Five things I learned while working remotely

Many things have changed in the past few years. In the summer of 2019, I got the keys to my very own apartment. That introduced another set of challenges with working from home that I didn't expect. After all, I've gotten my own place! My productivity heaven!

Five things I learned while working remotely
Photo by Sergey Zolkin / Unsplash

In April of 2018, the company I worked for decided to get rid of the office and go full remote. In a matter of weeks, I moved from a desk at the office to my bedroom at my parent's house, where I was living at the time.

Many things have changed in the past few years. In the summer of 2019, I got the keys to my very own apartment. That introduced another set of challenges with working from home that I didn't expect. After all, I've gotten my own place! My productivity heaven!

So, what were those challenges? How did I overcome them?

1. You don’t have to appear online all the time.

When I started working from home, I was constantly on top of my slack messages, emails, and other notifications. If someone had a question, I wanted to make sure I answered them sooner rather than later.

It took several months and conversations with my former boss to get used to asynchronous communication. For some reason, I'd developed this frame of mind where it was the most crucial thing in the world to have a fast response time.

My former boss told me it was okay to reply to messages in my own time. We agreed that if there were something that required my immediate attention, he would call me. Although this seems obvious, it helped me detach from synchronous communication.

When I got used to communicating asynchronously, it made me feel much calmer and in control of my schedule. My days became more productive as I was able to focus more on the task at hand rather than staying on top of my notification center. I was also able to enjoy my breaks more since I could let work for what it is for some time and come back to my desk refreshed and with new ideas.

For me learning how to communicate asynchronously was a "level-up" experience.

2. Less commute means burning fewer calories.

Let's continue with a popular remote work perk; no more commutes. Almost everyone I talk to who works from home loves to share how working remotely saves them 1, 2, or even 3 hours of commute each day.

However, after a couple of months working from home, I found out via the scale that the steps you take during your commute (or in the office) significantly count towards your daily step goal.

Looking at the data from my Apple watch, I was down around 5000 to 7000 steps a day, just by not going to the office.

This became even more evident when I started living on my own since I now no longer needed to walk my parent's dog.

When you start working from home, you need to think about how you will make up for the steps you no longer take for your commute. In other words: you have to make exercise part of your daily routine. Go for a long walk after lunch, or if you are like me, make going to the gym part of your daily routine.

It also helps you get the most out of your flow state, but more on that in the next section.

3. Flow state is both your friend and your worst enemy.

When I got used to communicating asynchronously, I was able to get into a flow state more often and for more extended periods of time.

When I started working from the comfort of my apartment, the time spent in the flow state increased even more! However, that was when I started noticing the downsides of spending too much time focusing on my work.

For starters, I wasn't worth anything anymore in the evening. I spent my evenings cooking myself some dinner (or often just ordering some food) and watching Netflix. I didn't even feel like gaming or hanging out. I didn't have the brain space for it.

I started to notice that I was often skipping breakfast and lunch altogether because I lost track of time or was too focused on getting my work done. This resulted in craving more bad foods during the day and consuming more sugary and fast food than any human is supposed to consume.

Eventually, the effectiveness of my flow state started to decline. A to-do list that would typically take me 4-6 hours to complete now took me more than 8. Sometimes I even didn't make it through my to-do list for the day. It felt like my brain was shrinking. It was frustrating and demoralizing.

The solution came when I started taking my health more seriously. In the summer of 2020, I decided it was time to cut the excuses and get my fat ass moving.

I learned more about nutrition, so I needed to spend some time preparing myself a healthy lunch each day. I also got out of my apartment more to go for a walk or go to the gym. As a result of having these breaks, I was able to take my mind off work and split time spent in the flow state over multiple time blocks.

After a couple of weeks of eating and living more healthily overall, I was back at performing the way I wanted to. My to-do lists were back to getting cleared, and I got more relaxation and joy out of my workdays and evenings.

4. Working from home can be lonely if you don’t do anything about it.

Each year Buffer releases a state of remote work. Each year, loneliness takes one of the top three spots of being one of the biggest struggles people face while working remotely.

While I was working from my parent's home, feeling lonely wasn't something I struggled with. Every time I left my bedroom, I got greeted by my mom, dad, or Leen (our dog). 9 out of 10 times, I had someone to talk to or have a cup of coffee with.

It wasn't until I moved into my own place that I started to see why loneliness is a big problem for people working remotely.

Spending many days on my own felt great for the first couple of weeks. But that was because I wasn't alone after all. My parents, sister, or friends would come over to help me with furniture or check out my new place.

However, when living on my own became normal, I slowly felt more isolated and lonely. Coming from someone who has always been able to enjoy himself and be happy while spending a lot of time on his own, but as it turns out, even that has its limits.

Luckily for me, I am blessed with great neighbors around my age and living on their own. We started to hang out together and great friendships formed. Almost every evening, we would meet each other outside, have a drink, and talk about our days.

I think this all helped us get used to living on our own, knowing that whenever we felt like having some company, there was always one of us available to talk to or get a drink with.

I know that not everyone is blessed with this. And I know that I am fortunate for hitting the jackpot on this one. But when you work remotely, make sure you see people regularly. Don't just talk to them over Facetime, but get out of your way to see them face to face.

Covid has made this more difficult, but it's the only way to stay sane.

Last year I also wrote this article that goes more in-depth on my story dealing with loneliness and includes more tips on how you could battle it too.

5. There is time for work, and then there is time for everything else.

If we look at the points mentioned above, it becomes clear that you need to develop the skills to become a manager. Not a manager at your job, but you need to learn how to become the manager of yourself.

You need to learn how to take a step back, look at yourself and the situation you are dealing with as if you were someone else and ask the hard questions.

This manager's side of yours must be the voice in your head that tells you when it's time for work and when it's time for play. You need to learn to balance your time, focus, and energy in a way that you can make the most out of your days, weeks, months, years, and life.

Just like with any career, this manager needs time to get better at their job. But if you provide the manager with good quality data, over time, it will help you move in the direction you want to go.