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Seven things I’m doing to make remote work more bearable

| Monday, February 15, 2021

I considered titling this piece “How to send emails to people you barely know without fear” but to do so would have been to ignore all the other “fun” challenges that come with working remotely. Whether you’re taking all your classes online, or maybe just one or two, there’s much to learn about remote work. When done right, it can be enjoyable and efficient. But we’ve all learned by now that remote work done wrong can leave you behind in your classes, stressed, sleep-deprived, and unhappy. 

During my gap semester, I worked long hours, online. I socialized online. I perused my creepily accurate targeted Facebook advertisements, online. Some days were wonderful—the world opened up to me, I could jump from Zoom room to Zoom room, chatting with friends, colleagues, and mentors from across the world. I was productive and comfy-cozy with a blanket on my lap. But some days, I became a Zoom-bie: eyes glazed over, head aching, blue-light glasses just not strong enough to do battle with my increased demand for online work. I don’t want this second thing to happen to you (or me) this semester. Over time I learned how to minimize those off days. 

I took a little time to gather questions my peers had about remote work. Emails were a recurring point of concern. But so were virtual professional networking and wellbeing. I am by no means an expert, but here are some things I’m personally doing this semester to make my online life a little easier. They may or may not work for you, but I am including them as gentle suggestions to try. Also remember: anything worth doing is worth doing poorly — so if you happen to falter in your adherence to any rule you set for yourself, forgive yourself with the kindness you’d afford to your best friend or closest loved one. 

    1. Waking up and going to sleep at consistent times. It’s hard for me to focus during long lectures in person, let alone over Zoom, so I’ve set myself a strict bedtime and wake up time to get a leg up on my own distractibility. 
    2. Take one day away from screens each week (or as away as you can get). This isn’t always possible for me, so I adapt it: on the weekend, I try to take at least an entire half-day off of work on my computer. If I can’t do that, then I set a “no-device” timer in between classes or go for a long walk in the middle of the day. Taking a minute to scroll through Instagram in between meetings isn’t really a break. 
    3. I’m not going to sweat sending emails anymore. The best advice I’ve gotten is to imagine myself as the recipient of any email I send. Be professional and kind, but know that no one is reading your emails with the scrutiny that you do. Honestly. By the time your words are converted into a task in the recipient’s mind, I promise they’ve forgotten the particulars of what you’ve said already (unless you were unexpectedly funny, ridiculously unprofessional, or made a tweetable typo). Some further notes and comments on the primary mode of Work From Home Communication: 
      • Using fewer words makes your email faster to read. Emails that are faster to read get responded to faster.  
      • If you’re trying to build your network, try to suggest times for a Zoom or Skype call within your first (short) email to someone new. Setting up a call should often be the goal of a cold email to someone you’d like to connect with professionally as a mentor, colleague, or potential employer. Calling or meeting is where you can make a kind, friendly and competent first impression. 
    4. I go for a walk almost every day. For me, spending time outdoors by myself (whether it’s in the snow or the sunshine) is essential to each day. If you ever see a bundled-up, marshmallow-looking girl in a hat, scarf, gloves, and puffy coat, trudging through the snow with a smile on her face, that’s me taking some time to be alone with myself and think. I’ve found that I can’t process my days fully without time away from people, tasks, and screens. If you’ve made it this far, put down this article and plan your next walk. 
    5. Start homework assignments early. Will I actually do this? Only time will tell, but now the tri-campus community knows I’m trying. 
    6. Frequent snacks. Water bottle. Enough said. 
    7. Treat yourself to the beauty of online activities while it lasts. There has never been a time when we’ve had so much access to virtual workshops, lectures, group classes, and exhibits. I’ve been going to virtual lectures and seminars with speakers and friends I’d have to travel across the country to see if we weren’t in a pandemic. Obviously what you go to depends on your interests, but a quick Google search of virtual events about whatever you’re interested in—philosophy, knitting, poetry, politics, technology—can give you something cool, virtual and purely for your enjoyment to look forward to during your week. You can meet new people, learn new things, and travel around the world without leaving your desk. 

Renee Yaseen is a junior who majors in economics with minors in theology and the philosophy, politics, & economics (PPE) program. In her free time, she writes poems, hangs out with loved ones, and works on her software startup. She can be reached via the chat on a shared Google Doc at 3 a.m., on Twitter @ReneeYaseen or by email at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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