom, your grandma, your friend or even volunteering to call others who are lonely in these times. A personal favourite is online Karaoke. It sure beats singing alone in the shower. Other options include playing online versions of your favourite games with other players who are equally isolated Get creative! What are some of your favourite ways to take healthy breaks while being isolated or working remotely?
Step 6: Be polite while being productive: while remote work has serious perks, there are also some downsides. Foremost of these is that you can lose many of the non verbal cues that can more effectively communicate with others .
It is therefore commonplace to have misinterpretations via text or only messenger platforms at times. As you would in an work, school or indeed human related setting, sometimes it is quite necessary to take the phone up and make that call. Even further sometimes video is absolutely necessary to clarify anything that may be misunderstood as ill intentioned.
Generally, be polite, patient, aware of how we process things differently and know that people generally have other burdens that aren’t visible from our screens.
Step 7: Digitally Disconnect: Once you have worked through your schedules and met your daily targets, take the ultimate break with a digital disconnect.
It can be shutting your phone off completely for 1-2 hours at the end of your work period to connect with loved ones who are indoors with you or waving to a neighbour from a social distance or disabling data while you are on our outdoor walk. It can also be partial, where you commit to periods of only viewing wholesome content or using technologies to connect with loved ones. Ultimately, don’t be so caught up spending every waking hour of your day online, that you forget to still have a life offline.
Remember these are just tips, so be flexible with them. Use the first week to experiment with what works best for you and adjust accordingly. Most importantly, be honest about what truly helps you to be productive and what doesn’t.
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What are other ways that you boost productivity while working remotely? Share with me below.
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Shanoy Coombs is a Development Communication strategist in the Latin America and Caribbean region. She specialises in Intercultural Communication, International Development and Communication for Development (C4D) Are you Social? Connect with Shanoy on twitter via @InspiraShan and learn more about her work via the projects page.