10 Questions to Find Out if You’re Taking Full Advantage of the Benefits of Remote Work
Too often I see people just replicating how they worked in the office when they go remote. This is familiar, but doesn’t get you the quality of life improvement you could have. The full benefits of remote work are rarely taken advantage of due to them having more to do with what you make of it.
These 10 questions can help provide you with a framework on where to start:
- Is working from one desk really where you do your best work?
- Are your notifications settings serving you or the tool? (ahem Slack)
- Are you waking up in the best way for your new way of work?
- Are 9–5 hours the optimal work times for you?
- How can you integrate rest into your day to level-up your work?
- Are you being intentional with the extra time you’ve gained from not having a traditional commute?
- How can you use this transition to include more helpful change?
- How can you intentionally rework eating habits to optimize for energy management?
- Are you letting your meeting schedule control your day?
- Who will you spend your time with now that you get to choose?
1. Is working from one desk really where you do your best work?
Previously, you had a set office space to work from due to office constraints. When working remotely, you do not need to bring this way of work home with you. Imagine how much better your back will feel if you don’t sit in the same place for 8-hours straight.
Instead, consider working where you are most inspired. Take a meeting while on a walk. Work from a desk but then also from a beach, café, couch. Move towards inspiration.
Or consider working in different places for different types of work. For me, that means doing reading in a cozy place, taking video meetings from a desk space optimized for light and sound, and writing from a place without electronic distractions.
When things open up, you’ll be able to work from a coffee shop when you feel like being around people. Or a library when you want to be out of the house, but in a quiet space. Or from a coworking space when you’re looking for in-person collaboration.
Don’t feel like you have to commit to one place for all types of work and for all of the time.
2. Are your notifications settings serving you or the tool? (ahem Slack)
99% of the people who come to me struggling with boundaries between their work and personal life are using the default notification settings in their work tools. They are notified immediately with work messages at all hours of the day then wonder why they can’t take a break. You need virtual boundaries.
The best place to start with creating virtual boundaries is with your notifications. The primary objective of all websites and apps is to keep you on their tool for as long as possible. By accepting the default notification preferences without question, you are allowing this to be your objective as well. Take the time to customize notification settings to fit your needs instead of theirs. This includes: no alerts during off hours, breaks, or lunch.
Remember these 2 things:
- Your time is worthy of being respected
- You are a more productive employee with time away from work
I challenge you to question whether the default notifications are serving you or the tool.
3. Are you waking up in the best way for your new way of work?
For months after switching to remote work, I continued to use an alarm. I’m not a morning person, and being jolted awake immediately always left me cranky. Then one day, I woke up and finally decided to ask, “Why?”. There was no traffic to beat or excessive getting ready routines.
Standard wake up methods involve being forced awake with a blaring alarm. Waking up to a heart attack means that the first feeling we’re starting our day with is stress. This doesn’t set the right tone when you want to be focused, productive, and agreeable on morning calls.
Ultimately, the only reason why I used an alarm clock was to make sure I got up at a certain time every day. But was this the best and only option to achieve this goal? Turns out, no. I’m able to achieve this through waking up naturally while getting rid of all the downsides.
Now, I haven’t used an alarm clock to wake up in years. I wake up naturally every day around 6:30am. Shockingly, a regular calm, rested wake up experience led me to switch from being a lifelong night owl to a morning person.
As we switch to new ways of work, our default routines no longer serve us. Remember to question whether your quality of life is being affected by default routines optimized for a world you no longer live in.
4. Are 9–5 hours the optimal work times for you?
9–5 work hours were created in the industrial age with manual work in mind. With knowledge work exploding, it’s time to rethink whether a set 8-hour period is really the most effective way to work.
Consider what hours of the day you are the most mentally alert and the least distracted. Track your energy levels throughout your workday to see when work becomes unfeasible. Play with breaks at different times and for different lengths.
For me, I made changes to work in several blocks of time instead of one long block. I start my work earlier because the later it gets in the day, the lower the output of my quality of work. I’ve also found taking half days on Wednesday and Friday for a 4-day work week improves my work and my health.
Expecting knowledge work to happen on a one-size-fits-all schedule is unreasonable. Our thinking needs to shift to a more individualized approach where we value the output and quality more than the number of hours worked.
5. How can you integrate rest into your day to level-up your work?
When you were at the office, it was difficult to incorporate any significant time-outs into your work schedule. Yet, a break can be exactly what you need when you’re hitting a wall. How might your work level-up if you took advantage of this opportunity while working remote?
So, you’re hitting your 3rd hour trying to solve a problem. Instead of trying to force a mediocre solution, consider taking a mid-day shower if you’re looking for some creative problem-solving. Or a nap if you just can’t think straight.
When I’m feeling frustrated, I love to shut my laptop and take a walk around the block. I come back refreshed. Oftentimes, I come back with a solution as clear as day. Even when I don’t, I return with a better attitude.
