Anchors & rhythms in a virtual existence

Now that “working from home” has been mandated as the new norm, while we endure the uneasy uncertainty of the coronavirus, it’s a good time to reflect upon some nuances that impact the quality of productivity, when going fully virtual. This goes beyond useful tips for remote work practices, or arranging a suitable home-office setup.

First, let’s acknowledge the pervasive sense of uncertainty and subtle tensions as a result of the radical shift forced upon all of us — it can be deeply unsettling, causing a sense of being lost and even adrift. This is expected, given the suddenness of the changes that nobody asked for, yet must contend with. As described in a previous post, coming to terms with such ambiguity is vital to ensuring one’s own focus, clarity, and sense of being in control. Else, you’re more adrift, which adversely impacts yourself and your teammates. What’s needed are anchors in the uncertainty. 

By anchors, I mean those things that offer a sense of grounding, even permanence (at least perceptually so), that we can sustain over time to provide structure, order, discipline…and thus, comfort. Some examples:

  • Convert undefined space into dedicated place. Roaming around just anywhere while working in your house can seem fun, but a bit aimless (while frustrating or bumping into family and pets in your house!) Carve a fixed determinate space that becomes THE place for doing your work — and perhaps another for taking calls or more collaborative work. Space is indeterminate, place is defined and focused.
  • Establish and persist routines and rituals. The virus and its ripple effects are changing literally by the hour. Amid this swirl it’s easy to get swept away, and feel overwhelmed. Define daily routines that give order and focus to yourself and your work. The time you wake up, your morning routines (including getting dressed up, shower & shave, etc.), dietary habits, having that first sip of tea while (responsibly) checking social feeds. These are routines that create comfort and predictability– for your sanity! This might be a time to try out some new rituals as well, whether its idly sketching for 10 minutes each day after lunch or do a daily walk at 330pm or just going quiet before a meeting.  
  • Create time for self vs team. Define those temporal boundaries and communicate them. It’s easy to get sucked into virtual meetings and non-stop screen time…and then realize it’s 5:30pm, but you never saw sunlight or had fresh air! So, again to help establish a sense of purpose and power over things, you need to define your time for breaks, lunch, fresh air, zoning out, etc. In this way time itself can be an anchor that keeps you steady. 

Along with anchors is a sense of rhythm among the activities. In the physical world of work at the office, there’s varying levels of movement, screen time, whiteboard sketching, arguing with others, etc. There’s a dynamic mixing of modes, spaces, activities, artifacts, etc. So consider the pauses needed, and flexing your intensity to get the right states of flow or engagement for each day. 

  • Know when to flex your intensity. What level of concentration and energy is needed for each meeting or activity? How could you time box moments of intensity, and create a rhythm of spikes and valleys throughout the day? Not everything has to be 100% redlined at max!
  • This includes flexing when you connect and disconnect with others, paying attention to when it’s over-balanced on one side over the other in terms of time and level of intensity/effort, as well.
  • Find the pauses in your daily flow, and don’t apologize (this is a hard one for many, like me!). Being on screens for sustained hours at a time can be very draining on energy levels. If there’s a pause, take it. Or better yet, create the pause. Own your calendar and your time.

Going fully virtual is a new daunting challenge when forced to by uncontrollable circumstances, as we’re experiencing now. But by being cognizant of useful rituals or anchors that give grounding, while experimenting with daily rhythms of intensity and pauses, it becomes hopefully a bit easier or productive personally… and for your team.

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