Christopher Hundley works in communications. During an extremely caffeinated stretch, he earned an MS in Marketing and an MBA.
Remote work has become far more prevalent in recent months than ever before, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And it's likely to stay for quite some time, especially with major firms like Google, Capital One, and Salesforce dramatically expanding their remote work options.But if you're like many newly remote workers, you may find the prospect from continued work from home daunting. Sure, it's great that you're able to work safely. But perhaps you're crammed in a too-tight apartment and have barely been able to get anything done working at your kitchen table with pets and kids underfoot. Or maybe you have the space to work, but you're a people person, and Zoom representations of your co-workers just aren't cutting it. Maybe your boss has been taking advantage by calling you at all hours expecting you to be working. And while you are deeply grateful to be working safely, the idea of doing this forever is less than ideal.
I worked remotely approximately three out of five days a week at my full-time job for several years, and even that could be tough some times. Moving to five days a week left me longing for the office on some days. But having worked remotely, I had a few habits and practices available to me when my organization went fully remote that made things a bit easier to bear. Here are a few tips to slough off teleworking fatigue and help you work remotely more productively and efficiently in the days ahead.
Vary Your Work Routine
- Take on new projects with new people. Volunteer for new work assignments that you have not done before, especially if they involve people within the organization you don't know. Doing so cannot only break up the monotony of your daily routine, but also help you grow your professional network, and develop new skills and experiences that may stand you in good stead for future promotional opportunities.
- Take advantage of training opportunities. Ok, so chances are this will be done in front of a screen. But engaging different mental muscles may help make the day less tedious. Opt for learning options and subjects that are interactive and different from what you currently do. If you code, take a public speaking class. If you balance the books, take a writing class. By trying something new, your training class can serve as both a skill builder and a much-needed diversion.
- Shift your hours. If your position or supervisor has some flexibility, see if you can work outside your standard core working hours for a period. If you have relatively few financial responsibilities, opt for different shifts if they are available. The night shift could bring about shift differential pay (nothing to sneeze at during this time of economic uncertainty), as well as a needed change of pace.
- Work outside. Some schools and colleges are holding classes outdoors. Can you do that with your job? Do you have a porch and a chair? Take your laptop outside and work. The change of scenery may do you some good.
Avoid Unproductive Habits
- Don't focus on the big "To Do" list; rather, focus on what you can get done. Many times we work on projects involving multiple colleagues that we cannot finalize on our own. When we spend our days working on the bits and pieces of these projects for which we are responsible, and nothing is completed, we don't feel like we've accomplished anything. And feeling like that can lead people to disengage from work. It can be especially difficult for people working from home to endure feeling like they're not accomplish anything for long periods.
Start each day by taking inventory of what you're expected to do each day. Make a list that includes things you need to do today, along with two or three tasks you can complete and move off your long-term "To Do" list. These tasks could be as mundane as completing last week's timesheets or responding to each email. But when it feels like most days are an endless slog of screens and calls, you can derive a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and renewed energy by being able to point to things you completed at the end of each day.
- Dodge back-to-back...to back meetings. A lot of workers and managers are operating under the erroneous belief that since everyone is working from home and using videoconferencing technology, more meetings can be crammed into the day. But multiple meetings in short periods exacerbate information overload and reduce your ability to get work done. Give yourself sufficient time between meetings to absorb the information from the previous one, by denying calendar invites that cram back-to-back-to-back meetings into your workday.
- Stop multitasking. At times, multitasking may be necessary, but it can also significantly contribute to fatigue, stress, and burnout. Additionally, research has shown that doing so can reduce overall productivity. Focus on a few things you can get done and done well each day. Start one and do it exclusively to completion. Then start on the next one.
Mind Your Physical Health
- Exercise. If you already do, great. If you don't, I'd recommend you start. I've personally found it tremendously helpful to break up the monotony of the days to weightlift and run. It keeps me more alert and sharp than I would have been, and it keeps my caffeine intake low and blood pressure at normal levels.
- Take active breaks. If you're taking a work call, stand up and pace with each phone call. Take 5-minute breaks where you spend the entire 5 minutes doing one particular exercise near your workspace, such as lunges, squats, pushups, or burpees. Or take even more active breaks. If you're the type who never takes the full hour for lunch breaks, use the rest of the time to do yard work, start to assemble a newly purchased piece of furniture, or perform some other physical task that has absolutely nothing to do with work.
- Walk on breaks. Being outside consistently is crucial, especially when you've been encouraged to spend most of your waking hours indoors for months. Being outside can strengthen your immune system, alleviate your stress levels, elevate your mood, and improve your sleep quality, among other benefits. Some research has linked vitamin D deficiencies to higher mortality rates from COVID-19 infection; news stories on vitamin D and COVID-19 has led to a significant spike in vitamin D supplement sales. However, there's also research pointing to sunlight as a much better source of vitamin D than supplements.
- Maintain good sleep hygiene. It's not uncommon now to roll from laptop to microwave meal or delivery in front of your television to binge-watch something until you fall asleep. But poor sleep habits can make it harder for you to make it through each day. Keep a relatively set bedtime, and turn off screens an hour beforehand. Drink your last cup of coffee before noon, and avoid late-night snacking, especially on sugary foods, which can keep you up. Early morning exercise can also help improve the quality of sleep.
- Eat healthy. Many of us have used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to eat either too much, eat junk food, or both. Not only is obesity a risk factor for COVID-19 complications, but overeating can lead to sluggishness and fatigue and hurt your overall work productivity. That deluxe burger with the works is not going to help you with your afternoon workload at all. And using caffeine regularly as a pick-me-up comes with its own health problems. So make sure you're eating a balanced diet to help you stay engaged while you work from home.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
- Take mental health days regularly. If your typical mental health day included staying at home, make yourself unavailable. Do something very different - preferably nothing involving screens. Garden. Hike. Even going for a long drive without a destination in mind can help you shake the malaise you may feel. In general, though, the more active you are, the better.
- Express your feelings. This is a challenging time for everyone, with the majority of Americans feeling some level of stress right now about the virus. It's important to regularly talk to others about this or otherwise express your feelings, whether in writing, through art, or in other constructive ways. Pent-up stress and anxiety can manifest in a number of ways including further disengagement from work.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Christopher Hundley