Finding the Silver Lining: The Importance of Positivity When Adapting to Novel Circumstances
Adaptability. While its importance has been stressed to me in the past, I now find this word having a novel manifestation and significance in my professional and personal life. I am sure that many would agree, as millions worldwide have experienced unanticipated changes to their routines. This transition hasn’t been seamless. In a recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management, “over 70% of employers report struggles with shifting to remote work.”
While having the majority of my second semester of college online helped facilitate a smoother transition to working remotely, it was not — and still is not — always facile. The first time opening my work laptop that had been mailed to me was intimidating and a bit stressful. As I read through the instructions for logging onto the VPN network alone at my desk, intimidation became tinged with loneliness. This loneliness hasn’t completely subsided, as I haven’t been able to chat with my fellow coworkers at the coffee machine or after work and still have yet to meet any of these intelligent, accomplished individuals in person. Adapting to this new reality has not only allowed me to reflect on and improve my own habits — remote work has also provided me with a refreshing perspective regarding all of our commonalities and shared humanity.
Last summer, I commuted to my internship in the Seaport district of Boston every day. I woke up at the same time, developed a morning routine, sat in (a lot of!) traffic, and would walk to work at the same time every weekday. Now that I no longer commute to work, I realize that this transitional period was conducive to getting into a “work mindset.” I therefore made a conscious effort to recreate a similar situation at home; my desk is devoid of any non-work materials and I ensure that I do not engage in any non-work-related tasks while at my desk. This helps me enter the same “work mindset.” Here are some other tips that I have to offer based off of my experiences thus far:
Separate Work Activities: If you can, try and make the room where you work free of as many “non-work” related items/activities as possible, such as watching television in the evenings. A mental separation between the two spheres of your life will be helpful for limiting distractions and boosting productivity.
Block Out Distractions: If you struggle to focus with a large amount of background noise like I do, a physical fan or white noise machine is great. There are also many YouTube videos with white noise sounds (some for hours on end!).
Declutter: Keep both your laptop and desk/workspace free of clutter. Use your folders!
Planning and Establishing a Routine
Visually Plan Your Day/Week: Use a physical planner/calendar to organize your week. Writing things down on a piece of paper helps me stay organized and remember things and it is easier to see visually.
Maintain a Consistent Schedule: Try your best to maintain a schedule while you are working from home. Routine has helped me establish a feeling of normalcy in an uncertain time.
Unplug: As part of establishing a routine, try to establish working hours and then unplug. Without commuting to a physical office, it can feel as if we are surrounded by work around the clock. I am a self-proclaimed “workaholic” and used to feel uncomfortable not doing something productive at all hours of the day. However, I would feel exhausted and burnt out. Work hard and effectively during your working hours, chunk your time and tasks effectively, and close your laptop and do not check it frequently (unless it is urgent, of course). A mental break will allow for you to conquer the next day recharged.
Move!: Try to move and spend time outside as much as possible. Get up from your computer and walk around the block, your house, or just stretch. It is easy to stay seated in the same position for hours on end while working remotely, but this can create a large amount of muscle tension. Being outside helps me clear my head and generate ideas. I often come up with some of my best ideas while walking or running.
Stay Connected: Staying connected to coworkers can feel difficult and awkward. Don’t underestimate the power of small talk! One of my coworkers got the same dog breed around the time that I did, and my other coworker shares my love for cooking and finding recipes. These have been great talking points and have helped me feel connected to them. Even if it may seem forced in the moment, your coworkers are likely eager to connect too.
Ask For Help: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be honest and open about your struggles. I have had various technological issues, and I could not just quickly go to the IT desk like in an office environment. Be patient with others and yourself when solving such issues remotely.
Speak Up: As an intern, it can be intimidating and sometimes nerve-wracking to speak up at certain times when others are decades older than you. In a virtual environment, it is harder to read body language and determine when it is a good time to jump in. Moreover, if a meeting runs over the allotted time frame, you can’t follow up with a coworker as you leave the conference room. I’m not saying to interrupt others, of course, but don’t be timid when you have a question or want to voice your input.
However, just because things are different doesn’t necessarily mean that they are worse. One of my favorite sayings is “Don’t let comparison be the thief of joy,” based off of Theodore Roosevelt’s notion that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Maintaining a positive mindset and specifically identifying the positives of remote work have been helpful for me. I encourage you to do the same. Remote work has enabled me to work with individuals at both Skillsoft and C Space more easily, and I am grateful for all that I have learned as a result of this. Less time commuting to and from the office means that I get to spend more time with my new Bernedoodle puppy, Chloe, that we got on my start date.
In a meeting in June, I asked one of my coworkers about his experiences working from home. He offered an alternative perspective that I think is extremely humbling. Everyone’s video background is a window into their personal life. Some have plants, some have art. When we may feel stressed out or intimidated, seeing a coworker in a more relaxed outfit as opposed to a suit or seeing their young daughter run in and interrupt them is a gentle reminder that we are all human. We are all navigating our careers with a certain degree of uncertainty and we are all constantly adapting. It is important to be patient and kind to ourselves and to each other. It is important to be flexible and to face new challenges and circumstances headfirst — ready to inevitably fail at times, but also ready to learn. We ultimately cannot completely control our environments — we can only control our responses to them. In order to be better employees, coworkers, and human beings, it is essential to focus on what we can control.