stop remote work from stealing your life

How to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Your Life

Awareness and intention will help stop remote work from stealing your life.

It’s not your imagination: if the pandemic shifted your job to working from home, odds are, you’re working longer hours. For many of the leaders we’ve spoken with over the past months, WFH arrangements are sapping their energy and their team’s morale and mental health. To lead your team through these challenges, it’s vital that you stop remote work from stealing your life.

One of the best parts of working with so many business leaders around the world is seeing the concern and creativity of leaders to help their teams during the pandemic. There is no magic wand that will solve every challenge, but you can stop remote work from stealing your life by incorporating some combination of these approaches.

Six Practices to Stop Remote Work from Stealing Away Your Best Self

Tap into the Power of Ritual

You’ve likely heard of Parksinson’s Law: that work expands to fit the time allotted for it. That’s a big problem when time seems unlimited.

One way to stop remote work from stealing your life is to clearly define the time in which it must happen. If you know you can’t work before or after a certain time, you’ll write that email in half the time, shorten or eliminate meetings, and spend less time on social media.

Without that clear definition, it’s easy to start work while you’re blearily reading emails in bed while waking up, keep on working through breakfast, and stumble into the evening without ever having stopped.

That’s a poor way to live (nor is it a good way to be a productive team member).

Tap into the power of rituals to create a “container” for your work. Writers are famous for rituals they use to define their work. Victor Hugo would take off his clothes to write and put them on again once he was done (not recommended for those Zoom calls!)

One IT manager we spoke with said his powerful work-from-home ritual was simply to pack his lunch. He’d eat breakfast with his family, prepare his lunch, put it in a cooler bag, and then take it with him the 15 feet to his desk. That would signal the start of the workday.

Perhaps you light a candle to start and blow it out during breaks, lunch, or at the end of the day. Others set a timer. Find a ritual that tells your body and mind when it’s working and when it’s not.

Shift Out of Crisis Mode

Another factor that has contributed to the expansion of remote work is the feeling of crisis. As the virus first spread and shelter-in-place orders went out, most businesses and teams faced legitimate crises.

  • How will we maintain enough cash?
  • Will we survive this?
  • How can we get everyone working from home quickly enough?
  • How do we keep our people safe?
  • Will I keep my job?

A crisis energizes people. It provides clarity, focus, and adrenalin. It disrupts inertia and sparks innovation. Everyone rallies together and you can achieve amazing results. Some leaders love crisis-productivity so much that they manufacture drama and drive everyone nuts with constant fire drills.

But the power of crisis is limited. You can’t maintain that energy, focus, and adrenalin forever. It’s like sprinting. You sprint 400 meters. You can’t sprint a marathon.

Shifting out of crisis mode is difficult when the initial crisis isn’t over. The pandemic is a slow-moving economic and social crisis that isn’t over in a week, a month, or possibly even a year.

To stop remote work from stealing your life, shift out of crisis mode. Sometimes deep breathing, meditation, prayer, time in nature, or conversation with good friends are enough to make this shift.

A ceremony can also help. Declare the crisis of initial response “completed” and define the next stage, including the level of energy, effort, and overall health you expect of yourself and your team.

Still struggling to shift back to a gear you can maintain? Make two lists: what you can control and what’s outside of your control. Highlight your M.I.T.s (Most Important Things) on the first list. Release the second list (burn it, flush it, shred it, or delete it) and release yourself from having to work on the things you can’t control.

Find your focus on specific actions you can take toward the M.I.T.s where you can make a difference.

If, after these practices, you’re still finding it difficult to shift down, a conversation with a mental health professional can help.

Practice Mini-Experiments

One fun way to maintain your sense of life, build culture, and personal/professional development is a technique Karin learned from Susie, an executive whose company cultivated the technique of personal mini-experiments.

In short, you choose a behavior you want to try out. The criteria are that it has to be easy to do—and it has to scare you or make you uncomfortable. You commit to practice the new behavior for two to four weeks and see what happens.

For example: Susie described how she had a tendency to over-prepare for meetings. So her mini-experiment was to limit her preparation time to one hour. She worried that she would be under-prepared, but she discovered she did as well as ever–and now she had reclaimed many hours.

As the pandemic has progressed, we’ve heard leaders share their own mini-experiments:

  • Giving themselves permission to put down their phone and have lunch with their family for 30-45 minutes.
  • Starting a garden.
  • Waking up 30 minutes earlier for exercise, reflection, or to try a hobby.
  • Saying no to opportunities.

Enjoy a Hobby

Your mini-experiment might take the form of a hobby. One way to keep remote work from stealing your life is to have somewhere else to focus. David, who already enjoyed baking bread, used our extended time at home to join the ranks of sourdough bakers. It refreshes him and keeps him going between long days of leadership development.

