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Lesson from a year of remote work

It’s been a year and I-don’t-know-how-many days of remote work.. And it’s been a ride. We don’t know when we’ll be returning to the office, even though vaccine distribution is in full swing. And I still don’t know if I miss the office. I miss the ping-pong. And I miss the coffee. And I miss the people. But not sure if I want to return, given the choice. 

Despite the initial difficulties and the occasional hiccups that made me think “this would have been a lot simpler if we are all in the office,” remote work has been fun. Fairly certain that nobody would have appreciated me jamming to Lady Gaga if I was in the office. More than anything, it has been a year of learning. I learned to make good coffee (Yes good coffee is subjective but I like what I make). I learned that I’m not a plant person(regrettably only after I killed 3)

Here’s a couple of other things I learned and experienced. 

Be aware of your body. And don’t miss your lunch

Many would know this: getting too engrossed with something and forgetting to eat or drink. This is an all too familiar story for me. Maybe I was too dependant on my colleagues calling me for lunch, but I missed lunch for a couple of months in remote work. Not fun. 

So lesson one: be aware of your body. 

This applies to everyone, even if you’re not missing your lunch. 

You can see your emotions reflected in your body. As you’re reading this, how hard are you holding your jaw? Are you grinding your teeth? 

Relax your jaw and you’ll feel yourself getting more relaxed. 

By being aware of your body, you’ll be more in tune with your emotions and needs. You may have noticed that when you’re hungry, you’re irritable. When our physical needs are not met, it directly affects our mental state. 

Read your mental state from your body, and meet your physical needs to help with your mental state. 

Managing time: Yours, and others

During remote work, we introduced async communication in the organisation. The idea is simple: unless it’s urgent don’t call, leave a message. That’s it. The reason being that you don’t want to disturb a colleague when they’re having a snack or when they’re on their afternoon nap. 

In practice, this means not expecting an immediate reply. Most of the time this works out well, but sometimes, this can cause time-consuming back-and-forths. So how do you solve this? You give options. 

Always text the other person with options. For example, let’s say you want to schedule a meeting or a call. Don’t text “Hey will you be free at 11 AM tomorrow?”. Instead, ask “Hey I wanted to discuss the new product launch with you, I’ll be free tomorrow from 10 to 12 and 3 to 6 tomorrow. Let me know if it works for you”.

I know this whole section sounds like an infomercial on async communication. But simple things like this makes you understand and respect others’ time. It helps you become more productive, without annoying everyone around you. 

When the people you talk to are around you, it’s easy to know if someone’s in the right space to talk to you. Not so much when they’re far away. You don’t want to ring someone up on teams when they’re struggling with their computer hanging up. Or while working on a complicated problem. 

Knowing that someone’s making time to talk to you during a super busy day gives you a new sense of appreciation for their time. I found myself making conversations quick and concise. Talking points turned into bullet points.  

Don’t lose that personal touch during remote work

When the conversation is all business and your colleagues become voices from your laptop, it’s easy to lose out on the personal touch. It’s hard to carry over the workplace banter to Microsoft Teams. 

But you’ve gotta try. 

Keep the spirits up, both yours and your buddies. Sometimes you’ve gotta forget about productivity and just chill out in a group call talking about whatever pops into your head. I relish those moments where a meeting turns into a discussion about gaming or gadgets. 

And these meetings actually produce better results. When everyone’s relaxed and just chilling, really good ideas come up, ideas that has later proven to work. 

The personal touch sometimes becomes that extra boost you need.   

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