The road to remote work can be bumpy. Between struggling with slow NBN-internet and missing your daily water-cooler gossip sessions, there are many gaps where physical presence used to be.
And in the rush to fill the gap, I know from experience, we often rush to solutionising loneliness through replication: meetings online, workshops online, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, digital beers etc, etc. We're worried we'll feel lonely working alone, so we use the digital tools we have at our disposal to superimpose physical presence once again into our day-to-day.
And while that may work for a while, as we all know by now - a year into the great remote work experiment that is COVID-19 - digital catch-ups are at best a carbon-copy of the real thing. Zoom was fun for the first two-weeks of isolation, by now, for the most part, it's just a hassle.
Which is why, when it comes to remote work, I think the best advice can be summed up in that Audrey Hepburn quote all 14-year-olds posted on their Tumblr circa 2009:
"I don't want to be alone, I want to be left alone."
So, with that super deep quotation hanging in our minds, let's talk about the secrets to remote work bliss, and how we can all leave each other alone, without feeling lonely.
Yes, that meeting really could be an email
Those of us in the workforce absolutely love being on the same page. "Quick catchup?" "I want to make sure we're on the same page." "Just thought we should go over [insert planned change] to make sure we're on the same page." "Just calling to let you know what I had for breakfast this morning so that we're on the same page."
We froth it. And, well, it's important. To work, after all, is to communicate and the reason we all have a nearing on neurotic predilection for monitoring where each-other's bookmark is placed, is because collaboration requires us to work off the same material: your artwork is going to come out pretty funny if one artist is using clay and the other oil paints.
So while we have good intentions, it does get wearying. We barely coped with meetings face-to-face; via Zoom or Microsoft Teams leaves them positively unbearable.
The solution to getting on the same page remotely is to put everything on the page, or, more accurately, the screen. Your planned meeting probably doesn't need to be a meeting, more likely, it needs to be a correctly annotated and collaborated-upon agenda.
Once a month, we have a Marketing Content Performance Meeting. The purpose is to go over the performance of our previous month of content, and, using what we've learned from that, to plan our next month of content.
Pre-remote-work, this was done in-person, and we'd set up a screen of some sort and manually go through content performance, discuss, and plan out the next month.
And when we first moved to a fully-remote work model, we kept this up. Share-screen on, going through it all would take an hour, sometimes two, and at the end - yep - we really were all on the same page.
But we were also exhausted by the end of it. Something about being on camera drains your battery and we really couldn't wait to get off screen by the end of the meeting.
We were stuck in the IRL-work mindset and couldn't see what, really, is quite obvious: we didn't need the camera. In in-person work, if you need to discuss something, the standard process is to have a meeting about it. In remote work, the standard should be no meetings, just discussion.
What we did with our Marketing Meeting is have one person go through the data, compile a doc with key insights and recommendations, and then share it and have everyone write and comment on it. Voila! Discussion had, next steps detailed, we've been left alone but we're definitely not lonely: we're all on the same proverbial page.
For some more in-depth tips to communicating remotely, head over here.
Unmonitored, but not unmotivated
We've had a suspicion for a while now that a large part of the reason why a lot (if not most) offices are in-person is because it allows bosses to check up on employees and make sure that they really are working hard. We assume that when unsupervised, most of us are hardly working.
Which, really, is quite an insulting proposition, not to mention illogical.
To assume that we all work only because someone is looking over our shoulder is ridiculous. First of all, having someone on your shoulder all the time is pretty annoying and prone to reducing work-ethic rather than increasing it (Go away! How am I supposed to think with you breathing down my neck?!)
What's more, I think it is time for us to all admit that procrastination is a part of the work process. Even as I write this, I have to admit that I have consulted the endless scroll at multiple points when the words are coming out clunky and unclear. Does that mean I'm lazy? Not taking work seriously? Or, does it allow my brain a little break, and let the better words bubble to the surface once again?
To really give remote work a go, you've got to let go of checking up on people. Yes, apps like Slack give you a clue as to when someone is working via the little 'active' light, but really, remote work is more about trust than technology. Let go. Did they turn in their work on time? Good. Yep, they probably did check Instagram at some point through out the day. They may even have watched an episode of Netflix, or gone for a run at 3 instead of 5. But the advantage of remote work is that because we don't have to commute, because we don't have to be at an office at a certain time, we can structure our work days in the way that works best for us.
Motivation ebbs and flows. Being at home means that during the ebb you can take a real break, and don't have to keep up a facade of continuous work. Which means, when the flow returns, you can ride it all the way to the end, to the very swell of your output.
Remote work isn't about replicating the office online because it isn't the office, online. It's not the Sims version of IRL work; it's its own separate, unique, kind of workplace.
And that means it's not better or worse than being in the office, but rather, being in the office is better in some circumstances, and being remote is better in others. The trick is to play to the strengths of remote work and not try and force its peg into the office-environment hole. Skip the meetings, don't check up on people. You might find, if you relax into it, that while you're working from home, you don't work alone: your co-workers are right there with you, just on the other side of the screen.
Courtney is the face behind the Yarno blog. She’s our fact-finding expert, Instagram connoisseur and the only person we know who can write 1500 words and fix a fence in the same half hour.
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