I’ll never forget the night that everything really changed.
It was my wife’s birthday, March 11th. I took her out for dinner at a lovely restaurant in South Minneapolis, and for a couple of blissful hours, over exotic cocktails and delicious food, we unplugged from the loudening noise of a worrisome outside world.
After we walked out of that restaurant, there would be no more tuning out.
Stepping out from the darkly lit building, I looked down at my phone, and tried to process the sudden rush of stunning headlines:
WHO declares global pandemic. NBA suspends season. Trump addresses the nation. Tom Hanks has coronavirus. Tom Hanks!
It all happened on the same day, like a floodgate bursting. And the ensuing deluge has since uprooted almost every sense of normalcy we once knew. Around that time, I stopped going into work, as did most others around the country. I haven’t gone back since, save for the odd trip to water a plant or record a video in an empty office.
TopRank Marketing has been in WFH mode for more than five years now. Sorry, did I say years? Months. Needless to say, I know we are not alone, which is why I thought I’d offer a look at my typical day as a content marketer in the (ugh) “new normal,” and share some helpful things I’ve learned.
We’re all figuring this out as we go.
Overcoming New Daily Challenges as a Content Marketer During the Summer of COVID
I count myself as a lucky man, for a lot of reasons. One of them is that I can do my job pretty frictionlessly from home. While I miss seeing my coworkers, and there are newfound challenges (as I’ll discuss), I’m able to stay productive. In part that’s because I’ve developed my own personal solutions to these WFH hurdles. Maybe some of them can help you.
Getting Going in the Morning
I’m not what one would call a “morning person.” Generally I am rather groggy and cloudy after waking up. In this respect, going into the office was always helpful for me – the routine of showering, getting dressed, prepping some breakfast and coffee, and hopping into the car was inherently awakening.
I can’t say I take all those steps on a typical morning anymore. For a while, it was tough, getting in the mindset of traveling from bedroom to living room, and suddenly entering Work Mode. But what I’ve found helpful is using the morning as a bit of personal zen time. Unless I have early meetings, I’ll usually rouse myself gradually, pour some coffee, scroll Twitter, and size up my day. I’ll go through my emails, prioritize my tasks, and check in with account managers. This helps me build momentum toward optimal mid-day productivity.
Takeaway: Work/life balance can be tough during these times. (It’s often cited in surveys as one of the biggest challenges for full-time remote workers.) Don’t force yourself to instantly flip a switch. Find a comfortable routine that works for you.
Managing Distractions and Finding the Zone
Being in the office can bring its own set of distractions, but there are some unique ones associated with working from home. For many people, creating a designated workspace around the house is helpful. Personally, I live in a small apartment with my wife (who’s also working from home), and all of our building’s common areas have been closed, so finding our own space can be a challenge.
There are no easy answers to this one. Folks who have children home all day have it much worse than me. Especially in creative pursuits like planning and developing content, it’s key to find a zone, and the disruptions of screaming kiddos or a construction worker banging away outside can be anathema when it comes to getting things done.
The main thing I would advise is this: embrace asynchronous work to the extent possible. This basically refers to operating around your own schedule rather than those of others. For example, if there’s no timely need for me to work on something during the day, and my wife has meetings throughout the afternoon, maybe I’ll set aside a few hours in the evening to dive in.
Takeaway: Flexible work is becoming the new norm. Free yourself from the constrictions of a 9-to-5 workday and determine a schedule that facilitates your best work (while still being there for your teammates and clients as needed).
Communicating with Colleagues and Clients
In Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report 2020, when respondents were asked about their biggest struggle with working remotely, there was a two-way tie for first place:
- Collaboration and communication
No surprise, as these responses basically tie back to the same ultimate downside of working away from our coworkers: disconnection and isolation. Collaboration is vital to producing the best work possible, as I rely on the talents and smarts of my teammates to enhance my own efforts.
There is no way to replicate the energy and organic spontaneity of working in the physical proximity of your coworkers. My best recommendation is finding varied ways to coordinate and communicate. Don’t rely on just one channel. Slack is good, and Zoom is good, but both can cause fatigue when overdone. Try different methods of collaborating, like generating ideas with a teammate simultaneously in a Google Doc, or even jumping on the good ol’-fashioned telephone.
One more thing: carve out “do not disturb” zones. When you’re in the office, you can plug in your headphones and signal that you’re focusing. Work with your team to create similar arrangements in the WFH, where this is far more ambiguous. You might even collectively decide on a consistent portion of the day where no meetings are scheduled and expectations for responsiveness are lowered (for us at TopRank, this is from noon to one every afternoon).
Takeaway: Maintaining consistent and constructive communication is one of the toughest challenges for distributed teams. The best way to foster remote collaboration is to … collaborate. Work together to develop practices and protocols that best align with everyone’s preferences.
“The best way to foster remote collaboration is to … collaborate. Work together to develop practices and protocols that best align with everyone’s preferences.”
Breaking Up the Day
Monotony can be one of the biggest inhibitors of creativity and productivity in WFH settings. There is a natural variety that plays out when you go into the office: interacting with different people, moving between meeting rooms, maybe running out for coffee or lunch as a change of scenery. Working from home, especially at a time where we’re all encouraged to quarantine and avoid public places, can really make the hours and days run together.
This leads to one of the biggest benefits I’ve discovered in the altered routine. It is now much easier to get out and get active. Sure, we’d occasionally go out for team walks when we were in the office, but without the ability to shower and change clothes I wasn’t exactly going out for intense exercise. And by the time I got home, I was often too tuckered out.
Now, I find myself getting out for a run, bike ride, or brisk walk almost every afternoon. It’s rejuvenating for body and mind. One silver lining of this pandemic is its timing; at least it struck as the summer was getting underway, which has allowed me to enjoy a lot of nice weather outdoors.
Takeaway: Find activities you enjoy to break up your workday and keep your mind fresh. Whether it’s exercise, a hobby, or simply unplugging, working from home provides the freedom to step away. And embracing asynchronicity enables you to distribute your work throughout the day.
For Better or Worse… There’s No Place Like Home
Plenty of people have been working from home full-time for years, and have developed their own habits and routines to optimize for it. But for many, like myself and surely many reading this, it’s something we’ve had to learn on the fly, out of necessity.
The good news is that our adaptations during this time will benefit us and our companies going forward. I am in full agreement with our clients at Sococo, who make a strong evidence-based argument that distributed work is here to stay and will forever be part of our reality going forward. Those individuals and teams that take this opportunity to innovate and create seamless remote work infrastructures will be poised to excel in the (groan) new normal.
With all that said, when I’m finally able to go back into the office and see my coworkers face to face, I’m definitely going to have an all-new appreciation for it.
For tips from one of those full-time remote workers who have been doing it a long time, explore Lane Ellis’s post from earlier this year sharing remote working tips from a distance marketer.