Remote Work Tips While The World Changes

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise. ~Maya Angelou (emphasis mine)

Yesterday I shared some tips on working remotely with a friend who is about to lead a team for the first time where everyone is sheltering in place. Libraryfolk without their house of books. Without their help desk. Without their students. My heart is breaking in so many ways for them, and my bestie was one of the last people on her campus at the fancy R1 down the street from where I live. Girl, when this is said and done, we’re going to hike all the miles. Do all the things. I’m so proud of you. I’m so proud of the people I know.

You know those big red dots you’re seeing on the news of the PNW? That’s south of where I live. Where people I love live. The other big red dot covers a state that I love with all my heart (I’m always ya girl, New York). And the giant state south of me, you know, one of the largest economies in the world? Everyone has been told to stay home. Millions of people.

Yet, I have loved ones in other states who don’t believe this is a problem beyond these red dots. I’ve seen social media posts of friends much younger than me on spring break in Florida. I have people in my life who are not taking this seriously. I can hear the train going by a park in my town, Boulevard Park, and the conductor is laying on the horn hourly in ways that indicate people are near the tracks by the beach. I live in a college town, and it’s been sunny and beautiful. I hear that stressed horn warning people of the train, a sound I usually love.

People are not taking this seriously until they have to it seems. The news, to quote Perry Farrell, is just another show. GenX AF, over here. If you’re missing some live music, speaking of Jane’s, give this live version of “Jane Says” a loud listen. According to the stats on this one, 6.6 million have listen to this. One million are mine.

Okay. Where was I? Shit it’s hard to focus. Right. I promised my friend I’d send some resources, so I’m going to lay them here before I get started on my work. Things I said I’d finish first thing.

Photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash

Tips For Remote Work As The World Changes

None of this might be relevant by the time I hit publish. Perhaps this will all change in a week. But for now. Here’s some advice.

Start Your Day Selfishly: Don’t start your day with checking email and the news. If you used to sip your coffee and scan your inbox and the newspaper before your commute, you have to stop that. You have to create a new routine. You have to give yourself one hour of peace before you face the day. This might mean you have to get up before your kids. I don’t have children, so my advice may sound tone deaf to those of you with littles. Just showing what I know here. I’m using this time to write and drink coffee. It helps. You now have extra time in your day because you’re not commuting in the fucking horror-show of Seattle traffic. Use that time for yourself. Knit. Pet your dog. Listen to music and dance. Do not try to be productive. You’re going to have all day for that. Be thankful you have a job.

Get dressed in relatively-business-casual attire. It helps to not stay in your jams jams all day. On a snow day, this is perfect to do, but this is different. Wear a favorite sweater. Do your hair if that makes you feel better. Be comfortable but fuck all the dress codes. Nobody is going to remember what you looked like this week on the other side of this. They’ll remember that you showed up for others. To work.

Make a little work nest. Take the time to claim a space where you will work. If you live in a small space like I do, that can be hard, but put yourself near a window, the fireplace, or a corner where you feel happy. Ergonomics are going to be hard for a while, but just find that place. I bought my dog a second bed to encourage him to sleep near me, and every morning I tell him it’s time to go upstairs to work, work, work (said like Rhianna). He’s my therapy dog all day long and, if he could talk, he could help you scale affordable courseware like a boss.

Make a list of important things. I keep a work journal and everyday I write what I hope I will accomplish that day. It’s a joke most days, but it helps me prioritize and then I check my calendar. I just bought some colorful pens, and I sometimes doodle when I need a break.

Check in with your priority people. Maybe this is your boss or direct reports. Scan your email for messages from them (ignore everyone else). Answer them. Accept that things are going to change quickly. The higher up the ladder of leadership you are, the more you’re seeing changes that need to happen. We all are.

Heads Down. This is a phrase that my workfolk use when they need to concentrate. And let me tell you, that’s been hard to do. It does help to do something normal like your work tasks, so schedule that time and stick to it. Don’t answer emails or texts and give yourself an hour to focus. Try. It will help. Let people know, if you need to, that “you’re heads down.” Put it on your calendar. It works.