Taking a breather can be the critical piece behind looking at a problem in a new way and solving it. Being at home opens up new opportunities to make the most of this. Through integrating rest into your day, you’re optimizing for both your work and your mental wellbeing.
6. Are you being intentional with the extra time you’ve gained from not having a traditional commute?
The average commute time is around 30 minutes each way. That means the average person has an extra 5 hours per week when they work from home. It’s easy to automatically put this time towards working more, but what if you took advantage of the extra time instead?
Ways you can take advantage of this:
- Creating a customized commute
- Diversifying your income
- Spending time with people you choose
- Doing your hobbies more often
Just because you don’t have a formal commute decided on for you, doesn’t mean you can’t have a transition routine to help you separate between your work and personal time. The difference now is that you get to choose your commute.
Personally, I do a little of everything. I stack habits to create an intentional start and end to my day. A friend of mine likes to cook deliciously intricate home-cooked breakfasts and dinners as his “commute”.
Consider where you’ve been putting that extra time and where you want to spend that extra time. By being intentional with your newly added time, you can stop overworking yourself, create clear boundaries between your work/personal life, and spend more time doing what you love.
7. How can you use this transition to include more helpful change?
A period of transition is the perfect time to initiate change. If you’ve never liked how something is done, now is your chance. Call out the parts of work that you’ve always hated and consider whether you can make a small change that will make a big difference.
If you’ve never liked that all the socialization with your company centered on awkward networking events and alcohol, change it up. Try networking events that center around shared interests. Try doing things that allow you to build and create together.
Personally, I never liked how gathering feedback from team members was non-existent unless they spoke up themselves. I switched to a system that required the company to be proactive instead of the employee. This created an environment where people felt their opinions were valued.
Don’t just keep something the same way because that’s how it’s always been done. Identify what’s working and what’s not and try something new. Use this as an opportunity to get rid of the worst parts of work.
8. How can you intentionally rework eating habits to optimize for energy management?
Just like the standard working times might not be the best for you, the standard eating times might not work as well. You have more freedom now to eat when and what makes you feel your best.
In the office, you might have been eating at times you weren’t hungry or had a hard time abstaining from foods that made you feel bad due to being surrounded by others. You’re now fully in control over the food you bring into your house and your schedule.
Try tracking your energy levels throughout the day. Also, try logging how different foods affect you. For me, my best eating times are 8am, 11am, and 4pm. Intermittent fasting and a plant-based diet have helped me feel better and focus more. These eating habits and schedule would have been impossible for me pre-remote.
Food fuels you. It’s a critical piece to how we work and live. Yet, we often neglect it to optimize for more fun areas that have less of an impact (ex. tooling). Take some time to consider whether your eating habits work for you or for an old social standard.
9. Are you letting your meeting schedule control your day?
The default standard for meetings is a 1-hour video call at anytime throughout the week. People fit deep work around their meeting schedule instead of fitting their meeting schedule around their deep work. Can you really hit flow or do your best work when you’re working this way?
Evaluate what types of work you do and when you do them best. Instead of accepting every single meeting invite, have a set of rules to define what to say yes to. Ex. I will only accept x meetings per day, during y hours, and only after determining if it is the best format.
I time block my calendar in themes, so each type of work is scheduled for when I do it best. My meetings are limited to 2 days with a 15–30 min default. I have a limited number that I will accept per day and (unless it’s a relationship-building call) the meetings are voice-only.
Too often, people only use their calendar to schedule calls and then the calls become the priority. Meetings should be there to enhance your work, not hinder it. Through creating your own standards, you filter out unnecessary interruptions and take back control of your day.
10. Who will you spend your time with now that you get to choose?
Typically, you would spend a majority of your week in-person with people HR chose for you to be around. Now, you choose. This means that you can form closer connections and surround yourself with people that make you happier.
Start by taking time to understand yourself and the kinds of people you love having in your life. Determine where you can find people like that. Be intentional about cultivating relationships that you choose instead of fall into. Ex. Join a coworking space with like-minded individuals, use your old commute time to join interesting clubs or activities, and spend more time with the people you’ve already chosen.
In my last in-person role, I was surrounded by toxic people who made me feel unsafe and unhappy. Today, I spend everyday with people who are supportive and fun. They challenge me to think differently and root me on. This reflects positively in my work.
The transition is difficult at first because you’re used to friends being chosen for you by who is in the class/office. Understand this so you can be intentional about where you are going to find the people you choose now. Higher upfront effort for a better long-term reward.
Reminder: These 10 questions are just to help you think about how you work. My solution might not work for you and you might prefer the default. That’s okay. In that case, you’re committing to the default intentionally instead of blindly.
The future of work doesn’t matter if we don’t also update how we live. I hope you use these 10 questions to help you think about benefits you may have never considered before.
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