More Foundations of Remote Work (In Progress)


Many humans in my world have pointed to a completely warped experience of time ever since we began social distancing. While temporal perceptions are going wild, what we know is this: we made it to May 2020, and we continue to do our best in figuring out how to work, set boundaries, communicate, and take care of ourselves and one another while under quarantine. In this second installment of Remote Work (in Progress), I want to offer the civic tech community some resources on presentations & communications, focus & productivity, and wellness & inclusion. (Part one is here.)

PRESENTATIONS & COMMUNICATIONS

Here are 6 ways to be a stellar speaker on videoWe don’t have to be in a physical space in order to work on our speaking and presentation skills! Shama Hyder, the CEO of Zen Media and internationally renowned keynote speaker, writes this Forbes article on how to translate her presentation skills to a virtual format. Some high-level tips:

  • Shorten and compress your presentation
  • Add in multimedia aids
  • Speak directly to your audience
  • Plan and prepare just as much (or more!) as you would for a live speaking event

How to improve communication with coworkers during social distancingCommunication is key to building, maintaining, and improving upon relationships, whether they are personal or professional. In this Fast Company article, Art Markman, a professor of Psychology and Marketing at University of Texas at Austin, provides a few simple but powerful tips on how to communicate well in this period of social distancing. His main suggestions are:

  • Most other people are not idiots: “Just assume that the lapse you see in others come[s] from something about the crazy circumstances that we’re all going through rather than something about that person that is lazy, mean, or spiteful.” 
  • Don’t escalate: “If someone says something that bothers you, take a deep breath and respond slowly. If someone escalates an interaction with you, don’t take the bait. Give people a chance to respond to your calming energy rather than letting an interaction blow up.”
  • When in doubt, ask: “If you feel like you may have overstepped, reach out to a colleague and ask whether they have concerns about something you did. If you sense that someone may be angry, scared, or confused about a situation at work, engage in a discussion with them.”

FOCUS & PRODUCTIVITY

This is your brain on lockdown: How to restore focus and get your groove backThese days, when I am feeling frazzled by the realities of COVID-19 and my mind has wandered off to another dimension (bai!), I try my best to force my brain into (focused) submission. Sometimes this works, mostly it doesn’t. Naz Beheshti, an executive wellness coach and consultant, writes in this Forbes piece that we need to acknowledge the ways in which COVID-19 has taken a psychological toll on us in order to get our “groove” back. This is how she recommends we do that (based on neuroscience):

  • Mindful awareness. Notice the effects of this moment on our minds and bodies without judging yourself.
  • Bite-sized tasks, small wins. Break up your projects into small bits to set yourself up for a win! 
  • Design your day (and environment) for focus. Engineer your environment (including a digital one) to filter out distractions (including things like email notifications, Slack, etc.).
  • Frequent purposeful breaks. The brain needs rest, so give it some intentional down time.

To be productive during a pandemic or not to be? Ask a productivity coach, not the internet It’s hard to know how much to push ourselves to be productive, and how much to honor our needs during these challenging, confusing, and uncertain times. Raval Davis, an expert on the intersections of race, gender, entertainment, and wellness, interviews a productivity coach named Rose-Anne Uwague in this piece. Uwague says that she helps her clients “pursue harmony, employ grace and strategy rather than hustling, grinding, and struggling,” and answers the following questions (and more):

  • What are the hardest things to overcome when transitioning from a work environment to working at home when it comes to productivity?
  • How can you create structure in your day?
  • Should we really be worried about being productive during a time like this? Is it right to leverage a pandemic to launch a brand or learn a new skill?

WELLNESS & INCLUSION

I’ll be right back. How to protect your energy during Zoom meetings – I recently realized that my energies are depleting more quickly in Zoom gatherings than they do when we meet in-person. This Fast Company article by Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach and remote work expert, covers some “common culprits” of Zoom Fatigue, and provides some tangible recommendations on how to combat them. Here are some highlights:

  • A “Zero Break” Schedule: We don’t always recognize the built-in “breaks” we get when we have back-to-back meetings in-person. We often have a few minutes of physical movement, we feel more comfortable asking for time to use the restroom or grab some water. With video calls, we are less likely to take that time. One solution is to schedule meetings with at least 5-10 minutes gaps in between. 
  • One Position for One Screen: During video calls we often feel the need to physically hold ourselves in one position, whereas during an in-person gathering we’d likely move about in our seats. To solve for this problem, we can work on intentionally moving our bodies around more. Introduce small shifts, introduce norms where it is okay to get up for a moment to stretch your back, neck, shoulders, or arms. 
  • Eyestrain Increase: We’re in front of the computer a lot more, these days, and research shows that “we blink half as often when we watch things on screens as we normally would with face-to-face interactions.” To mitigate eyestrain, every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away to rest your eyes.

    How to refuel when you’re feeling emotionally drained – In this Harvard Business Review article, Monique Valcour, an executive coach and management professor, tells us: “research shows that people suffering from emotional exhaustion experience higher levels of work-life conflict.” In order to ensure that we don’t run out of our own emotional energies during this challenging period, she recommends the following:

  • Reducing the drain. Minimize the types of situations, tasks, and relationships that deplete you. 
  • Learning to conserve. Function with greater “emotional efficiency” by trying things like acknowledging your feelings and reassessing stressful experiences.
  • Replenishing your fuel. Engage in nonwork activities that promote relaxation, such as exercise and mindfulness practices.

Three tips to help managers lead inclusively when working with remote teams – In this Forbes piece La’Wana Harris, a global diversity and inclusion consultant, helps us to understand what it means to lead inclusively in a remote working environment. She organizes reflections, tips, and prompting questions into three main categories:

  • The self. She asks us to look within and to ask ourselves some questions, such as:
    • How do cultural influences impact working remotely?
    • How will I create psychological safety in a virtual environment?
    • What specific actions will I take to mitigate bias and microaggressions in virtual interactions?
  • Others. Harris claims that “exploring identity creates greater connectedness and productivity.” Some questions to ask of team members:
    • What do you need most during this time?
    • What specific actions will help create an environment conducive to you doing your best work?
  • Business. She suggests that companies can leverage remote working arrangements to gather insights. Examples of questions that businesses can ask themselves:
    • How can we harness the power of disruption to positively transform our ways of working?
    • What are the mindset shifts needed to successfully transition to a completely virtual workforce?

When individual and collective anxieties are high, it is important to be gentle. As someone who often has olympian standards of myself and others (a quality that can lead to frustration for everyone), I find it helpful to step back and look at the big picture. I take a deep breath and focus on building awareness, whether that awareness is about my skills, my ability to focus or be productive, attunement with my own wellbeing (this is a definite work in progress for me), or a reliance on personal defaults that may accidentally lead to practices of exclusion. Many people have stated that this era is showing us how much we need to take care of each other. I believe this to be 100% true. And, I think that work can start with our own care.