A fully distributed workforce for many companies is something new to get used to. While remote work has largely been a practice for the individual worker, distributed work is a mindset for an entire organization. There have been plenty of companies who already had largely distributed workforces, but for much of the world to follow this model at the same time is unheard of. While there have been outbreaks before, the Internet Age is only roughly 37 years old, so the means to carry out this format on a global scale has never been tested before.   

While adapting to this unprecedented remote work period, one thing you may have noticed is that working from home can be a bit noisier, whether it’s due to more interactions with your kids because they’re being taught online or you have a partner or roommate who’s also working in the house. While some of it is unavoidable, you can lay some ground rules to make it viable (and not lose your cool).

Setting Rules With Headphones and Blocking Off Time on Your Calendar

Many colleagues and professional contacts are considerate of the fact that this isn’t the typical work environment for many, but there will be some instances when you’ll need absolute quiet (or as much quiet as possible). Use headphones or signs on the door as an indicator to others that you don’t want to be disturbed. It shows that you’re in the zone or trying to concentrate and would not appreciate any distractions – whether it’s for an important meeting or you just need a 15-minute break. If you live with a fellow remote worker, try sharing a videoconferencing calendar that indicates when the other isn’t available so you know when to keep the noise down and when they should do the same for you. 

You can also manage your time publicly by blocking off slots on your calendar for work – even for tasks such as responding to emails, preparing for meetings, outlining/setting up content for the week, etc. It can be very easy to lose track of progress, or forget you had to do something if you don’t set time to do it – even if it’s just for 30 minutes.  

And don’t swipe away your reminders. Make sure you have to physically mark the item as completed once you’re finished – or that you reschedule them if time doesn’t allow. If you have a project management tool like Wrike, Airtable or Asana, all the better.

Hosting Virtual Coffee Dates, Lunches and Drinks

Connections and feelings are crucial at a time when every single interaction (outside of the people you live with) is blocked by some sort of screen. To help establish a routine or some sense of structure in your new work environment, you can try these three things:

  1. Dress as if you’ll still be in front of people. This doesn’t mean wearing a suit and tie or an exact replica of what you’d wear in the office, but it could help get you into the mindset of entering the work portion of your day and that you should act and focus accordingly.
  2. Find a dedicated space for your work. Not everyone has home offices, but this would be an ideal time to create one, if resources allow. Find a corner of your room or spot in your house that’s isolated from TVs, streaming devices, radios or anything else that could be distracting. This will help clearly designate “work” versus “home” areas.
  3. Set up virtual coffees, lunches and happy hours. Sure, this sounds weird at first. The whole point of these interactions is to be in-person and close to whomever you’re meeting in some of the only forms of socialization we thought were spared from digital, but at a time when physical gatherings are discouraged, this is the closest thing we’ll get. Ease them in gradually or add “breakout rooms” to otherwise large invites to try to replicate these interactions as much as possible or make them at least feel seamless.

Managing Family and Pet Appearances on Zoom Calls

A truth to all of this is that someone – whether it’s a family member or roommate – is likely social distancing with you too. As part of this “new normal,” you have to try to find the balance between your personal workspace and housemates being feet away. If someone walks behind the screen or waves “hi” to the camera without greatly disturbing you, let them. It shows that you’re human, that this is your home, and that you’re dedicating time to do the work but also have loved ones nearby and are making an effort to adjust. Everyone is facing a form of the same battle, so it shows you can relate and are cognizant of what’s going on. Showing the human side of this adjustment is likely just as important as maintaining productivity.

For those of you who have pets, they’ve also had to adjust to you being home more than you typically would. You can’t expect them to follow remote work protocols. Provide them with a space that’s as manageable as possible, but if they happen to intervene, let them. Take the few seconds or minutes you need. This can drive connections with fellow colleagues who own pets and exemplify the “new normal.”

Boosting Morale and Connection

Team spirit can be hard to think about when so many individual circumstances have changed – but if you can, try to circle back to those emotions that were just as important when you were in the office. If morale suffered, it was hard to get any work done and it certainly could put in a pin in achieving business goals. Add to that an unprecedented health crisis that’s triggered an unforeseen change in how and where we work, and you’ve created an environment jolted by uncertain feelings and direction, which also tanks morale. 

However, this is the time where you’ll need ramp up collaboration. Only used Slack to ping your teammates every once in a while in previous circumstances? Now you’ll be using it in full force. Host stand-up meetings to check in on projects. Ask teammates how they’d like to approach certain tasks. You can do this via text message or Zoom, as well.

Over-communicating during a crisis is key. You’ll want people to be extremely clear on their roles, their expectations, what’s needed to move forward, as well as how everyone’s feeling. If there’s something you can do to help someone else or even share a few words of encouragement, then do it. The wellness of the group is pivotal to the success of the work.

Taking the Time You Need Individually 

While improving team morale is great, you shouldn’t forget about yourself. With so many circumstances not under your control, the least you can do is ensure you’re equipped physically and emotionally to contribute your piece of the puzzle at home and in your work life. Some of the habits you practiced daily – walking from your house to your car or public transit, grabbing a coffee from Starbucks, huddling with teammates in the kitchen before sitting at your desk – are not part of your schedule for the time being. You’re probably used to dedicating time to those things and now, you don’t know what to do with it. It can be nerve racking. 

Instead, watch a video from one of your subscribed YouTube channels for a few minutes. Play a match in your favorite console game. Take 5 and jump around and listen to your favorite music. Quick, positive distractions may be just what you need to get you through the next few hours.

You can also try engaging in pleasantries at the beginning of every meeting, especially if you haven’t spoken with some of the attendees in a while. You may get glimpses of unknown circumstances your colleague(s) is facing and can align with what they’re feeling. While check-ins may have felt trivial before, it may be just what you need now to boost your own morale.

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Pamela Seaton
About Pamela Seaton

Pamela is a journalist and technology enthusiast writing for the growing business systems community.