Lessons From a Year of Working Remotely

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With many workplaces considering a hybrid in-office/remote work model, remote working may be a lot more prevalent than it was before the pandemic. While remote work has many benefits, it can also be challenging to maintain a sense of teamwork and work-life balance.

Now that our team has worked remotely for over a year, we took some time to reflect on what has helped us stay productive and work well together. Below are some of our tips for successful remote work.

If you are planning what your workplace will look like post-pandemic, we are offering a free course this fall: Remote Work Strategies for Small Businesses. This course will help small-to-medium-sized businesses in Canada re-think business operations to save money and time and increase productivity (e.g., minimize paperwork, reduce overhead costs). Learn more and register here.

The importance of scheduling time to connect with your team

Dorinda So, Executive Director

Prior to the pandemic, much of my work was done outside of the office, so I was always walking, or on a subway, and working in different spaces. These commutes to and from meetings gave me a lot of time to think. The city, combined with the active travel, provided the much-needed inspiration and energy to do this critical activity of any effective organization. Often managers have the challenge of shifting from constantly doing to thinking, which is not easy to do when you’re staring at the same four walls every day.

These days, my strategic thinking time comes in all sorts of places, whether I’m on a walk or sitting on my couch, basically anywhere that’s not in front of my computer. Remote work has ultimately required a much higher level of intentionality, from scheduling more strategic thinking time to booking meetings to have an otherwise casual conversation.

In many ways, this creates a sense of structure that would otherwise be absent. On the other hand, to ensure that not every single conversation is structured and planned, we introduced more time at the beginning and end of our meetings to just chat and have more social time to play games and get to know each other. This also helps better integrate those who are new to our team into our organization’s culture and to grow trust between team members.

The importance of routine, exercise and workstation location

Lauren McVittie, Marketing and Communications Manager

Working remotely over the past year has taught me that three things are very important:

  1. Routine
  2. Exercise and fresh air
  3. Workstation location

Not having to commute has saved me lots of time but has made me realize the importance of cultivating a morning and after-work routine. When I was in the office, I would often go to the gym before heading home for the day. The visual reminder of having my gym clothes in my bag was enough to guilt me into going even on days I didn’t want to, because past-me had already planned for it and I may as well because I was out of the house anyway.

I am learning to replicate this after-work routine by making sure I go for a walk after work, or I follow a fitness class on YouTube. Having strong before and after-work routines can really help with maintaining work-life balance and productivity.

My top tip for working remotely is to dedicate one area of your space to work. I have found that using my kitchen bar as a standing desk has helped me avoid sitting all day. Using this space as my workstation has also helped me concentrate and keep work separated from my personal life because it is not an area I use outside of working hours.

Titi Onabanjo, Assistant Program Manager

At the start of the pandemic, I tried to maintain the same work routine, thinking that the pandemic would only last for a few short months. Now over a year later, my work routine has vastly changed. Working remotely has allowed me to incorporate new things into my routine that I normally would not have been able to do pre-pandemic.

I try to maintain the same routine every day and have a set work start and ending time. My workday starts with either a workout or morning walk and I find that exercising sets the tone for the rest of the day, gets me energized, and helps my productivity.

I have also found that keeping a separate workspace helps give me the sense that ‘I am going to work’ and I can focus more when I do not have other distractions around me. When I take breaks, I use the time to go for a walk, catch up on a book, or prep dinner. I have found that adding more movement throughout my day has been very beneficial and I hope to continue with this even if we return to the office.

How rediscovering hobbies helps with focus and Zoom fatigue

Raechelle Farray, Marketing and Communications Assistant

I have found that the best way to be productive is to make a to-do list for work and non-work-related things. Before the pandemic, I wasn’t always on top of making myself a schedule, but making one really helped me stay organized for school and other things.

One of the main things that surprised me about working remotely is the importance of the social aspect of work. It can be very isolating working by yourself at home and hard on your mental health, and finding time to reconnect with co-workers can be helpful.

To avoid Zoom fatigue, I try to take a break every now and then by going on a hike or listening to a podcast. I have also found that rediscovering hobbies can be helpful to break up your day and add some variety. I have found that spending an hour drawing each day has helped me focus and de-stress.

