12th March 2020, 1st day working from home

Today marks 1 year since Denmark went into a full lockdown. From one day to another, everyone – including me – went to the office, picked up their work laptop and their monitor and set up their home office in what became a sudden switch to remote work.

Reflecting on the past year, here are my 5 takeaways about remote work: what worked and what didn’t, and what I learned.

Routine is everything

Boundaries help us compartmentalise different facets of our lives. Routines are the patterns that emerge when these different facets interlock. Some of us are very used to the office-home-office-home cycle, and remote work obliterates that into desk-kitchen-sofa-bed-desk again. If before working from home this sequence happened naturally, now we have to find new means of organising our day.

One useful tip is to replicate the old routine by taking a walk at the end of your workday, and when you return home, you’re in the clear for relaxation. Some (me) prefer going grocery shopping while others (my boyfriend) prefer riding their bike around the neighbourhood, mimicking their old work commute. The same is true for getting “dressed for work” even if you are not going to the office. This helps your mind recalibrate by doing an activity that is completely different than what you would do during work time.

Establish boundaries

You need a delimitation between work and private life. Between time spent online and time spent offline. Between social time and alone time. It seems obvious to all of us that this is the way but sometimes it’s easier said than done. When does your work end? When is it okay not to be available anymore? Just because we are one notification away doesn’t make it okay to assume that a person must be available or that they should respond quickly.

I felt it on my own skin how important this is when I experienced very high stress levels in the first months of the lockdown last year. I had no system in place to manage the extra workload that came in. A sudden shift to remote work meant that MeetinVR was flooded with more requests than our small team could handle. I had no specific rules for managing my notifications (social media, messaging apps, emails, university announcements, random apps, Slack – you name it). My phone was buzzing constantly and my eyes were glued to my screen, never really reaching inbox zero ✨ or fully clearing the notifications panel.

After that, one day at a time, I started an active process of educating myself on what is the best way to use Slack, leveraging integrations, setting notifications only by keywords, off-time settings and more. I took the time to go through my phone settings and turned off notifications for any app that is not vital and went into specifics with apps I actually use (@instagram yes I want to know when someone DMs me, but not when someone livestreams).

It’s up to you to decide what information is important enough that it can interrupt you; the rest can wait until you have the time for it.

Back pain is real

I was 25 when the pandemic started but I turn 90 years old by 5pm.

Good heavens, I underestimated what a good office chair and desk setup does for your physical state. Spending so much time sat down and working slightly leaned over the table while looking at the laptop screen means that you need to actively invest in time to correct your posture. Back muscles can easily get stuck and neck muscles can get tense quite quickly. The solution to this? So far, I am trying to be consistent with doing a quick morning stretch to release overnight tension in my muscles. Also, I have upgraded my home office with a proper ergonomic chair and am looking into a small stand for my monitor so that it’s raised comfortably to eye level (as opposed to looking downwards at a laptop).

Time management was easier

Disclaimer: I don’t have kids or other family/social obligations, which makes this considerably easier

We didn’t think it was possible that everyone would work from home for a whole year. Many companies who were not open to this option before are now seriously considering flexible work options as they look to the future.

Juggling a job, university classes and coursework, personal projects and spearheading a new alumni project is hard, but having everything online has made it feasible. If I had to commute, I would not be able to optimise my time as well as I do now. The commute would be lost time because it is a major disruptor of your attention and too often, the commute is too short to do anything meaningful.This also means that when we go back to working from the office, I will have to reprioritise my duties and time.

I missed my team and I missed the office

One of the things I took for granted before the pandemic made us all work from home is how much I enjoyed seeing my team at the office. The small talk, the quick catch-up, the casual banter while tea is brewing or the coffee is pouring – seemed uneventful at the time, it was just another facet of daily office life. Well how things have turned!

All this also made me realise that one of the biggest challenges that remote teams face is finding space for spontaneous interaction. By nature, virtual work leaves little room for ad-hoc socialising. If you are to meet someone, you do so in a meeting – a planned event. There is no occasion of bumping into someone on the hallway and exchanging a few words when you work online. In the office, however, this happens all the time, creating opportunities for casual socialising. This is ever so important for bonding and cohesion in teams, particularly remote teams. For this reason, the challenge here is to create digital spaces that allow for that type of interaction.

In my team we missed chatting in these idle times so much so that we tried to replicate it with a recurring online event in Hangouts during lunchtime. The idea is that the meeting link serves as a room where anyone who is having lunch and has some free time can drop in and have a chat. The first Lunch Hangout meeting was a roar: 12 out of 15 employees showed up.

We are now adding a second such event, but this time in VR. Every 3 weeks on Friday afternoon, there is a recurring event in our platform (MeetinVR) where any team member can join and talk about anything but work.

Final thoughts

Remote work comes with its challenges but if you make it work, you are rewarded with a better work-life balance, more agency over your time and a set of lifelong digital skills.

I realised what things I took for granted – catching up with my team, a lively day moving between the home, the office, CBS, having a coffee with a friend. But most of all it has helped me get to know myself better – how I prefer to work, what routines and rituals are vital for me, which people I miss the most, how I can be a better communicator, what hobbies I take an interest in when I have more time and much more.

Looking back, my main takeaway is that working remotely every day for a whole year was a fantastic learning opportunity as a young adult and professional at the dawn of their career.

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