What To Do if You’re Still Struggling with Remote Work 

Dec 17, 2020

By Jonathan Cantarero

We’ve all had to adapt to new situations because of the pandemic. For many, the biggest challenge has been moving to online classes or remote internships and fellowships. While you’ve probably figured out how to manage under the circumstances, chances are there’s room for improvement. Speaking as someone who is both studying and working remotely, I know the online world takes some getting used to. In this article I’ll discuss three steps that’ll help you get back on track. 

1. Take stock of what’s slowing you down.

There are lots of reasons why people struggle in an online environment. My biggest issue was finding a comfortable place to work. For example, the fact that I didn’t have a dedicated workspace at home meant that I had to use the dining room as my “office.” This awkward arrangement—from seating to lighting—led to everything from neck pain to headaches.

Another huge problem was trying to stay focused with so many household distractions. The fact that I had to share my space with other people who were affected by COVID meant lots of noise and interruptions. Below are some other common reasons for reduced productivity:

  • Lack of Human Contact – Lack of human interaction can dramatically affect your mood and energy levels. Since there’s usually a connection between your mood and work quality, prolonged isolation can be a recipe for disaster.  
  • Disrupted Routine – If you’re a person with a daily routine, abrupt changes will probably have a negative impact on your productivity. For some, these changes can be as simple as not having access to in-office amenities like a commercial printer or scanner (and having to take time out of your day to find a work-around). 
  • Computer Exhaustion – Computer screens are a huge strain on your eyes (and brain). If you’re not used to the daily grind of hours-long computer use, the sudden switch necessitated by work demands can be a real strain. 
  • Home Ergonomics – Home and work are separate for a reason. Homes are usually poorly designed for concentrated work. As you’ve probably discovered, working productively on your sofa or kitchen table can only last so long.  

Given that we’re almost a year into the pandemic, odds are you’ve already recognized and fixed some of these problems in your daily routine. Or maybe there is something else that’s holding you back. Take stock of what you’ve been doing differently since the pandemic and how that’s been affecting your work. 

2. Make a plan and be willing to adapt.

After I fixed my neck issues (but putting a box underneath by laptop) and dealing with my distractions (by moving to a dingy-but-empty basement instead of staying in the dining room), I realized that I still wasn’t getting the same amount of work done. After some thought, I realized that there were so many other things affecting my productivity. First, I really missed the human contact at work and in the classroom. Second, I missed the lunchtime walks I took around my office. Even in terms of my actual work, I missed the ability to print as much as I wanted when reviewing my work (I didn’t have a printer at home). 

The good news for me (and probably for you) was that all of these problems were easy to fix, so long as I was willing to make a plan and adapt to it. First, I set up Zoom meetings with co-workers and professors, which ended up being way more helpful than emails and phone calls. Second, I started taking afternoon walks around my home to mimic the strolls around my office (and get some much-needed exercise). Turns out, the increased blood flow from a short walk dramatically improved my mood! Lastly, I invested in a printer. While your employer might not reimburse you for expensive items like a printer or stand-up desk, they might be willing to help out with other perks like a professional headset or wireless keyboard. 

3.    Don’t be afraid of having honest conversations.

While it may seem awkward to bring up these issues so late in the game, it’s really never too late to invest in yourself. When I decided to move to the basement, I had to speak with the homeowner so they could clear out space for me. Since the homeowner was one of the people staying in the same home because of the pandemic, this made for a supremely uncomfortable conversation. But, at the end of the day, telling my landlord that they were distracting me from my work was much better than having my boss or professors tell me that I was out of a job or failed a course. 

If all else fails, speak with your employer or school about next steps for in-person activities. Obviously, the pandemic is not over, and it seems like expectations are changing every day.  But even if your employer has gone completely remote, or only lets employees in on certain days, it’s worth asking whether you can come in an additional day to get more work done or to consider some other arrangement. Remember, it’s hard to say no to people who are trying to be more productive, so give it a shot. As for school, check to see if any classes are being offered in-person next semester or maybe consider taking a leave of absence until in-person classes resume. The point is that you should explore your options and be willing to navigate your needs with the right people.

The pandemic has been hard for many reasons. But determination shines brightest when faced with obstacles. If your work product has suffered over the last few months, don’t feel defeated. Instead, reflect on the tips outlined above and get back into the rhythm and groove you’re used to. We’re cheering for you!

Jonathan Cantarero is an attorney based in New York City.  He is a former Graduate Fellow at the City University of New York School of Law (2013-16) and Schulte, Roth, and Zabel Fellow for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (2014-15).  Whenever he is not reading legal briefs or posting on ProFellow, Jonathan, who is also a seminary student, enjoys writing on the intersection of law and religion. 

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