Tips for staying active throughout the workday 

Sivan Alshek, Office Manager

Working remotely has its challenges, but there are several advantages that I have enjoyed:

1. Stretching. In the office, despite efforts of mandated mid-day yoga breaks, one may feel self-conscious to stand up and take 5 minutes to stretch one’s arms over the head or attempt to touch one’s toes. At home, I have enjoyed the luxury of mid-meeting stretches.

2. Shifting positions. I frequently adjust my working stance at home. Sometimes I stand, sit, prop up the laptop, sit on the floor, sit cross-legged. Ah, the joys of dynamic movement.

3. Music. Depending on how you focus, music in the background can create a relaxing atmosphere. In the same way I used to study for classes, I now play music at a low volume through my Bluetooth speaker.

4. Lunch break/workout. Yoga mat on the floor and a quick 15-minute workout. It’s reinvigorating in a way the standard office lunch break never really was.

These are just some ways I have taken advantage of working from home. To maintain a separation of your work life and personal life while working from home, I also recommend dressing up for work, using your commuting time to go for a walk or meditate, and making sure you take breaks from your screen to avoid straining your eyes.

The importance of making your work setup ergonomic

Stewart Slaymaker, Senior Program Manager

The biggest thing that I’ve had confirmed for me over the past year or so is the importance of a desk setup. At the start of the pandemic, I sacrificed myself so that my partner could sit at our one desk/table and use the office chair we had. This meant that I was relegated to using the kitchen bar. I had a laptop stand, keyboard, and mouse, and the lighting was good, so I felt that my setup was pretty good and comfortable. Since I cleared the space every evening, I didn’t have a second monitor because it seemed too bulky to move around every day. However, eventually, I found that I missed having a second monitor and felt that sitting on a barstool every day probably wasn’t the best idea.

A few months in, I was lucky that someone in my building was giving away a free desk and that we had space for it in our home. I snapped the desk up, got a second monitor in place, and then sat at the desk with a normal dining chair. I found this to be chronically uncomfortable, and I noticed that it impacted my ability to concentrate on work!

Now I have a proper office chair and I found that this has dramatically improved my comfort and ability to maintain a better ergonomic setup. So, my advice is that if your situation allows, then investing in the proper equipment for your home office is worth it.

The office chair receives the seal of approval from my cat, Pamplemousse, who uses it to loaf on and as one of her many beds when I’m not sitting on it!

Using music as a pre-work ritual

Amanda Cheung, Project Administration Officer

Starting a new job always means new challenges but joining a team without ever meeting them in person or visiting the office can make that transition difficult to register. For me, because there was no visible change in my surroundings, I found it unusually hard to adapt to the change in my schedule. In particular, I found myself mourning the hour I used to spend commuting to work, which served as an important ritual as I mentally prepared for the day ahead. While creating a dedicated workspace was helpful in recreating this mindset, I quickly realized that it wasn’t realistic for me to work in the same space every day (living above a noisy loading dock with fellow remote workers means a lot of room swapping).

Instead, I try to create pre-work rituals that help signal to my brain that it’s time to be productive. When I was a student, I used to create a Spotify playlist to listen to while I studied so that when the time came to write the exam for that course, I could return to that playlist and easily get back into the same focused headspace I was in before. Carrying this ritual into my remote work routine, I find that setting aside even just 15 minutes before and after work to prepare for or decompress from the day can help break up your time in a way that commuting usually would. Even the act of physically shutting my laptop screen has been a helpful visual signal to close out the workday.

Changing up workspace location to maintain focus

Kelly Bray, Office Manager

I’ve never been an office person, despite the title. I either need the energy of a busy space like a coffee shop, or the ability to frequently move and change things up. I find an active five-minute break to be incredibly helpful in keeping up my energy and focus. At home that’s much easier to do – listen to a favourite song while tidying the living room, play tug of war with my dog, or chop up some veggies for a snack. That bit of movement resets my brain and loosens up the physical tension that comes from working on a computer all day.

I also appreciate the ability to change my surroundings throughout the day. I go from my desk to the couch, to the balcony, and back to the desk again. I know that many people find it helpful to have one dedicated workspace at home, but I find just the opposite – switching things up throughout the day keeps me happy and focused. I think that this freedom to cater to our own work styles is one of the biggest benefits of remote work. We can all tailor our space and our routines to find the way of working that makes us most happy and productive.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

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