Bread might not be your thing, but what might you do that would be fun and absorb some of your attention?

stop remote work from stealing your life

Make Team Agreements

One of the powerful tools we’ve seen many leaders use is to establish team norms of shared expectations about how they will work together. Examples include:

  • An international team that decided they will not schedule meetings after 7 pm for any participant. This forces them to be efficient with the time they have.
  • Other teams that have declared no-meetings-days such as Wednesdays or Fridays.
  • A commitment to always leave 15 or 30 minutes between online meetings.
  • Clarifying what communications tools to use for specific content. What can wait, and what needs to be discussed promptly? What should be an IM, an email, a phone call, and what must be a video meeting?

These discussions and commitments help everyone use their time more effectively.

Use the Flexibility

Working from home gives us opportunities. Where can you use the flexibility to restore your energy and relationships? Can you take an exercise break mid-morning? Can you meet your partner, child, or neighbor for a 15-minute break? Perhaps a walking meeting?

We talked with a team leader whose team all leave their work-from-home desks and walk while they meet by phone for 30 minutes.

Your Turn

For many, working from home during the pandemic is more difficult than traditional remote work. The challenges of family members unloading the dishwasher while you’re on a call, ad hoc workspace, concerns about illness, and social isolation add extra layers of complexity and stress.

If you’re working remotely, in order to lead your team and help them maintain their health and productivity, it’s vital that you stop remote work from stealing your best self. Energy, confidence, and empathy are hard to find when you’re strung out and exhausted from unending work.

We would love to hear from you. What techniques have you and your team used to stop remote work from stealing your life? Leave us a comment and tell us what’s working for you!

See Also:

What Your Employees Are Yearning For in a Remote One-on-One

What Employees are longing for in a remote one-on-one

Remote One-on-Ones: What Employees are Yearning For Most

Remote One-on-One Meetings Provide Direction and Connection

One of the simplest, most cost-effective ways to build trust and improve performance in your remote team is a deliberate and well-executed cadence of remote one-on-ones. Here are six topics both high-performing and struggling employees tell us they’re yearning for in their remote one-on-one meetings.

Beyond Status Updates: Your Employees Are Yearning For More in Remote One-on-One Meetings

Even before this transition to remote work, when we would ask employees about their experience with one-on-ones, we often heard nervous laughter and responses like these:

“One-on-ones, what are those (hahaha)?”

“She has an open door. She tells us to come by whenever we want. (Of course, she’s never there. Hahaha).” I just wish she could carge out some dedicated time.

“I just count on windshield time with my manager between client visits. He’s so busy, that’s the only time I know I’ve got him captive (hahaha).”

“He just leaves me alone. I do a good job. I guess he would tell me if I was screwing up (hahaha).”

Obviously, these responses are less than ideal, but it’s even harder to wing it now. So much is changing—and fast.

In the last few months, when we’ve asked employees about their one-on-one meetings, the tenor of the conversations has changed from nervous laughter to deep concern.

Employees are yearning for MORE DIRECTION and CONNECTION in their remote one-on-ones.

“Dear Boss, here’s what I need most in our remote one-on-one meeting…”

Today we share what we’re hearing employees need most right now in their one-on-ones. We encourage you to share this article with your team and to talk about what’s working in your remote one-on-ones and what you can do to take them to the next level.

1. Clarity: Help Me Understand What’s Most Important Right Now

“I understand that you don’t have all the answers. Priorities change.  But please give me a fighting chance of working on the right things, because quite frankly, I’m feeling overwhelmed and I don’t have time for rework or wasted effort. Please use our one-on-one meeting to ensure I know what matters most this week, and what I need to do to be successful.”

2. Caring: Show Me I Matter More Than My KPIs

“It’s been a rough week. I’m tired. I signed up to be a working parent, but not a working parent with no daycare! I know you’re busy, but before you jump right in and talk about the project, can you take a minute to see me and check-in to see if I’m doing okay?”

3. Consistency: Give Me a Cadence I Can Count On

“I know your heart is in the right place and that you’re being pulled in a million directions too. But this is the third time you’ve canceled our one-on-one meeting. I had my list all ready to cover with you. And now I’ve got to track you down. I scheduled my one-on-one meetings with my team AFTER ours so I would have answers for them. Now I’m heading into those with unanswered questions which is embarrassing and is slowing all of us down.”

4. Credibility: Be Real With Me, So I Can Be Real With You

“You know what made me feel great, that one time when you opened up and really shared how you were feeling. It made me feel so much better to know that you’re scared and tired too. But since then, you’ve just been so perky and positive—and I wonder, are you for real?”

5. Capacity: Ask Me What I Need

What I need to hear more than anything right now is: “How can I be most helpful?”

6. Curiosity: Ask Me For Ideas

I’m learning a lot and I’ve got some great ideas about how we can do things better. But, I feel awkward sharing my ideas if I’m not asked.

Boss, I really care about you, this company, and our success. I’d love to have some time to pull up with you each week in a quick one-on-one meeting to share as we work through this important time together.

