As we all adjust to our new normal and many of us are working from home for the first time, it’s important to look beyond productivity advice and consider the deeper impact of this situation.
There are plenty of reports that highlight the benefits of remote working, but it also has consequences for our mental and emotional health that need to be carefully considered.
As an experienced remote team these are lessons we’ve been able to learn over the last 14 years, but it can’t be emphasized enough that nothing about this situation is “normal”. All of the struggles and side effects of remote work will be amplified by current events, so it’s more important than ever to be aware of them and to look after yourself.
Stop worrying about productivity
It’s likely you’re finding it hard to be productive right now because there’s a lot going on. You might have kids at home, be working in a new and distracting environment, or just worrying more than usual – you’re not alone. A new report from Thrive Global found that more than 80 percent of U.S. employees now feel significantly more distracted and, on average, more than 45 percent of their workdays have been lost due to distraction and time spent worrying.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of this crisis on our lives and our work. The effects of COVID-19 are huge, widespread and are happening fast. It’s not often we find ourselves adjusting to a whole new workflow and dealing with an existential crisis at the same time, so it’s important to be kind to yourself.
Use the flexibility that remote work provides to take advantage of short, productive moments and stop for a break when you need to. With a 24-hour news cycle and new headlines every minute, getting distracted is easy. Try to build time into your day for these distractions and don’t beat yourself up about it if you do get sidetracked.
Fighting feelings of isolation
Now that most of us are on city- or country-wide lockdown, socialising is out of the question. That means work might be the only time you get to interact with other people. Make sure you take advantage of it. Try to have conversations that aren’t work-related and find time to talk about shared interests. This can sometimes be hard when your team is new to remote work, but there are lots of things you can do to help create a culture that supports these kinds of interactions.
If you can, try to have face-to-face chats via video calls. The benefit of seeing and hearing other human beings can’t be overstated. There’s plenty of evidence that links social isolation to mental health issues, and Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report found that even in ”normal times” loneliness was one of the biggest struggles for remote workers. Getting ”face time” with colleagues can help to combat any feelings of isolation you might be struggling with.
At 1Password, we have a rolling ”watercooler" video call where team members can drop in and out when they feel like it for the kind of casual, social interactions that are harder to do over text. During the pandemic, we’ve been having semi-regular ”happy hour” calls where team members can sit down together to talk and have a drink.
Normalizing conversations around mental health is important because it reminds us that we’re not alone and allows the team to help each other. At 1Password we have a dedicated #mental-health channel in Slack so the team has a safe space to discuss what they’re going through, get advice, and share things that have worked for them.
Break up your days to avoid burnout
When your home is suddenly your workplace and you find yourself with more spare time than you’re used to, you might be tempted to work more than usual. Studies have shown that ”not being able to unplug” is a problem for a lot of remote workers and that they’re more prone to burnout than those working in offices. It’s important to split your time up into work and leisure to add more structure to your days and avoid overworking.
There are other ways you can create the work/life division too. The temptation to skip your morning shower or sit in your PJs all day is understandable, but getting up and getting dressed is an important part of getting into the right mindset. You’ll feel better, be more productive, and it will help to make your weekends still feel like weekends, when there’s very little difference right now. Turn off Slack or email notifications when you’re not working so you can properly disconnect.
Remember to take a proper lunch break rather than eating at your desk, and make sure to get up and grab a glass of water or a hot drink every once in a while.
Physical health is important too
If you’re no longer commuting to work, you’re likely spending less time outside your home. Although we all need to practice social distancing right now, there are important aspects of the commute that you might be missing out on – fresh air, getting into the right frame of mind to work, and maybe even getting some regular exercise.
Staying active is just as important for your mental well-being as it is for your physical health. It can punctuate the start or end of your day, spend some energy that’s not getting used while you sit at your desk for eight hours, and it’s proven to reduce stress and improve your mood.
If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor space or if local guidelines allow you to exercise outside, then make the most of it – just make sure you stay six feet away from other people.
If you don’t have outdoor space you can still get moving indoors too, even if you don’t have a lot of room. Companies like Nike are now offering their workout apps for free so people can exercise at home. There are lots of simple things you can do to stay active during the day, like standing while you work or walking around during a call.
If you can, take time off
It might seem counterintuitive right now since you can’t exactly book a trip or jump on a flight, but taking some time off might give you the headspace you need to make sense of recent events. Taking “work” out of the equation for a few days will give you one less thing to think about and let you focus on your own (or your family’s) emotional well-being instead. If you have kids at home and it’s possible, consider reducing your hours or taking regular days off so you can juggle all your new responsibilities with a little less pressure.
If you’re managing a team be mindful that staff might take a bit longer to get things done or need to take some time out.
Look after yourself
The most important thing you can do right now is to look after your own well-being. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, isolated, or distracted, communicate these feelings with your team and your manager. Take time out if you need it and put your health first. After all, staying healthy is more important than anything else. Work can wait.