Achieving "Remote Control"

By Tammy L. Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer

For most of my childhood, remote controls did not exist. I got my steps in by going to the television and pushing the button to select one of the four available channels. There was no mute button – just a dial to turn the volume up or down. Imagine my excitement when our family got our first television with a remote control. By this time, the only ones in the home struggling for control of the television were my father and me. He was a generous soul except when it came to the remote. Regardless of whether it was in the early evening after he came home from work at the factory or on Sunday – the day reserved for church and football – his behavior was consistent. He would sit in his chair and use the remote control to pick a channel. He would then promptly fall asleep. I would wait what seemed to be a reasonable amount of time and then I would gently creep to the television to change the channel. I was strategic, even back then, and I would turn the volume down prior to changing the channel. Well, strategy is only effective in hindsight and mine left a lot to be desired. No matter what I did, dad would arouse from his slumber with a “Hey. I was watching that!” and then he was off to dreamland once more.

As an adolescent, I would be frustrated and sometimes angry by the control he had over our home, and especially the remote control. Couldn’t he share? Didn’t he know I needed self-care too? (Note: I had no idea about self-care at the time so I am taking a bit of literary license.) Obviously not, the remote was his and he kept it close.

Currently, remote control has taken on a whole new meaning. There are millions of people out of work and millions more have made the transition to working remotely. This is a change for the large majority of workers and for some – the challenges far outweigh any of the benefits. How do you manage your emotions, time, and productivity when you are working remotely? How do you adjust the volume in your environment? How do you make sure your work is taking place via the right channel?

I started working remotely for the first time in 2002. In the past 18 years, I have found ways to control the outcome while mitigating the challenges inherent with my setting. Many individuals may find themselves struggling with the balance necessary to work from home effectively. You may be among the millions hoping to return to your place of work as soon as possible. Or, you may be among the others who have found new energy and passion by being somewhere other than at your desk. If you google “tips on working remotely” you will find lots of options. This is just another one and we hope it gives you something to think about.

To restore the “Remote Control” to your daily activities – consider the following:

R   Rotate activities. It may be helpful to remember that distractions and even the noise levels are different when you are working remotely. Note I  did not say, working from home. You may be in a hotel, temporarily staying with a relative, or somewhere else you would not identify as home.  Rotating activities allows you to plan effectively for meeting deliverables. For example, if you are homeschooling children – your most intensive work can only be done when your children are focused on their own assignments. One suggestion is to identify all of your work and home responsibilities in terms of time commitment. What can you do in under 15 minutes? Under 30? Under an hour? Create a list of responsibilities that fall within each time frame and consult the list. If the child or kids are napping, what can you do within that hour? It is unreasonable to think you can do the same things you did before, at the same pace, and within the same schedule if all of the external factors have changed. Rotating activities can help keep your energy and attention activated while helping you get more things done within your normal work day.

E  Effectively engage with others.  If you live alone and are not used to working from home, you may find the silence welcoming or distracting.  If you need to have music or the television on to feel less isolated, this isn’t a bad thing. If you decide to live stream entertainment, make sure the content is something very familiar to you. You will be less drawn in if you already know what happens. If you have a sound machine or a sound app on your phone, it may be helpful to use nature sounds to mask the silence. Some companies have adjusted for workers’ remote locations by extending or adding to meeting schedules. If this originates out of a concern over employees actually working –  the result is less than helpful. The more meetings, the less time there is to focus on productivity. If the meetings are a means to allow employees to engage with each other, consider asking how often do they need and want to be engaged. This is the very time to consider minimizing meetings to allow more time to focus on other needs.

M  Maintain mindfulness of self-care.  Let’s face it, if you overwork at the “office,” you probably overwork remotely as well. However, with the increased distractions it is easy to be critical of your efforts as the results may be different. Before you judge yourself – take time to do something that truly makes you feel better. Yes, you have time. You have to allow it and not feel guilty about it. Taking even five minutes to go outside and breathing deeply, reading a chapter in an interesting book, or listening to your favorite song can reset your spirit and your energy.  If you don’t think you have five minutes, be mindful of how much time you may spend being frustrated that you have no time for yourself. Stop it – save it – use it wisely.

O  Options for different schedules.  Don’t be shy about asking about a potential change in your schedule. For example, working 9 to 5 may not be possible in the given circumstances. If you are an exempt employee, your work is project driven. You may have to work early and then again late to get your work accomplished while maintaining unexpected home responsibilities caring for children or seniors. Most employers care about the results of your efforts – not necessarily how you get there. If you have a spouse who can cover the children on the weekend – maybe you could ask for permission to work more on the weekend to get needs met. Prior to making the request, create a list of the positive results and benefits to the company which could be realized with a change in your schedule.

T  Track efforts and results. So many people think a “to do list” is documentation of how much we do not get done. And others find great solace in creating a new list every day. There is something hopeful about a new list of items. Yes, there is possibility! Yes, there is hope! “Watch me work!” And then, at the end of the day, there are still more to do items than those crossed off the list. “What happened? Are you kidding me? I really thought I worked hard today.”

Creating one main list for the whole week gives you many more options to choose from when you are tackling your projects. Assign specific times for meetings when necessary and for checking your e-mail. If an e-mail comes in which requires a priority response then take care of it. However, very few e-mails are truly urgent. People send things to get them off of their list and rarely feel guilty for putting those things on yours. Don’t hesitate to share, via an auto response, when you are working on projects and when you will be able to review your communications. Of course, clear this with your supervisor. Celebrate when you get things done. Every accomplishment counts.

E  Expect things to be different. Seriously.  When working remotely you do have control on how you manage it, how you feel about it, and what results you can achieve. You have to find your rhythm and this takes time. It is far too easy to become anxious, depressed, or frustrated because you can’t change the channel when you want to. This is temporary -- as is almost everything. At some point, you will return to your job site with a new perspective on what does or doesn’t work. You may find a different job because you realize you will miss the opportunity to spend more time at home. You may….well, it is up to you.

In retrospect, I think of my father’s own remote control. When he came home from working 12 to 14 hours on a factory floor, he deserved the opportunity to sit in his chair and rest. If rest involved “watching” Gunsmoke or Bonanza with his eyes closed – he earned it. So have you. Rest when you can and how you can. Work when you can and how you can. And, remember – whether or not we can see behind each other’s closed doors – most likely, we are all doing the best we can.

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