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Working remotely and staying sane in COVID-19 lockdown

Jarrod Chan

Digital Nomad in Multiple Career Paths

Home is where the heart lockdown is

It’s becoming clear that coronavirus is not going to be a 1 month wonder. It’s here to stay (at least for a while).

That unfortunately means our current situation is also here to stay. Assuming you’re doing the right thing (staying home!), this means more virtual socialising, meals in bed, pyjamas to work (if you’re lucky enough to work remotely) and progressively later wake-up times. It’s all fun and novel to start with. But pretty soon the inevitable decline of cabin fever sets in - goodbye productivity and sanity.
 


 

Our new coronavirus way of life is being observed at an unprecedented global scale. But how do you stay home and stay safe, while also staying productive and sane? Don’t worry, we’ve got you. In this topic we’ll cover:

  • The remote working trap
  • Our 5 Pandemic Principles to working remotely

Ready? Wash your hands for 20 seconds, then let’s go!

Mo’ flexibility mo’ problems

Quick show of hands. Would you like to work remotely (at least some of the time) for the rest of your career? 

Given we’re not allowed to congregate for non-essential reasons, I can’t count your hands. But I’m going to assume your answers were along these lines:


 

If you’re part of the 1% that answered “no” to this question, congratulations on not caving to peer pressure. For the rest of us, you can see why a resounding majority (99%) selected “yes” in the State of Remote Report (2019). The flexibility offered by remote work is enticing; giving you more control of your schedule, location and more time in your commute-less day. 

But with great flexibility comes great responsibility. Working remotely comes with its own struggles to grapple with:


 

I had to learn these the hard way. After beginning life as a digital nomad some months ago, I very quickly fell into bad habits. Unnecessary sleep ins? Check. Gym and errands during the day? Check. Cramming more social time into the day? Check. Staying up late to make up for this lost work time? Check. Sleeping in again as a result? Big check. 

It doesn’t take long to get into this vicious cycle, and it doesn’t take much for your work to start creeping into areas of the day that you should keep boundaries around! While I didn’t have an issue with this, it’s not a sustainable way to continue working long-term.

The bottom line - get into good habits early!

Alright Houston, how do I survive this lockdown?

You’ve stocked up (NOT panic bought) your essentials, lined up (too many) Netflix shows, designated an “exercise” space, decided which table you’ll work from and are now surveying your new home / office / social space for the next who-knows-how-long.

Now to get stuck into work. But how?

The best way to work remotely is a personal choice, but there are some key guiding principles to keep in mind. We’ve broken these down in our 5 Pandemic Principles:

  1. Setting Up
  2. Staying Productive
  3. Adjusting Work Style
  4. Managing Self-Care
  5. Embracing Perks

1. Setting Up

  • Designate your workspace: Treat your workspace like a separate part of your house. You want to physically and mentally delineate your “office” from your “home”. This means no working from bed, as tempting as that is. Ideally you want this workspace to have good natural light and airflow too if you can manage it.

    Pro tip #1: If you’re tight on space and using your kitchen table as your workspace, pack up your work at the “end” of each day and clear it from the table. This is another physical and mental signal to delineate work time from personal time.

    Pro tip #2: If you want to take the separation a step further, consider setting up your Google Chrome browser with work versus personal profiles. This lets you delineate your screen time too, saving work vs personal bookmarks, browsing history and email accounts in separate Google Chrome profiles. Head here to learn how to do this.
     
  • Set up your ergonomics: It’s safe to assume we’re going to be working remotely for a while. You want to make sure your primary workstation is set up to last. This means getting your ergonomics right. You know the drill - feet flat on the floor, knees and elbows at 90 degrees, looking straight ahead at your screen (not down). For more detailed tips, check out this article. Sort out your setup to get this right (think books or a stand to raise your laptop, separate keyboard and mouse, adjusting chair and table heights). Outside of this, it's important to also have a few other positions and workstations to move between. Changing up your posture is key to avoiding bad ergonomics. Check out some ideas here.

    Pro tip: Avoiding the same position for too long is key to managing your ergonomics. Set timers or schedule breaks to get up and move around every 30-60 minutes. You can fit these breaks around something mechanical like walking, cleaning, making lunch or your workout routine. 
     
  • Get the right gear: Determine what you need to work productively from home and invest in it! Whether it’s a laptop stand, keyboard, mouse, noise-cancelling headphones, table, chair or a monitor, getting the equipment that’s going to make you productive is a worthwhile investment. 

    Pro tip: A budget-friendly option to elevate your setup is a laptop stand, keyboard and mouse. Nexstand is a cheap and effective stand to investigate - it’s saved me a bunch of back pain and doesn’t hurt the wallet! You can get it delivered on Amazon.

2. Staying Productive

  • Establish a routine: I can’t stress this enough. Establishing a daily routine is critical to staying on task when working remotely. This means setting an actual alarm and sticking to it, scheduling your breaks, your exercise time and treating work hours as actual work hours. This helps prevent slippage from work time into personal time, and gives you recurring milestones in the day to measure your productivity against.

    Pro tip: Similar to delineating your workspace, it’s helpful to delineate your work time. This can include things like “getting ready” for work - get dressed as you normally would to leave the house (those pyjamas could do with a break) and make your coffee in the morning.
     
