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  • Jennifer Dowling, BSc., M.A., C. Psychol

Adjusting to Remote Working during Covid

Updated: Apr 27

Have you found yourself working remotely or managing a remote team as a result of Coronavirus? Are you grappling with setting yourself or your team up to work effectively while we weather current unchartered waters? The challenges and threats currently posed are not just going to be felt in peoples well beings but also in the livelihoods of businesses and individuals for a considerable period of time. Working from home has gone from a much desired benefit to a sudden reality for many and it is likely to be a reality for many more over the coming few weeks.


To help you set up for success we have put together some key tips for successful remote working.


1. Your Environment: Consider where you are going to work and how you can set this space up for effective working. 


While working from your bed in your PJs may sound wonderful the practicalities of it don’t always live up to expectations. A few days of craning your neck over a laptop and you’ll start to feel the pain of poor ergonomics! We recommend you find yourself a space where you can concentrate undisturbed with a desk and a comfortable chair that provides good lumber support. Your screen should be raised to eye level with a keypad positioned to allow you to keep your forearms flat on the desk. If you need to take a lot of calls invest in a head set (who knows, if you can prove your productivity during this test of remote working you may be able to make a case for increased remote working going forward and that headset could come in very handy!). 


Remote Workers tend to find creative ways of letting others know when they are working and when they would not like to be disturbed. One of the most creative I have come across is a remote worker with a traffic light system on his door. When he is doing highly focused work or on a call the light outside his office door is red (signalling to his children and wife that he is not be disturbed), when working but open to being disturbed if needed he changes it to orange and when he is doing work that doesn’t require a lot of attention or focus its green. A simple ‘sock on the door’ system repurposed for remote working may be just as effective! But whatever you use it’s a good idea to come up with a system. Just recall the poor sky news reporter last year who’s family became a viral hit by interrupting him mid live report from home!


2. Your Wellbeing: The two biggest challenges cited by remote workers are; isolation and overworking. Both of these can be avoided with some careful consideration in advance. 

If you are living alone and unlikely to see people from one end of the day to the other consider the social implications of remote working. Make a point of setting up calls or coffee breaks with friends, neighbours or colleagues during your breaks. As we are likely to all be more confined over the coming weeks we may need to get more and more creative about these interactions. At a minimum try and engage with the external world by taking a walk or going for a run during or after work. A quick walk or run at lunch time brings massive productivity gains for the rest of the days work. 


Without the distractions of the office many remote workers will attest to how the day can be consumed with screen time and how the boundaries between work and life can slowly slip away. Real conscious effort needs to be made to create clear boundaries between work a home and as a remote worker, working from home this can be a real challenge. Some cite changing into their work clothes or walking around the block as a means of psychologically priming themselves to start or finish work and as a way of creating a physical or psychological boundary between work and life. For others local co-working hubs offer an ideal solution. For remote work to actually benefit your work life balance you need to be able to close that laptop when your done and leave it just like you would if you were leaving the office. Tomorrow is another day.


3. Your Time: This could be one of the largest uncoordinated and unplanned remote work experiments ever carried out. As such everything we can do to ensure its success increases our chances of seeing it move from a remote work experiment to an actual reality. One of the most astounding results from the research in to remote work is its productivity gains. A substantial piece of research by Nicholas Bloom of Stanford saw an increase equivalent to one full days work in productivity gains recorded from his remote work experimentation. One of the keys to this increase in productivity is increased attention but attention is only as good as the focus we give it. As such time management is crucial. 


Priorities should be clearly identified, communicated and agreed with your manager. Successful remote workers generally have high temporal awareness they understand and are realistic about how long things take to do and how much time they have to do them in. Remote Working allows you an opportunity to hone this ability. Time tracking apps or simple time recording using the pomodoro or similar techniques offer an opportunity for us to estimate how long things will take in advance and then reflect on how long they actually took in reality. Note how doing this for a few weeks can make you far more aware of what you commit to and also increase your ability to actually deliver. 


4. Your Relationships: Our final tip is simple; Communicate, Communicate Communicate. When we don’t see people face to face we can loose out on up to 70% of what they are trying to say. To compensate for this we need to over communicate. 


Effective remote workers are great communicators. In written form they are concise and detailed knowing that if they are not clear in their written communication in the short term they will pay the price in the long term. Verbally they understand the importance of being explicit in their communication, assumptions are dangerous when working remotely. Communicate, clarify and then follow up by reconfirming what has been said. 


If you are working remotely, think of your manager and empathise with the challenge it can be for managers to shift from line of sight to results based management. Make this transition easier for them and build trust by communicating well. Create clear expectations and agreements around communication. For example daily check ins by video call or phone, with end of day summaries of work in progress or completed can really help (and can assuage manager fears that we are all at home in our pyjamas, eating ice-cream and binging on Netflix!) Also keep up good communication channels with your team. Having informal channels like slack or whatsapp for group messaging while working from home can reduced the perceived proximity that can cause relationships to distance. Instant messaging can be a fun and simple way to keep you all connected and engaged while working remotely.


Going Forward


For anyone who may have been trying to make the case for increased flexibility in the past, now is your opportunity to put your money where your mouth is. As with any experiment the learning is in the reflection on the results. Take the time to figure out; what goes well for you in time management, what is a greater challenge when working remote, what you may need to do differently and what kind of supports or tools might you need if this became a more permanent reality. Use the output and learnings from this experiment to build on your future case for increased flexibility. 


Communities like GROW remote are great sources of further information, reading and resources. We will be posting articles over the coming weeks for remote workers, managers and organisational leads around how they can best prepare, set up and support remote working over the coming weeks so stay tuned.



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