Working remotely or from home can be lonely so here are 10 suggestions that could make all the difference. If you are new to working from home then it can be a big change to your lifestyle. That is not to say that it does not have some advantages but there are also some challenges too.
Use the flexibility to ensure that there is variety throughout the day. There appears to be a strong possibility that people will work more hours, not less, so try to do different activities as much as possible. For example, make some calls whilst walking the dog or go to the gym during the day when it is quiet, rather than at the end of the day. I sometimes leave particularly complex or thought provoking tasks until after the end of the usual working day, whilst during it, I may go out for a takeaway coffee or get some exercise and a change of scenery.
Have a virtual coffee break with someone or a group of others. I appreciate that being on a conference call with a noisy coffee maker can be a challenge but it is a good time to have a gossip and catch up on both work and personal news. In fact, this concept works equally well at the end of the day when finishing up with a glass of wine or a cold beer. Personally, I prefer to prepare my drinks in advance so that the human interaction gets my full attention. Of course, it does not have to be coffee or, indeed, alcohol as tea or soft drinks will equally do. For me, the point is about having an unstructured conversation about anything and it not necessarily being work related. I dabble in home brewing so there are generally some disasters to talk about which usually cause much amusement all round.
Work out a rotating office buddy system so everyone has at least one other mate to talk to throughout the day and then rotate for the following day or week. This can be combined, if desired, with the coffee idea above. In addition, there are buddy solutions that work for like minded remote workers e.g. Cafecito although I do find that this idea works better if you at least vaguely know your buddy or have something in common. If you have a Slack or some other chat channel then keeping it open and chatting on it during the day, and perhaps take the virtual coffee idea a little further by having lunch together. The rotating buddy idea can also be great to meet people in other teams and personally, I like being buddied with random people across the organisation that I am consulting for. It gives them a chance to ask why I am there and for me to ask what their thoughts are on various topics. The one caveat to this suggestion is ensuring that there is sufficient free time in the day for this to be given the attention it deserves. In other words, if you move from one call to another throughout the day then this suggestion may not be for you.
4. Mood Journal:
Keep a journal of how you feel and keep an eye on what it says over the medium term. If you are not sure how to keep such a journal then Healthline.com has a great blog post to get you started. If there is a downward trend then ask for help from your boss or your buddy. Human Resources is also a good starting point and there are also lots of resources online. Whatever or whoever you choose, it is good to talk. I can't emphasize this point enough. As human beings, we are a sociable crowd (mostly) and it is vital that we continue to communicate with each other in a remote working situation. That is not to say that some people are not natural loners and if they are and happy then that is great. However, for those that are not, I strongly suggest that both they and their managers keep a close eye on how they feel. This is particularly true if there are changes in their behaviour. Of course, it could be something like tiredness but in the same way that a good manager looks after their team in the office so that applies in a remote working environment. The responsibility does not go away and in fact, becomes even more important.
Particularly in IT/technology, the idea of a daily stand-up is where everyone discusses what they are doing and what they need help with. Range.co gives a great overview of stand-ups, what they are and their benefits on their site. This works well in a remote environment, although the standing may not be essential, as it is a great way to keep up to date and help your colleagues. Personally, I am a big fan of stand-ups as they help communication and aid the unblocking of issues. In the remote working environment, I often schedule a virtual coffee with an attendee (if they happen to be my buddy that day) straight after a stand-up and I find that it helps having a topic that is fresh in our minds, to start the conversation.
6. Lunch and Learn:
These are an excellent way to get an introduction to a new skill or topic and translate well into a remote environment. The expert leading the training or discussion can talk to the group while they eat their lunch. It is recommended that the group mute so that the sound of munching is not deafening and the slides/documents are shared with the attendees after the lunch. As you can imagine, I am a massive fan of lunch and learns, mostly because I love understanding new concepts and technologies. I would caution those who might think this could be a replacement for a training course as that is not the case. It is an introduction to something and a starting point on the learning journey. However, it is also another opportunity to meet with colleagues and feel included in something bigger than just yourself.
7. Thank You:
Saying thank you is always important for both teams and individuals. In a remote environment, this is equally important so showing appreciation via a group email or a private social media group, is a great idea. In fact, I will often say thank you in multiple forums, such as the daily stand-up, virtual coffees and even department wide emails. I talk more about Pete's Friday thoughts in another post called What to do if your IT department is broken and those techniques to keep communication flowing are well suited to this environment. A little thank you goes a long way.
Try doing a group or daily competition for the number of steps taken around the house. It can be great for involving any children and is not only fun but also good exercise too. In fact, I like to walk whilst on a call so I often end up doing circuits as a result. I accept that this can be tricky with a static setup but I sometimes turn off my camera and roam using just my bluetooth headset. My objective is to do as many steps during the day as I did when I was in the office, which turns out to be not quite as easy as I imagined.
9. Breathing Exercises:
Doing regular breathing exercises is excellent for mental well being and there are lots of suggestions online, such as the NHS, University of Michigan Health and Verywellmind.com. In fact, this has many benefits outside of remote working. A great example is when I am struggling to get to sleep. By slowing my breathing and concentrating on doing so, I find that I can drift off quite easily. In fact, I use a similar technique if I can feel my stress levels rising and it helps with the clarity of my thinking. I certainly would not call it meditation but I do find that controlling my breathing has many benefits.
10. Team Yoga:
Finally, this can be highly amusing. Doing team yoga via video conference can be a hilarious end to the day and great for stretching too. For anyone who knows me, I get involved in this whole-heartedly but I am, frankly, terrible at it. To give you an idea, the Phoenix pose will usually find me carving a groove in the carpet with my nose! Nonetheless, it is a lot of fun and occasionally there is some stretching going on. However, tt is probably best not done whilst consuming drinks, particularly alcohol, and depending on individual fitness levels, it can be hard to talk between exercises.
Further ideas around remote working can be found at Inc.com, Buffer.com and Forbes.com. There is also a considerable amount of academic research in this area, including Walden University and National Library of Medicine in the United States.
I hope that these suggestions are useful (and possibly amusing). Please feel free to contact me with any suggestions that work for you and I would be delighted to add them to the above list.