Many of us have been working from home longer than we ever could have anticipated when shelter-in-place orders were rolled out in March 2020.  As we’ve tried to settle into these going-on-five months of remote work, there is always room for improvement as to our work settings.  As we ease into accepting this as “normal” instead of the “new normal,” it’s important to keep in mind things that can make your remote workday as seamless and stress-free as possible in these unprecedented times.

Make Yourself Comfortable

There are lots of articles out there about how to make your Work-From-Home life better, and the answer is almost always the same: set a routine and stick to it.  Typical Do: wake up early and work out before you sit down at your designated workspace for the day.  Typical Don’t: just roll out of bed and show up to a meeting 2 minutes before the start time in your pajamas.   While this is great advice that should be followed if possible, it’s much easier said than done.

The best and easiest advice to implement: make yourself comfortable. Cut yourself some slack. Wear soft pants while you work if that makes you comfortable.  However, it is important to remember that depending on your job, dressing the part can actually make you feel more comfortable while you are working.  If you know you will be in a meeting with your video on, put on a button-up shirt instead of a t-shirt.  Dressing up can improve your mood and confidence at work.  Changing up your clothes can signal to your brain that it’s time to buckle down and get things done.  An easy hack: keep your most professional looking sweater, cardigan, or blazer on your home office chair and for easy access to put on in the event of unexpected video calls.  There is nothing more comforting than feeling confident and prepared at work.

Change Your Mindset About Video Conferencing

If your Zoom/virtual meeting would have been held in person prior to the pandemic, you should have your video camera on for the meeting.  A storied LCW partner once imparted these wise words of wisdom: you wouldn’t show up to an in-person meeting with a bag over your head, would you? It’s easy to show up with your profile picture or name as your representation in a meeting, but it’s important to change your mindset about how you decide to show up.  You are more likely to make connections and pay closer attention if you know the other participants can see that you are paying attention.  Plus, once you have a go-to sweater or blazer ready at your workspace, you will be ready for any video conference at the drop of a hat.

If you are doing a lot of video conferencing, try moving your designated workspace closer to a window or other natural light. Especially when some of us might not be going outside at all, being as close as possible to the outdoors and breathing fresh air can greatly help boost productivity (if you are fortunate enough to live far away from the California fires).  Make sure the light is in front of you, as sitting with your light source behind you will backlight you and likely will not be as flattering.

Stay Connected During Remote Work

Instead of the now-routine sing-song greeting of “how are you” and the response of “hanging in there,” try out some new topics for small talk.  Let’s face it, we are all hanging in there and we know it.  Instead of merely asking how someone is, try asking my favorite small talk question: “what are you excited about lately?”  Although many of us may feel that we don’t currently have too much to look forward to with so many of our summer events cancelled or closed, this question forces us to think about what we have going on now that we can be excited about.  Maybe it’s a hike that you have planned this weekend, or the take-out order that you’re looking forward to for lunch, or, like me, you are excited about binge-watching another season of Survivor.

It’s also important to still attend virtual events and connect with your co-workers.  As we get more comfortable having socially distanced walks, picnics, or even indulging in outdoor dining, it’s easy to let Zoom-fatigue stop you from attending virtual lunches or happy hours.  However, it’s also easy to let yourself go a full 24 hours (or more) without speaking to anyone at all! If your office doesn’t plan virtual events, take it upon yourself to reach out to talk to your colleagues for a moment about things other than work.  Ask them what they are excited about!  Our feelings of uncertainty about the future of our work lives can be eased by connecting with others.

For those of you reading this with kids at home who are starting off another school year in distance learning, my colleague Alison Kalinski wrote a blog post from earlier in the pandemic with more helpful tips about her admirable journey in finding balance between remote work and supervising remote learning.  You can find that post here.

So, what are you excited about?