Here’s to hoping that the worst is over. 2020 feels like decades ago and seems older than we were back then. After over two years of Zoom fatigue and working in pajamas, most are back in the office. We’ve had high and low points, but we adjusted. There were tough lessons from remote work learned solely through sheer persistence to push through quarantine.
Let’s reflect on these big lessons, and the few good things we got from the remote work experience.
Communication was a hurdle during remote work. In an isolated environment, we were robbed of that collaborative energy and accessibility in the office. Most people had never even used video conferencing platforms before. Professional online communications came with its own set of standards and etiquettes. Even how we spoke and gave out instructions changed. Giving out important information through bullet points became the norm as we tried to make communication more effective. Being clear and concise is the key to disseminate information to your team effectively.
Alongside this is how we reached out to different people. Time became such an odd commodity. On the one hand, no commute and flexible hours gave us too much time. However, the boundary between work and life was paper thin. With that is the mindfulness that comes with our time as well as everyone else’s. A meeting could instead be an email, and an email could just be a quick instant message. It costs nothing to be mindful of each other’s time and understand our shared or individual communication norms.
Remote Work Meetings Mean Listening
A hard lesson during remote work was how the digital distance distorts our normal pace of communication. We discovered a big pet peeve of being interrupted during online meetings. With that lack of synchronization, it was difficult to chime in every now and then with a comment. Giving feedback or asking questions just spirals into hearing several voices all at once.
The fact is that virtual meetings lack the body language necessary to infer speaking turns, or even to signal that you’re finished talking. As efficient as Zoom is, one or two people can only talk at a time. Listening is vital to understanding your cue to talk. The more we interrupt someone (on purpose or accidentally), the longer the meeting is. So, miscommunication happens and further time is wasted. Plus, no one wants to dig up those meeting recordings just to listen in again.
Online meetings paved the way in understanding how vital listening is. Not only does it make meetings shorter, but it also gives value to whoever is speaking. In an isolated setting with countless of black boxes that show only the participant’s name, that one person on their camera who nods their head every now and then gave us strength.
Holding Yourself Accountable
We were responsible for our own well-being in the home office. This came with scheduling when to eat, how many hours to work on a project, even where we work sometimes. It even extends outside work hours like actively scheduling online get-togethers with your coworkers. Let’s face it, the flexibility of working at home for an extended period became a chore, we began parenting ourselves all over again.
With how varied our work arrangements are, it was never a one-size-fits-all situation. Online articles and seminars could really only suggest how we can organize our life, and we had to give ourselves lessons on our own remote work lifestyle. It became necessary to hold ourselves accountable to stay healthy, productive, and rested.
Away from Work, Away from Screens
Outside of the toll on your eyes, screens have become an unhealthy way to be constantly plugged into your work. Getting lost in whatever you are doing is so easy when all you really have to do is look into the screen. This is why getting away from a work screen (or better yet, any screen) is an undervalued aspect of work breaks. Some consider scrolling through their phone to check social media as a break, but you should be stretching and moving your body around during this time. Basically, do anything that severs you from your job.
There are several tools that help us with productive accountability. Some sought to organize their work by to-do lists, others went for techniques to remind themselves to take a break. A popular one would be the Pomodoro Technique, where you have 25 minutes of productivity, followed by a 5 minute break. It became so popular that there are several online timers that help facilitate the technique. If you find yourself getting derailed or overwhelmed with your tasks, this might just help you out.
Everyone is Trying Their Best
Collective empathy became a hard lesson during remote work. As everything became worse, there was a mutual understanding in work that we were all not having a great time. Certain aspects of the pandemic such as the sheer isolation, worry, frustration became a mutual source of stress.
We could not see our team for most of the work day. And as much as it was tempting, it’s best not to bombard them with emails and hourly check-ins. Micromanaging would just add more stress and hinder the attempt at a positive work setup. We had to simply assume that everyone was trying their best. Which should be the normal attitude in a work environment. Remember to create an air of support for each other’s well being in the office.
Talk to Your Team
All it really takes is a quick meeting or chat message asking, “how are you guys?” Remote work taught us lessons on actively creating a virtual space for fun small talk that recreates the watercooler or breakroom hangouts. Even in the morning, it’s much better to have coffee virtually with your coworkers to catch up on their weekends. It does wonders in maintaining social connections and keeping that feeling of being together and checking in to see if people are fine created such a difference during remote work. Everyone needs a good friend and strong relationships at work, virtual or not.
Outside of virtual spaces, it’s nice to simply reach out to your team with non-work related chit-chat. Fostering a space for open communication and talking to each other like peers to cultivate good office culture. This works both ways, reaching out to people and also being open to team building or even just casual hangouts; can’t be grumpy when everyone is trying their best.
Remote Work Lessons For Ourselves and Others
Remote work took a toll on all of us. But as we usually do, the worst parts of our days often churn out good work and life lessons. These three lessons from remote work affects how we are seen by and communicate with others. It keeps us accountable for our own well-being. Overall, it reminded us that two aspects are important in continuing a healthy work-life no matter where we are: ourselves and others.