Five Tips for Telecommuters

With the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people are telecommuting who have never done it before. I happen to have a job that can be done virtually and while I’m not a full-time telecommuter these days, I have have roles in the past where I telecommuted fairly regularly and for extended periods of time. I was also a Sōtō Zen practitioner for many years and attended several extended residential retreats. This combination of retreat and telecommuting experience has given me a unique perspective on telecommuting that I’d like to share with you. I’ve put together a few tips to help you stay healthy, happy and productive as a telecommuter.

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Tip 1: Take Advantage of the Natural Lighting

If you’re anything like me, you spend your normal working days in a windowless bay of offices and cubicles. Some high ranking executives may be able to enjoy daily natural light in their beautiful corner offices but for many of us, the sun and sky are mere memories during our hours at work and in meetings.

One of the best things about working from home is that most of us have windows in our main living spaces and natural light is much easier to come by. The first thing I do each morning while telecommuting is open up the blinds as wide as I can to let the natural light stream through. Even in the cloudy Pacific Northwest, having natural lighting throughout the day is a mental health must-have.

Tip 2: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Communication is key to productivity and even in the most ideal collaborative work environment, clear communication can be a challenge. When entire teams are telecommuting, communication becomes even more crucial and important.

The moment my office switched to full-time virtual work, I set up a daily tag-up with my team because I knew first hand that communication would be one of our biggest challenges. My team works very well together but they also use their proximity in the office to informally communicate throughout the day. Now, with all of us working from home, I wanted to ensure they had at least one touch point every single day. Even if there is nothing specific to share, its important to keep these team meetings and one-on-ones as sacred. We can’t just walk over to a colleagues desk anymore and so we need to create intentional time slots for communication which brings me to my next tip…

Tip 3: Schedule Your Day

This is something I learned all too well from my time on retreat: having each hour of the day scheduled and structured actually can lead to a sense of mental greater freedom. On retreat, we have schedules and daily plans that run from wake-up time to bed-time; each hour of meditation, services, meals and breaks is scheduled. The schedule is posted for all to see each day. During a Zen retreat, it is the job of the Ino to ensure the group stays on schedule but when telecommuting that responsibility falls to each of us for our own daily routine.

I’ve seen that two main things can happen when a person is new to telecommuting: either they waste their day because of a lack of focus or – more commonly – they work longer and harder days than when they were in the office. Many people take “work from home” to basically mean “on-call” when it really doesn’t have to. Losing that work-life balance can lead to increased stress and burnout. The key is to set your schedule, make sure you’re working the appropriate number of hours each day and block out times for the types of breaks that you’d normally take in the office. You still need to eat and take care of yourself, even when working from home.

Tip 4: Eat Right and Exercise

Well, now that you’re not going out to lunch with your coworkers, hitting up the office cafeteria or stuck with frozen meals, switching to telecommuting is a great time to clean up your diet! If you don’t stock your house with unhealthy food, you won’t be tempted to eat it. This is a classic trick for eating a healthy diet but it becomes more crucial when you’re at home all day and every day. If you only keep healthy foods on hand, that’s what you’ll turn to for meals and snacks throughout the day.

Along the same lines, break up your day with small bits of activity throughout. This will keep your body moving and help your mood stay positive. Humans were never meant to sit in front of a screen all day so do what you can to get up and move around a bit. In the office, I’m often walking from meeting to meeting or from building to building so it’s important to get out of my chair from time to time while telecommuting.

This article on Darebee has some great tips for staying active while working at home. I often use the breaks between meetings to squeeze in short bursts of activity throughout my day. Only have about five or six minutes before the next tag-up? Try doing burpees continuously through that time. Five minutes of burpees isn’t easy for most of us and will give you a boost in energy. I personally like to make a game of it, using dice or playing cards to randomize exercises and reps through the day. I also have a door-frame pull-up bar that I use every time I pass or go through that door. I have a sticky note with my max reps in the doorframe and try to beat my high score.

When your work day is over, head out for a walk or run outside. Fresh air is so important after being cooped up at home all day. When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I went for a walk every day, no matter the weather. It was my way to make peace with the grey, rainy climate here and taught me to appreciate the beauty of my new home.

Tip 5: Look For the Bright Side

If you look for the light, that you can often find it. But if you look for the dark, that is all you will ever see.

Uncle Iroh

I know that telecommuting can be hard on people. Many of us are accustomed to being able to quickly talk to our co-workers just a few steps away. Phone calls and teleconferences just aren’t the same. Rather than letting yourself fall into complaining and negativity, stay focused on the task at hand and look for the positive. Even with bandwidth issues and other struggles, there is always something to be thankful for, if you look hard enough. Keep your morale up by always looking for the bright side of things.

I know this is a new experience for many people but we can do it, good luck out there telecommuters!

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