Sincerely,

Your courageous employee.

How to Hold a Better Remote One-on-One Meeting: Free Tool

Whether you’re the manager looking to hold better remote one-on-ones, or an employee yearning to get the support you need from your manager. This easy-to-use one-on-one tool works wonders.

It’s a staple in our live-online leadership development programs, and both managers and employees tell us a using it each week to structure remote one-on-ones creates focus, connection, and helps to prioritize what matters most.

It works like this. You schedule 10 minutes a week and ask your employees to and come prepared to discuss the following:

First, start with connecting at a human level. Be sure they’re feeling seen at a human level.

  • What’s the Most Important Thing you accomplished last week? (This gives them an opportunity to ensure you  are aware of the good work they are doing)
  • What’s the Most Important Thing you’re working on this week? (This helps clarify expectations and ensure alignment)
  • What support do you need? This gives your employee a structured time to ask for help AND also makes it easier for them to keep a running list of anything that’s not urgent and can wait.

In fact, in our own company, we’ve automated these questions in Basecamp, and every Monday each team member (including the executive team) answers these questions so that everyone can see and understand their biggest priorities, and offer support.

Of course, automation is not a substitute for great one-on-one meetings, it’s a jumping-off point for deeper conversation.

You can download the free MIT Huddle Planner here.

Your Turn:

What would you add? What’s working well in your remote one-on-ones?

P.S. This article was featured in CTO Universe MVP Best Articles of 2020 Awards.

what employees are yearning for in remote one-on-onesSee Also:

Our Remote Teams Resource Center (full of FREE resources)

How to Overcome One of the Biggest Challenges from Working From Home

How to Hold an Effective Mid Year Review in a Pandemic

how to lead a team that suddently has to work from home

How to Lead a Team That Suddenly Has to Work From Home

This week we’ve received so many calls like this from managers faced with implementing new work from home policies.

“I get the safety issues, I really do. But my team is used to being together in the same office. We collaborate all day long. That’s what makes us so successful. I’m concerned that this work from home policy is going to tank engagement, stifle communication and reduce productivity. What can I do?”

“I love sitting out on the floor with my team. That’s how I know what’s going on. How can I stay connected if everyone is working from home?”

“The timing couldn’t be worse. We’re in the middle of a huge project. How can I ensure my team stays focused when they’re working from home and distracted by fear?”

5 Ways to Keep Your Team Productive and Engaged While They Work From Home

These are all very real and legitimate concerns. Not everyone is cut out to work from home.

And it’s tricky to lead a remote team, particularly if you never have before.

So how do you keep your team focused and engaged when working from home is the only option?

1. Require video for your meetings and one-on-ones.

Your team may resist. Be clear from the beginning this is not optional. Being able to look one another in the eye leads to better listening (body language matters) and prevents multi-tasking.

This human connection is even more vital now that we’re all afraid to shake hands and see every human we interact with as a potential threat to disinfect.

2. Formalize informal communication.

When you’re in an office it’s natural to connect first before jumping into work. “How was your weekend?” When everyone is working remotely, it’s tempting to skip the small talk. Be deliberate about finding ways to communicate at a human level.

Last week, we sat in on a remote team meeting where they started with a virtual chorus of happy birthday. Not the best rendition we’ve ever heard. But, it was a brilliant minute well spent as everyone laughed before jumping into the stressful topic of coronavirus contingency planning.

Here’s a list of meaningful icebreaker conversation starters to keep your team connecting.

3. Over-communicate your most important priorities.

Your team is likely stressed and distracted about their health and the health of the vulnerable people they love, tanking stock prices, and what’s going to happen next. On top of all that, now they have a new routine at work. In times of uncertainty and change, you’ve got to overcommunicate more than you think is necessary.

Mix it up with as many techniques as possible For example, you can start the day with a quick team huddle  (over video of course).  Then follow-up with a recap email. Up your frequency of one-on-one check-ins. And be sure you’re deliberately asking your team for their best thinking for ways to work effectively in this new environment Or look for more creative ways to reinforce key messages such as starting an internal podcast.

4. Encourage people to work together (without you.)

When everyone is remote, it’s easy to become the hub for all communication. Which of course is a huge time suck for you and a missed opportunity for them. Assign people to work on projects together (over video). Encourage brainstorming and best practice sharing (over video). Consider assigning collaborative homework in advance of your team meeting or huddles.

5. Learn the art of great remote meetings.

Take time to establish new norms for your remote meetings. How will you ensure everyone participates? What’s the rule on multi-tasking? See How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings,  for a quick primer you can share with your team.

Just like any other change, a shift to a work-at-home policy will take some adjusting for you and your team. Be sure you’re checking in with your team to see what’s working and what more they need from you and from one another.

See Also:

7 Ways To Help Your Team Deal with Ambiguity 

Seth Godin: Stuck at Home