By Wren Lee, Impact Strategy Intern (MAIP) [Header image credit: Canva]
Every time I tell someone that my summer internship is remote, they asked me the same questions: How do you manage working remotely? How has your agency adapted to remote work? They reminisce about in-person internships of yesteryear and question productivity in a remote world. After spending a year and a half Zooming into my classrooms and my MAIP internship at TMA, I’ve learned a few things about working remotely, lessons I’m excited to share with you.
Connect With Your Coworkers
Who you work with makes or breaks your work experience, so it’s important to get to know your coworkers. Highly engaged teams have a 14% increase in productivity compared to less engaged teams, according to Gallup’s “Employee Engagement and Performance Study.” Sadly, during the pandemic, we’ve lost spontaneous moments of connection such as walking and talking on the way to meetings or discussions around the water cooler.Still, we’ve gained insight into each other’s lives in a different way. During meetings, I’ve met my coworkers’ pets and seen their apartments. These perspectives aren’t a replacement for in-person small talk, but they provide a human-touch to the remote world.
I’ve used these windows into my life to show off my personality. On Zoom, I use a background not only to hide my messy room but also to show off my love of the show The Good Place. Virtual backgrounds are a great way to create conversation starters.
Even though online socializing takes more effort than chatting with coworkers over coffee, it’s important to build in time for people to get to know each other. For example, some members of my team meet every week to catch up. We talk about our weekend plans and work. I appreciate these meetings because they allow me to get to know my coworkers on a more personal level.
In the pre-COVID world, I used to have classes where the professor lectured the entire class, making it hard to ask questions. Now, with the chat and Google right at my fingertips, I can get an answer in real time. Asking questions is especially important for people starting their careers. I know I’ve been confused multiple times when more senior folks mention various acronyms. It felt like college all over again!
My advice? If you have a question, don’t hesitate to ask. Reach out over the chat or ask Google. If you go with the latter though, beware: some acronyms don’t mean the same thing in different meetings and environments. I’m looking at you, SOV. Asking questions takes bravery, but someone might have the same questions as you.
Build a Welcoming Workspace
Before the pandemic, I used to wake up 2 hours before my first class to get ready for the day. In the onset of the pandemic, I thought I could be productive while working from bed. Over time, however, my productivity decreased as my time spent in bed increased. After a few months of sleeping in late and almost missing my classes, I decided to separate my work and sleep spaces.
Now, my workspace is a folding table 5 feet away from my bed, but those 5 feet matter. When I’m at my desk, my brain knows it’s time to work. When I’m in bed, my brain transitions to sleep mode. It’s important to separate these spaces because once the two overlap, it’s hard to go back.
I’ve even decorated my little table with creature comforts such as a plush Totoro and a Daruma doll from my summer abroad in Japan! We’re working from home for the long haul, so I might as well make my space comfortable.
In college, I used to blend my work and personal lives because it’s so easy to have them overlap when you live where you work. With remote employment, work-life balance is just as hard to maintain because your work and living spaces are one and the same. A Pew Research study, “How the Coronavirus Outbreak Has – and Hasn’t – Changed the Way Americans Work,” found 26% of workers say they have a harder time balancing work and life during the pandemic. During this internship, I’ve strived to separate my work and personal lives.
As a lifelong reader, I take time to read every night. It allows me to decompress before bed and relax a bit after a long, stressful day. Additionally, I turn off my work laptop after I finish my projects for the day. I don’t touch my laptop until the next day. I don’t even have Teams or Outlook on my phone. If I had these apps on my phone, I know I’d check them constantly, no matter if it is work time or not. It’s been a hard process to separate the two because school and my social life were so intertwined in college, but it’s a process I’m happy I’ve started.
Overall, my WFH experience has been productive and successful because of the lessons I’ve learned from learning online. From virtual backgrounds to using the chat to asking questions, technology has made working from home so much easier. Still, I can’t wait to go work in-person!