The ultimate advice on remote work

The times we are living in are quite strange. With the quick spread of the novel coronavirus, people and companies are facing new challenges. For many, working remotely from home is one of them. This is, in fact, the best thing we can do to help flatten the curve of coronavirus’ spread and give more time for healthcare clinicians to fight the virus that brought about this state of emergency.

For those who have the same luck as I do, working from home and not leaving it unless there is a really strong motive, like going to the supermarket or the pharmacy is what is asked of us. After all, like Freddie said, “the show must go on” and the economy must not stop.

It’s true that remote work has its perks. You don’t spend time commuting and your flexible schedule allows you to organize your day as it suits you best. However, there are some downsides to working from home. You may have trouble with your work-life balance or even feel a little lonely or depressed.

At Growin, remote work isn’t new for us. With our nearshore software development center based in Portugal, many of our colleagues already work remotely for clients all over Europe and the US, and business runs smoothly.

That is why I’m writing this blog post for you: to give you a little advice on how to stay mentally healthy and productive while working from home during this pandemic.

Planning is key to making the most of your day and to not waste time. Make a schedule of what your day should be. Define at what time you want to wake up, get dressed and ready for another day of work, eat breakfast, catch up with your team, read and answer emails, work, eat lunch, touch base with your team again, and get your tasks done for the day.

By having a defined time to work and relax, it will make it easier for you to stay focused on the job. And it is really important for you to try to stick to the plan. If you need to block a specific time on your calendar to finish a task, do it.
To better organize your tasks, you can use tools like Trello. For instance, Growin’s Marketing Team relies on this tool to keep track of everything we need to get done. Thus, we have three main lists: Done (our favorite), Doing, and To-Do (the one who keeps on growing every day). In each task (or card), we identify who is assigned to work on it and the date it’s due.

The point here is that you will have the same time to do everything you need to do. You just need to organize it, follow your own plan, and relax a little bit.

Being in quarantine doesn’t mean you are necessarily alone. With all the communication tools we have at our disposal, there is really no excuse for you to talk to yourself (unless that is just another Tuesday for you, of course).

During work hours, set up frequent catch-up meetings with your team and save even a little time for those small talks at coffee time. Just because you’re not at the office doesn’t mean you can’t share a 5/10 minute break with your colleagues. Give preference to video calls, that way you really have to get dressed as you would on a normal day to work. Pajamas are not an option for productivity!

When your workday is over, check on your friends and family. Learn about their day and appreciate the chance to chat with them, preferably through a video call. That way you can really see how they’re doing. Tell a few jokes (knock-knock jokes are an oldie, but goodie), enjoy all of the games included in some video apps (like House Party), make small talk, set up the table, have dinner with them, and toast to the simple fact of being alive and well.

In order to stay mentally healthy and productive while working from home, you need to set straight where you will be working, eating, sleeping, playing with your kids, or just relaxing. If you have the possibility, it is important that those activities are done in different spaces. This allows you to associate different moments of your day to different corners of your home, which will make it a lot easier for you to concentrate when it’s time to.

For instance, I choose one part of the living room to work and the other to work out, and watch some Netflix (or HBO) and chill. Thus, when I’m at my work “station” I know I have to have my work mode activated and I can stay focused. I try to have the same things on my desk at home as I had at the office so that my brain knows it’s time to be productive and get the job done. At lunchtime—an hour I try to respect—I turn off my computer and I simply relax. Don’t take your professional phone to the “meal station” and enjoy your lunch hour to relax, spend time with your kids (in case you’re a working mom or dad), and forget about work. That way when you do get back to your work station, you can concentrate and finish your tasks like you would at the office.

Being at home doesn’t mean being lazy and giving up on regular exercise. In fact, this is a great way for you to stay sane during this coronavirus outbreak. After all, working out is good for your body but also (and especially) for your mind.

There are plenty of workout options for you to do in the comfort of your own home. If you used to go to the gym, talk to your professional trainer and ask them what you can do in-house and stick to their plan. Constantly ask for advice and show them you’re really exercising. How? Tape it with your phone and send it to them. It can feel weird at the beginning, but that is a great way to force yourself to really make the effort and to concentrate as if you were at the gym.

If you don’t have a personal trainer to reach out to, participate in online classes. In Portugal right now, there are plenty of options for free online classes and numerous gyms of different parishes are helping people to exercise at home. For instance, you have Home Fitness with cardio, strength, bunda training, and even Zumba classes for free—endless opportunities to have fun and keep your body moving. You also have YouTube that is full of 15+ minute exercise classes. It’s just a matter of trying every available workout option and finding the one that is right for you.

And maybe there isn’t really anyone watching you, which can be great if you want to simply listen to your musical guilty pleasures and dance like crazy until you can’t take it anymore. This is one of my favorite therapies while in quarantine. I turn on my music and, as long as I’m dancing, I’m not only burning some calories but I’m actually having fun. And the best part is that if I fall or make a fool of myself, nobody is there to judge me.

There are many other things you can do as well. Dancing is just an example. Read that book you have had on your shelf since Christmas 2015 (yes, we know), learn how to knit and make a bed for your pet, get back to your old drawings and paint again, start writing that book you have been postponing for years, enjoy a few naps, play with your kids and really enjoy their company, stare at your window’s view like you used to do with your grandmother, pour a glass of wine, and watch a movie or a TV series you always wanted to watch but never had time to. Enjoy the small things you can do at home, appreciate them, and reconnect with yourself.

I can’t promise you every day will be peachy. Some days you won’t be able to maintain the focus at work or stick to the plan you’ve initially designed. You just have to remember that working remotely is a privilege. Someday it will just be a normal day at the (home) office, but for now, those who can do it just have to make the best out of it.

So, change out of the pajamas, turn the music on, and let’s keep growing our businesses! Because you know what? Everything will be just fine.

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