Remote Collaboration. Sometimes it’s better to just pick up the phone and call somebody, but try to give folks a heads up that you’re going to call. They might need to prepare to talk. They might need to ask a spouse to watch the kids.

Use Google Docs when you can, and just know that everything you’ve been planning has changed. Mourn this. I’ve been working on a project to help teachers “flip the classroom” and I loved this project. It was going rock so hard when me and my team got this shizz together. We were just about to light it up, and now there are no classrooms to flip. I’ve had several moments of despair about all of the things I’ve been looking forward to. You’re not alone. My work team? We’re helping where we can. We’re helping where we can.

Snacky McSnackerson. Don’t eat at your work nest. Schedule time to eat. Whatever your schedule was at work, keep that at home. Give yourself some routine that feels normal. Maybe you took lunch every Monday-Friday at noon. Do that. I have lunch at the same time everyday (before all this) and I used to walk my dog with my husband. We’re facing shelter-in-place, so we’re adjusting too. I’m avoiding our normal walking trails because it isn’t six feet wide. I’ve walked these trails for years, and I’m sorting out what this all means. But take the time to eat. Take care of yourselves.

Take Breaks. Seriously. You have to. On a normal remote workday, I take a break by checking Twitter or reading blogs. I usually try to post something during those breaks just to make a connection. Don’t have any social media open while you’re heads down. If you find the Terror Scroll of Twitter/FB too much, then don’t open it. I’ve only broken this code to listen to our governor in the last 48 hours.

Connect With Co-Workers: I usually try to connect with two folks at work on a normal day just to say what’s up. I send cat vids to two of the leaders in my company usually twice a week. Or some meme that makes us laugh. This is acceptable because think of how much you connect with people in real life. Many of you have seen one another everyday Monday-Friday for more than a decade. So this is hard. I still miss people I used to work with some days. Give people this space. Compassion is our greatest currency.

Email Drafts: I write emails and then I give myself a break to make sure it’s what I really want to say. In normal times, I work with really smart people so I like to make sure I’m not a horror-show of broken thoughts and ideas. Review the email, send it, and feel good that you accomplished something. The eFlood was hard before all this. Remember to scan your inbox for important people. Delete the list-servs that aren’t talking about this emergency.

Remote Meetings: JFC, the talk of Zoom. It’s a disaster, but it’s all we’ve got. Have an agenda and put somebody in charge of running the agenda. Do not expect anything from anyone right now in the synchronous space. People with children at home are especially struggling to create boundaries.

Here’s a hot tip for those of you in academia: If the meeting agenda is done in 20 minutes end the meeting hour. Seriously. You can do this now. This is your chance to rewrite traditions. You don’t have to use the entire hour. Really! The only person in your organization who can approve going over the hour is your CEO/President type person. Everybody else needs to acknowledge the time and stick to it. When I made the giant leap from a massive system–the SBCTC–to a small start-up this was the biggest shock of my life. Use those additional 40 minutes to get shit done. Or stare at the wall. Have a good cry. Sing to your dog. Whatever you need.

Share Something Joyful: My coworkers, may all the gods bless them, have me laugh really hard in these dark times.

Okay, my personal hour of writing time is up. I usually read for 30 minutes and write for 30, but I can’t seem to read right now. I’m not even sure how I’m writing.

Know this, dear one, you have to hold space for the people in your life. One of my heroes, Mary Burgess, said this yesterday, and her team is sharing tips on how they’re working remote. BC Campus, your generosity gives me life in normal times. Friends, I adore you.

To Conclude: This is not business as usual. I listened to a short talk by Liz Gilbert, and before you roll your eyes at all the eating, praying, and loving about her writing, give this talk a chance if you are feeling frightened. Anxious. Scared. Terrified.

You’re not alone. This blog post is a version of her letters to fear.

It helped me last night when I broke down because I feel the rug, the floor, and the ground coming out from underneath my feet, and she said those words in my ear. She reminded me I am the product of survivors. I needed those words. Maybe you do too.

And now like Maya Angelou says in the poem above, I rise. I rise. I rise. To meet my promises of “first thing.” I rise.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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