I was having a conversation with a friend on a recent Sunday afternoon. He, like many, has transitioned from being an on-site leader with a large on-site team to a remote leader with the same size team, most of whom also now work remotely. He expressed both joy and frustration with his current situation.
In the “joy” column fell things like being able to work around the other priorities in his life, namely his children and their needs; the ability to work wherever he wanted whether that be poolside in his backyard or while out of town; the ability to work odd hours when needed; and of course…. no commute.
In the “frustration” column were things like lack of boundaries, work seemed to be everywhere; the tendency to work far more hours; no real escape from work; and the pressure to be available for his team and customers (internal and external) 24/7.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. I’ve been working remotely for over two decades and here are some of the survival strategies I’ve discovered to pump up the joy and mitigate some of the frustration. Some of these strategies may seem obvious. So, ask yourself, “am I doing the obvious?”
A dedicated (pleasing) workspace is crucial. While not possible for everyone, dedicating a space just for work makes a huge difference. Even if it is only a corner of a room or a closet, dedicated space matters. Check out Pinterest for creative ideas for small spaces. I’ve lived where I didn’t have dedicated space and where I did. I know the latter is best. My first “dedicated” space was just an armoire that when opened had everything I needed. I currently work in a bedroom that has been converted into an office. This isn’t a guest room. It is ONLY an office. And I’ve made it a pretty place to work. I love being able to close the door, being able to stay out of it on weekends if I choose, and shut the door when needed. Yes, I still grab my computer and work elsewhere when I want. However, having a dedicated and appealing space helps me to focus and to create boundaries. Speaking of boundaries…
Boundaries are crucial. In every conversation I’ve had with exhausted or burnt-out remote workers, the common denominator is a lack of boundaries. They work all day, all hours of the night, whenever a text message comes in, while their family is watching a movie, or even while eating dinner. You name a time… they are working. This is a recipe for disaster. Boundaries are vital. I can’t tell you what they ought to be, just that you ought to have them and stick to them. For example, when I am not traveling to speak at a conference or work with clients in person, I like to start my workday at 9:00 am. I don’t check my work email until then, I don’t schedule calls, I don’t start work until I walk into my office. While I make exceptions for client needs, I do so mindfully and not randomly. If I work on weekends, it is by intentional choice.
Where are your boundaries? Do you have set work hours? Do you set aside time for meals, breaks, hydration, and other forms of self-care? Do you have a way to determine what is worthy of an exception and what is not? Do you communicate those boundaries to others?
Boundaries help us create balance. They boost our productivity. They enhance our professional image and credibility. They help us live in alignment with our priorities. Which, of course, is another important survival strategy.
Know your personal and professional priorities. This can’t be stressed enough. When we don’t take time to evaluate what really matters to us, we have no standard by which to evaluate the many demands on our time, talents, and energy. Everything will seem equally important and pressing. And for the remote worker, this is a real problem. It is easy to justify “flexing our boundaries” in the name of “work.” I know a very smart, hard-working, remote professional who always wants to end the day “caught up,” no matter how late into the evening that takes. He might eat a quick dinner with his spouse but gets right back to work to “get caught up.” The irony is…. every morning his in-box is filled with more work. He is “caught up” only for a few brief hours (which he spends sleeping) and the next morning, bam! The cycle starts again. It’s not hard to imagine the price he is paying in every area of his life.
Knowing our priorities, both personal and professional makes it much easier to avoid this cycle. We can use our priorities as a standard by which to evaluate how we spend our time and our energy.
If you are feeling stressed and trapped in a cycle similar to the above, here is a quick exercise. First, take a moment to list your top five priorities in life. Then, think about an average day (or week). What percentage of your time, energy, and effort is going to those top five? The disconnect for most of us is easy to spot. In fact, as I write this, I was quickly doing the exercise in my head and a disconnect jumped right out at me! Now I get to remedy that disconnect.
Working remotely can be both a source of joy and frustration. By using the above survival strategies, you can pump up the joy and decrease the frustration.