I have been working remotely since 2016, so the 2020 transition to working from home was no transition at all...although I used to be fairly alone. However, what used to be a fringe lifestyle is now becoming more accessible: 80% of companies that transitioned to remote work plan to allow remote working to continue after the pandemic, and 47% say this will include full-time remote work.
And corporations benefit from more remote workers. Productivity increases overall, as does job satisfaction. Offices no longer have to pay for large, expensive office spaces, as the exodus from New York City and California has shown us.
As for individual workers, being able to work from home means saving money on childcare and eating out, saving time usually wasted on a commute, and, especially for people with healthcare issues, a remote job can mean much greater peace of mind.
The world finally seems ready to accomodate remote workers after resisting the trend for years. But now that the initial phase is over, what lessons do we need to take into remote working in 2021?
When the pandemic first began, I noticed people threw themselves into their jobs, if they still had one. There was a lot of fear brewing. There still is, but we have begun to adapt to a post-Covid world. People were and are still afraid of losing their jobs, and this can cause some people to work more than they normally would, and give more than they normally would.
2021 is a good time to reset and set certain boundaries. Remote work is still work. Keep track of how often you're working, and when you're checking your work email. As a remote employee, you're the one who has to maintain the fence. No one will do it for you.
Set reasonable expectations. Look at what your work schedule was like in 2019. Did you increase your workload by a ridiculous amount in 2020, out of fear, or perhaps because you needed a distraction?
Now is the time to really decide what you want your remote work life to look like. Has it become unmanageable? Did your productivity increase, but your salary did not?
When you set a boundary, you're establishing that you know your worth.
Additionally, with all the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, turning to workaholism might seem like a good short-term fix, but this strategy will eventually lead to burnout. If you've been using your job to escape from the stress of the pandemic, now might be a good time to examine those feelings.
Similarly, if your boss has fallen into some habits you dislike, like micro-managing or invading your personal time, now might be the time to tap the breaks on that and start defining what you think a healthy remote schedule looks like.
2. Maintaining productivity over increasing it
When the pandemic started, so did the great work-from-home experiment. For years, companies seemed to think that remote work would lower productivity.
We now see that productivity overall is not damaged by people working remotely.
Give yourself a moment to look at your 2019 productivity, and use that as your ruler, not 2020.
Instead of struggling to beat your 2020 record, realize that in 2020, you may have been more or less productive due to stress. Use the measure of productivity where you were the happiest, not the most stressed, depressed, or anxious.
Some people work more when they're anxious. Some people work less. What is important is that you use a healthy ruler to measure yourself, and you treat yourself fairly.
If you threw yourself into workaholism in 2020, scale back. You don't need to beat your record next year. In fact, you probably shouldn't.
If you became less active in 2020, use your 2019 productivity. You don't need to be as productive as other people during a pandemic. Everyone reacts to this kind of stress differently, and no one knows or has your exact situation.
Whether people became more or less active during the pandemic is not a moral failing or accomplishment. It's just a coping mechanism. It's not a good marker for how to measure your productivity always.
3. Having a work station & private time
When I began working from home, it astonished me how often my friends...didn't realize I was working.
I had the same issue with relatives who thought that since I worked from home, I could babysit whenever they wanted (I tried this, and it was a disaster). Anyone who has kids knows that working from home when they're very little just doesn't work. I mean, who would play alone when Mommy or Daddy is right there in the next room with a fun computer?
Working in bed is also a bad idea. Not only WILL YOU FALL ASLEEP, but the position is not great for your posture. Also...all day in bed, all night in bed? Not an amazing combination for your mental health, either.
Having a set office space helps you be productive and it helps keep others out. Establishing rules around your workspace and enforcing them is important. Make your work station a no-fun, no-noise zone, and it will help (but won't eliminate) interruptions from kids (sometimes, they just want to be hugged...constantly).
A set work station may not keep out the kids, but hopefully it keeps out the other adults...and helps to keep you sane.
Getting up at the same time, having a routine, and having to dress and shower also help. I almost always take a small walk before working and drink a coffee, to simulate a "commute."
Silly, I know...but I swear, I feel more productive after!
4. Put extra effort and face time into projects you want
I've been working remotely for years, and to me, it seems just a little harder to get promotions and fun projects when working remotely.
The focus seems more on keeping the machine running, and not always on improvements. When you're face-to-face with people every day and eating lunch with them, you're more likely to brainstorm ideas together. When you work remotely, you tend to only ping people when you need them, or maybe to share memes.
The collaborative front needs real effort on your part, since it no longer happens organically. This means that in order to be noticed, to get projects you want, and to shake things up, you need to put in more effort than you normally would.
If you don't point out a problem and offer to solve it, that problem might just remain. Remote workers might be more productive, but I highly doubt they're more innovative.
Socializing with coworkers used to be a by-product of going into the office, but now it will become something you'll need to put conscious effort into. On the plus side, you'll rarely fall into a project you didn't expect.
However, if you want to further your career as a remote worker, you'll need to consciously plan a little bit more. You're just a person in a screen now, a chat icon, an avatar. If you want your peers and bosses to recognize you're human once again, as depressing as that sounds, you'll need to do that legwork.
In 2020, you probably perfected doing your current job from home. In 2021, what new projects do you want to take on?
5. Give yourself clear breaks and down times...and explore hobbies!
This might seem obvious but: Enjoy your remote job! Spend more time with your family, your new co-workers. Now, they're the ones who are around all the time.
If you have health issues, you can relax in knowing you are finally being accomodated. If you decide to go somewhere new for a change of scenery, you can work from anywhere! (A note on that: Always get somewhere a few days before you have to work so you can work out any Internet or technical issues. Never travel to a new place and work the same day...you'll regret it.)
Work your eight hours, and then jump into a hobby. Remote working can easily seep into your entire life, so schedule blocks of time where you do not work. Dance, learn something new, or just leave the computer...as long as you're not just half-working for 16 hours, and then half-sleeping for the other 8.
If you have to do your work in 8 hours, you will. The more time you give yourself, the less you'll do.
In 2020, those of us who were very fortunate were able to work from home. As we enter 2021, we bring the lessons we have learned to help both ourselves, and anyone who may enter the remote workforce this year. Hopefully, as jobs return, those who want to work remotely will find more opportunities.
Remote work is work: It is not just goofing around at home. However, like any other job, maintaining boundaries, expectations, and clear goals help create a healthier work environment.