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How to survive remote work & the “new normal”

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I’m Audry.
An empathic, crystal-loving 30-something who is committed to empowering women and making the world a better place. Dog mom, moon priestess, & yoga pants for life.
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COVID has seriously changed lifeasweknowit, sometimes for the better (read: more time connecting and listening to our body/earth saying “SLOW THE F DOWN”) and in many ways, for the worse (obviously). Remote work has been a huge change for most people, and learning to balance that with homeschooling, more time with the humans in your home, and just a generally different type of life can be hard.

With the increase in cases and the risk of exposure, the company I work for decided that we would start working remotely at the beginning of April. My last day in the office was April 2nd and it’s been an adjustment, even though I really really love working remotely. I’ve dealt with more stress, feelings of disconnection, and even unexplained moodiness and I know from talking to others around (“around”) me, that I’m not unique in those feelings.

How do we cope with Covid and remote work?

Even if you love doing remote work, it can be tough to cope with this new pace of life, so keep reading for some of my tips to make the best of it.

To be clear, I’m a champion introvert. My ideal day is reading a book with the dog on my legs, no humans (sorry, Bearded One, I love ya!), and absolutely no noise. I mean zero. Seriously, no TV on, no radio, no one talking, and never me talking to other people. Eek. I was made for remote work, or so I thought…

Even as the Queen Introvert, I struggle some days with the new normal of working remotely. Don’t get me wrong, remote work has been a dream of mine for a long time and I’m soooo grateful for this opportunity (cue Fleetwood Mac’s Never Going Back Again), but some days it’s tough.

I find myself wondering if this is my favorite way to work, why do I still feel so down sometimes? Is there something wrong with me? Am I just an ungrateful brat? LOL

{I want to point out that this is a super-serious time in our world and there are some terrible things going on. Those things affect us too. They matter and can add stress, pain, sadness, and overwhelm to our already confusing lives. It’s a lot to carry, so please remember that these feelings are OK and perfectly normal. And just acknowledge that they can make it even harder to deal with this new life situation.}

Remote work woman in red t shirt  staring at her laptop with her head in her hands

Why the new remote work situation is hard

It’s different. Change is hard. We’re missing the people who filled up huge parts of our week before. And while I don’t love peopling, I do love my people.

Remote work can be lonely

When we first went remote, our team was so busy that we weren’t having a lot of fun “face to face” (Zoom) meetings, but we had tons of calls to solve urgent problems. Many days, the only talking I did was to put out fires. ICK. And by being out of the office, we weren’t having the socialization and breaks we had in the office to balance out that madness. I really struggled on those days.

Remote work can lead to overwhelm & blurred lines

Remote work can blur the lines between work and personal time, especially if you’re in a salaried or leadership position. It’s easy for me to just keep working into the night, even after starting well before 8 am. I can do it, sure, but that’s no way to live.

It also seems like everything is more urgent (“urgent”) and everyone has a new idea or project, and they’re all more important than the next. I found that many people had no qualms with scheduling meetings to fill up every block of my day, even over what might have been perceived as a normal “lunch hour”.

It’s not to say that I was always great about taking lunch or breaks when I worked in the office, but I think that the ability to socialize or the time spent walking to a meeting room does allow for a little space and a brain break.

The fact that you’re sitting at a desk in your home seems to make some folks think that incessant requests and meetings are easier to handle, that no break is necessary, no white space in the calendar should exist.

It was a lot. It still is some days. The meetings and hyper-focused reactivity, the fact that some people have even fewer boundaries when working remotely. There are endless streams of meeting invites, texts at all hours (mostly non-urgent), and general emotional dumping. Like, hey, you’re at home, so can I put a load of my crap right here on your shoulders?

It got to be so much…. I felt overwhelmed, exhausted, and like I wanted a nice job making baskets or carving sticks or something (has anyone seen that job posting? LOL). I needed a change.

Making a Change

Woman in red shirt in home office, looking at laptop and smiling

For connection

Face to Face Time – We started having more Zoom meetings with cameras on. While some people hate it, my experience continues to be that seeing the faces of people I love and care about, reading their expressions and moods, and being able to laugh together virtually has a healing effect. Even if it means I have to put on a bra lol. It also makes us less likely to get frustrated with each other because we can see not only the request but the person behind it.

Make it fun – Some meetings need to be just for connection. I LOVE my team and I think they were probably feeling as taxed, overwhelmed, and zombie-like as I was. So we’ve made a point to focus on hosting icebreakers and check-ins without a structured agenda. Sure, most meetings need a purpose, but sometimes the purpose of checking in and showing love is more than enough.

I also have this incredible friend who works super hard to support her team and she has sent out some brilliant connection emails to get people engaged. The emails ask people to share their pets, workspace, their best friends, and what they plan to do on a long weekend. Really anything to get people communicating and to remind everyone that they’re human and part of a team.