  • Minimise distractions: It’s a fact. Your home has way more distractions than your office. From the pile of laundry in your bedroom to the half-eaten Tim Tams in your pantry, there’s plenty to procrastinate with. The key is to remove these distractions either physically or mentally from your sphere. Mentally set a time to do your laundry if you have to, turn your phone off, work in a separate room and close the door - whatever you need to do to focus on your work. 
  • Pro tip: If there are certain distractions you can’t ignore (e.g. taking care of your pet or urgent life admin) then focus on that one distraction and use it to your advantage. A counterintuitive rule of productivity is the busier you are the more you’ll actually do. You’re forced to become hyper efficient with your time and can’t afford to succumb to any other distractions, otherwise you won’t get any actual work done!
  • Schedule your day: Structure your day as you would in the office and do what works best for you. If you’re most productive in the morning, then do your best work then and schedule calls for the afternoon. Most importantly, make sure to schedule breaks in the day - crucial to maintaining your overall productivity.
     
  • Meal prep: You don’t prep and cook a full meal when you’re in the office, so why do this in your “home office”? It can seem logical to cook your lunch when working from home, but if you’re serious about getting work done, I’d approach meal prep as you normally would for the office. Prep your meals the night before or on the weekend for the week. This will save you valuable time and further help delineate work and play time.

3. Adjusting Work Style

  • Over communicate: Communication can be much more challenging in a remote working environment. In this situation it’s better to over communicate than under communicate. Schedule regular check-ins with your manager and team, be clear with your messaging and clarify regularly to avoid any confusion. 
     
  • Figure out your style: Determine what sort of environment you work best in and look to simulate that at home. If you need peace and quiet to be productive it could be worth getting those noise-cancelling headphones. If you prefer an environment with a bit of buzz, set up a coworking station with your housemates (provided they prefer this too) or get your speakers or the TV running in the background while you work.
     
  • Clarify house boundaries: It can be tempting for your family or housemates to think because you’re physically at home that you’re available at all times. To ensure you can still get your work done, set boundaries around your work time and communicate this with your fellow house members. 

    Pro tip: It can help to have an agreed cue for when you’re “plugged in” to work time for your family or housemates to see. For example, this could take the form of wearing your headphones when you’re in work time.

4. Managing Self-Care

  • Know when to log-off: Working from home can be a trap. Without the physical separation of an office from your home, the lines between work and personal life can quickly blur. This is why we’ve stressed the importance of delineating your workspace and work time from personal time. Even more importantly, you need to be firm with your boundaries and prevent work from creeping into the wrong areas. 

    Pro tip: Set specific work hours each day and stick to them. This includes your clock off time, make it reasonable and achievable and completely log off at that time.
     
  • Mix up your breaks: Cabin fever is real, and staying in the same building all day isn’t exactly great for the mind and soul. Be hyper aware of this when taking your breaks. Try and get fresh air where you can - either on your property or on a walk (if you’re allowed outside!). It’s important to also vary your breaks so the routine doesn’t feel stale. Get creative! This could involve a workout in the backyard, coffee on the balcony, a drive around the neighbourhood (if you’re allowed) or a virtual chat with a friend. 
     
  • Manage your wellbeing: With your mind hard at work and likely occupied by a degree of coronavirus anxiety, it’s important to manage your wellbeing as much as possible. Set routines around exercise and sleep each day. Make time for activities that help restore you, whether that’s meditation, reading, playing an instrument, journalling, zoning out to music or virtual time with loved ones. You’ll thank yourself for it!
     
  • Stay social: Self-isolation doesn’t have to mean social isolation too. You’re working from home, not from Mars. Make time for friends and family through virtual catch ups and treat these like you would a normal catch up. This can take many forms, whether a weekly dinner with family, a regular quiz night with friends or just impromptu calls to loved ones. It’s amazing what a quick virtual chat can do to your mood and feeling of connection to the outside world.
  • Pro tip: Take advantage of the large variety of apps and tech available in this space. Aside from the classic video call options such as Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts and FaceTime, there are options such as Houseparty - a group video chat app that lets you play games with your friends and seamlessly join new or ongoing chats. Netflix is now also offering Netflix Party - a plug-in that lets you stream Netflix content simultaneously with your friends, including a chat function to react to your show together.

5. Embracing Perks

  • Time is on your side: With no more commute times to work or play, you’ve just scored a bunch of extra time back in your life. It’s a small win in a difficult period, but take what you can get! What you choose to do with this extra time is up to you, but as the one resource we can’t gain more of, treasure and use it wisely!
     
  • Flexibility: To an extent. Yes you can’t be flexible with your location or where you go, but you’ve gained some more control over your schedule and work flexibility as a remote worker. Appreciate this and make it work for you.
     
  • Work on you: I know it’s a stressful and tense time. But if you can find the mental space, it’s also a great time to work on you. Without the distractions and obligations of normal life, you can finally jump on those passion projects or self development areas you’ve been meaning to get to. Whether that’s getting the time to work on your side hustle, taking that online course, learning a new skill or cultivating a creative outlet - in this domain the world is (kind of) your oyster. Go nuts!

Stay safe, see you on the other side

These are crazy times and things are changing on a daily basis. The best thing you can do right now is to stay home. Hopefully our 5 Pandemic Principles will help make this time at home and a life of remote working more bearable. 

In the meantime, stay safe, wash your hands and don’t touch your face!

Stay tuned for upcoming topics or check out or other useful articles here. We’ve got plenty more gold to help you make the leap from top student to top professional!

Got feedback? We’d love to hear from you! Shoot us an email at contact@prosple.com

 

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