What if WFH is our new reality? Adjusting to a (potential) full year of remote work

After weeks of shelter-in-place policies, states are developing their transition plans back to (some version of) normal life. Even as certain states attempt to reopen business as usual, swift backlash from public health experts—and the general public—raises concerns about how we safely and successfully enact this next phase.
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Many companies are communicating timelines of their own for getting back to the office. Despite the plausibility of resuming operations in the next several months, the reality is, most offices simply aren’t built for social distancing measures. Open-concept office layouts and windowless conference rooms are a stark contrast to the self-isolation we’ve experienced in light of this pandemic. Add overcrowded bus commutes into the mix and you’re facing a nerve wracking level of exposure.

Beyond office design, many employees will simply need or choose to stay home. With school districts continuing online learning through the second half of the year, many parents will be required to stay with their kids. Plus, given the choice of wearing a mask for eight hours or continuing to WFH, mask-free and in sweatpants, we can’t blame our teams for preferring the latter.

At Uplevel, we met as a company to open the discussion: What if we were a fully remote company? To our surprise, we reached a fast majority in favor. We’re starting to think longer term.

Every company will have different perspectives and preferences in this time. Regardless, recent events make it clear that we should all prepare for remote work, possibly over a longer duration than initially anticipated. While your team has likely settled into a decent WFH routine, this elongation might raise new questions or needs. With that in mind, we recommend the following steps to establish a more sustainable remote work culture.

Finally create a comfortable workspace. 

We’ve seen a variety of at-home work solutions. Sure, they’re functional, but few could be called ergonomic. If your 9-to-5 has involved moving your laptop through a rotation of bed, to kitchen table, to couch, you might be headed toward long-lasting neck and back pain. It’s time to commit to a workstation that supports you in every way. Consider moving a table and lamp to a corner of your living room, or invest in an adjustable standing desk and standing mat to alternate with sedentary hours. Ask if your company will sponsor a second monitor to enable more productive screen time. Taking this opportunity to upgrade your “office” can help your workday, as well as helping delineate the personal and professional segments of your time. Plus, it’ll look way better on Zoom.

Establish a (new) routine. 

When we migrated home in March, many work-from-home tips focused on keeping your normal routine and applying it to your home life, such as maintaining reasonable hours and wearing a button-down to virtual meetings. Two months later, we’ve long accepted that we can be just as productive in our pajamas. We’ve healthily entered a new era, in which our most productive routines are focused on, well, health. Given the unprecedented time we’re experiencing, we all have full permission, if not a requirement, to incorporate stress relief throughout the day. Reflect on the past month and identify what’s been helpful, or needs to change. Consider adding a morning walk, upgrading your lunch menu, and taking an afternoon meditation break. Think about a new routine that fits with your life today, accepting that a lot has changed since this began. 

Give your team a fresh start. 

Managers quickly adapted to managing remotely, but even those with successful routines may find that they’re ready for change. Many work-from-home strategies were designed to be temporary solutions, and as we’re looking ahead to many more months apart, those solutions need to cover us long-term. Schedule a dedicated check-in with your team, asking them to think on what’s been helpful or challenging in the past several weeks. Has daily standup been effective? Are people reaching peak Zoom fatigue? Does anyone have ideas or requests? Regardless of whatever praise or complaints your team has had so far, it’s quite possible that people haven’t spoken up, thinking that WFH life would end soon.

Dedicate this week’s 1:1s to a wellness agenda. 

Deadlines aside, this week’s highest priority is your team’s wellbeing. Use one-on-one facetime for a personal wellness check. Even if your team has a friendly dynamic, some members might feel hesitant to share during group meetings, and might open up when given the chance. The nature of this pandemic is simultaneously completely overwhelming, and painfully slow, so it can be eye-opening to pause and reflect on the simple question: How are you doing? If you’re comfortable, encourage people to check in professionally, mentally, emotionally—cover the bases. Amid the many adjustments we’ve made during COVID-19, strengthening the support network between coworkers is one we hope continues.