This isn't normal remote working life. cover image

This isn't normal remote working life.

Matt Trask • April 22, 2020

Read Time: 4 mins


Ok look. I have worked remotely since last August (2019). In that time, I saw the world go from what was considered normal to normal being oblierated and completely set back. Every blog under the sun is taking this chance to come up with their list of hot tips on how to be successful during this time. My take: fuck that. This isn't a normal time. Nothing about what we are doing is normal right now. So why should we pretend that it is? Is this a new normal? Maybe. We can't call it a new normal because what tomorrow brings is uncertainty, when in the past we could reasonably predict what tomorrow would bring.

As an employer

As an employer, manager, lead, whatever position of power you might have you can help do a few things.

  1. Reenforce you understand this is a weird time.
  2. Allow your people some grace and space.
  3. Offer your people a place to talk openly and vent.

These three things can take you a good long way. If you are feeling extra generous in a time of uncertainty, offer to buy team members lunch one day. Doesn't have to be all at once, but its a nice gesture that can remove more stress than you would think it does.

Its important to remember that pretty much all of the social structures we have as humans are gone. We can't go to a coffee shop with a friend, grab lunch with our partner, or meet for a happy hour drink with coworkers. Even lunch is a big deal now. We have to be better at planning our grocery trips and if we do order lunch, every dollar spent is calculated out now as a risk, and also we calculate which local business it will do the most good at. Our minds are overburdened by thoughts we once took for granted. Add on children and a spouse at home, and you have a recipe for madness. Kids being out of physical school, themselves navigating remote learning, is a challenge if there arent enough workspaces to go around.

Keep in mind, that when someone makes a transition to remote work full time, there is planning involved. Things like which room becomes a dedicated office are talked about; what things will be purchased such as a desk, a chair, etc. People who turned into remote workers overnight in the past month didn't get this choice and they have to make due with what they have.

All this to be said: no one is doing their best work right now. Even the people who were remote prior to this situation are struggling. I know I am. There are good days where I crank out pull requests and there are days where I can't really point to any tangible progress.

The point to all of this: we all need a little more room to breathe. Let us.

As an employee

First and foremost: be honest with yourself and your team. We are all having good days and bad days. If you are having a bad day, say something. We will understand and we want to help, because then when its someone else's turn for a bad day you can be there to help them. When this is over, we will remember the people who helped when it was roughest for us.

If you can, carve out an area in your home that is your workspace. Treat it like your office you commute to. If you need to trick yourself, take a quick walk outside and put on the music/book/podcast you commute to. Put on real clothes too. Sure its nice to wear gym shorts all day, but putting on clothes can help your brain recognize its time to work.

If you are in a senior role, reach out to those on the team who you think might be struggling. Just say hey, and have a friendly conversation. Don't bring up the world that is currently on fire, but just talk and be a friend. A lot of people went from extroverted and out with friends to being a shut in. A friendly conversation with no overarching tones of "holy shit this sucks" can really help someone.

One thing that has helped me during this is that I keep a note in Bear (a note taking app for Mac) where I put any and all compliments I get at work. When I feel myself getting down, I look at that and it reminds me that I am worth more than what my mind thinks I am and there is positive things going on.

Final Thoughts

I know the cliche is "we are in this together" and obvoiusly we are. However it's fine to admit this sucks. It's fine to admit you feel an immeasurable amount of pressure kicking you in the face repeatedly. It ok to admit "no, I'm not doing ok" when someone asks how things are. The more vulnerable we allow ourselves to be, the more true we are to those around us. The more true we are, the more resilient we become to adversity and difficulty.