For me, my body, and my brain

Woman doing yoga pose on pink yoga mat

Prioritizing yourself, your mindset, and your energy is key to being great at this remote work stuff.

Move – I had no idea how remote work would impact my body. I’m sitting more and it hurts my ass and my hips. I didn’t realize how much of a difference it would make to not walk to meetings or swing by someone’s desk to check-in. I was surprised at how different my body felt and I needed to make a change.

Being remote has been great for more time to take Copper for a walk, so I commit to a 30-minute walk every single day. Even with those walks, I found that I needed more. It’s shocking how much my daily steps plummeted when we went remote. I really didn’t feel like I got up that much in the office, but wow…So now I also try to do a short yoga video or some easy bodyweight exercises each day to increase my movement, steps, and flexibility, and so my body doesn’t turn into a painful, mushy mess.

If you have a nice area to walk on your lunch break or before/after work, use the time you would have normally spent commuting or driving to Mickey D’s for lunch. Get outside, get moving, and let your body and mind relax. If you don’t have a nice walking area, don’t let that discourage you. Enlist your friends to do a squat challenge, see how long you can plank, or check out one of the bazillion fitness videos online (free and paid – I love Yoga with Kassandra on YouTube. Short, free videos, and she’s a great teacher).

Talk it out – If you’re feeling lonely or crappy, find a friend/coworker and schedule regular check-ins. Chances are they could use some support too…remember, give, and get. Use the time to cheer each other up, offer support, and talk about what’s going well for you too.

Take breaks – Whatever breaks you’re given, USE THEM. Get up, stretch, take the dog outside, make some tea, whatever, just don’t work while you’re on break. Same thing for lunches. I’ve been listening to Harry Potter on Audible when we walk and it’s a super fun way to disconnect and have me/us time.

Challenge Yourself – One of my friends does something like 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, etc after every 5-10 emails he completes. He’s a freak lol, but it’s a great idea. I’m thinking of taking up a similar challenge.

Create a routine – In the morning or evening, find some quiet time and do something for yourself. Whether it’s journaling (check out some journal prompts HERE), meditation, a walk, or time to read a fun book, make the time and do it. Be intentional in setting aside time that is just for you. No one else. Trust me, you really do need this, even if you’re Super Mom, and even if you love your job; prioritizing yourself, your mindset, and your energy is key to being great at this remote work stuff.

For Balance

Reduce multi tasking – It’s soooo stressful. Seriously, how well can your brain work if you’re responding to an urgent email, having a meeting with someone, and trying to remember your to do list for the day all at once? NOT WELL. At least I can’t. It leaves me feeling anxious, scattered, and like I haven’t done any of the things very well. So, whenever you can, try to focus on one task, one meeting, one thought at a time. I sometimes need to do a “brain dump” in my journal before I can free up my mind to focus.

Take a vacation – I know it can seem like a waste if you can’t go and do the things you would normally do on vacation, but a well-placed day off can be a total game-changer for your sanity.

Block your calendar – Do you get an hour for lunch? Schedule it and then disconnect for the whole time. Seriously, don’t look at your Outlook app!!

Set Boundaries – My friend Elizabeth used to shout, “boundaries, Mason, boundaries!!” from our shared office at the hotel where we worked and She. Was. Right.

That phone needs to go off or away at dinner. Unless there’s an “emergency”, work conversations need to stop by 6pm for me. I need to disconnect. I do not work on weekends. It’s tough, but I typically do not even check my email on weekends anymore.

These boundaries are so important for me to conserve my energy (and my sanity). I try to be intentional in choosing time for me, for our home life, and then time for work, so that I can be present and engaged in all of those areas.

Keep the space separate – Are you working at your kitchen table? I was for a long time. If you can work at a separate office space in your home, do it. It’s helpful to keep work time and space separate from home time and space. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, though, so find some way to separate your work stuff and your home stuff. Put up a partition, put it in a box, close the computer at the end of the day, and physically walk away. Don’t tempt yourself to sit down in front of it again after your workday is over. Find some way to draw a physical boundary between work and home. It’s hard, but this one is important.

And most of all, at the end of the day, while your home may now be your office too, remember that it is first and foremost your safe space, your haven, your home.

Draw the boundaries and honor them. Be honest if someone else is infringing on them. Start and stop when you’re supposed to, don’t keep going just because it’s there. Honor yourself, honor your space, and honor your time. Keep your mind right and make space and time for yourself. At the end of the day, you need to feel at home and safe and healthy in your body and your mind. Work is important but it doesn’t define you or own you. Remember to keep somethings for yourself even in this world of remote work and new normals.

Comment below, how are YOU adjusting to the new normal in our world? Any tips for remote life?

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