Good evening! You may have just survived your first day working remotely, and are already concerned that you’re going to disintegrate into a lump of sweatpants and sour gummy candies before your second day is over. Fear not, and welcome to a look into the last three years of my professional life, during which I’ve been a mostly-remote worker and, most days at least, not consuming my weight in Scandinavian Swimmers and coffee concentrate. Here are some lessons from these years, all learned the hard way, which I hope help make the glories of remote work easier on you.
1. Have a routine.
It doesn’t have to be extreme, but it’s easy to lose track of time, especially if you’re the only person in your home. I set alarms, not just for waking up, but also for lunch, exercise, and turning off screens. If working on teams, I try to keep the same hours as my colleagues, to let them know my schedule, and to make my calendar shared with them when possible. I also set my notifications to match my timetable and tasks, and put a “hard stop” time on work and screentime for the day. Doing this keeps me from staring aimlessly at the void, working for less than minimum wage, and forgetting to go to sleep.
2. Do something with your lost commute.
You get to save some time by not commuting, but how will you use it? That time you spend on the way to and from work is important: it helps prepare and distance you from your workday. If you’re accustomed to listening to the radio on your drive, or calling your loved ones to kvetch about Karen in Accounting as you walk home, keep doing that. I read morning and evening mediations, which is what I’d otherwise be listening to on the bus, and then listen to something amusing (typically recordings of people talking about murder/epidemiology/Prince). If you want to replicate the experience of standing on the T, a meme suggested holding onto your shower curtain rod while wearing your office work clothing. Extra fun if you sway back and forth while wondering if the train is going to catch fire and trying to hear Bird Note over your neighbor’s cell phone conversation with her mom about garden gnomes and Mike Pence.
3. Take breaks.
If you’re not already using the Pomodoro technique, try it out. I’m a fan of the 20 minute on and 5 minutes off version, but you’ll find your own flow. And streeeeetch on those breaks. Your psoas, eyes, and wrists will thank you. Habits form best in small chunks (a pushup done here, a poem read there, a barbaric yawp sounded over the roofs of the world every half hour or so). Most of all, don’t let your glutes fall asleep.
4. Talk out loud with other humans.
That meeting could probably be an email, and working remotely can help prove this. However, if you’re sending a lot of emails/messages about the same topic, pick up the phone/videochat. It’ll give you some social time, and may even make you less angry at your co-worker (unless it’s Karen). A lot gets lost in text, and a quick chat can help get the job done faster and with less anxiety, pen throwing, and typing out “aggressive” emails and not clicking send. I can also share my screen easier on a virtual chat than by taking 10 screenshots and emailing them. But please, if something can be an email instead of a meeting, for the love of Ru Paul do it, and let this time of widespread conference calls convince your workplace of what actually requires you to sit in a room for an hour “brainstorming”…and what doesn’t. In any case, you have a break coming up in which to use your vocal chords: call your family, call your friends, howl at your dog and see if it’ll howl back.
5. Listen to something.
Music, podcasts, the coffeehouse chatter station: whatever you’re accustomed to hearing during the day, keep that going. I’m a white noise for reading, jazz/Arabic for writing, podcasts for data wrangling person, but in the beginning I listened to recordings of public spaces in order to replicate library land (which, if you’ve ever been to a library, especially front of house, is usually not a quiet space) before realizing that home is where the quiet is and actively seeking the repose of people’s air conditioners playing on loops.
It’s like hand washing, but for your entire body!
There are lots of great resources for remote work tips, including ones that deal with common tech troubleshooting issues and/or focused on making life slightly less stressful for you incredible people who keep our human species alive by reproducing and then not murdering your children. Let me know if you want a list of them.