I would make my way downstairs to my favourite café — self-serve fruits and tea, and best of all: pajamas are welcomed. Greeted by a small dog, I’d eat, sip and sneak her a little bite, and then it was back upstairs to my desk to start the day.
When Ontario, alongside the rest of the world, began shutting down in March, I was certain my summer would be split evenly between dwelling over the lost end of my undergrad year and the longest Netflix binge of my life. Thankfully, I was one of the lucky ones who landed a summer internship as a Marketing Coordinator in Investments at RBC.
Of course, I was disappointed that my first real office job would run entirely online, but I didn’t hate the idea of that extra bit of sleep I’d be getting every morning. While that still holds true, I quickly realized that operating a work environment in the same space as my personal life is far more difficult than I thought. Between all the little distractions and the need to be self-motivated, I’ve learned a lot about how to be operationally efficient and productive working at home.
So, as more young Canadians begin to navigate this new way of working, I wanted to share six personal lessons I think are worth sharing:
1. Pick up the phone
In a social environment like an office, company culture plays a prominent role in an employees’ work experience. Although we have the tools to connect online, that human component can get lost in translation without those small daily face-to-face interactions.
In my case, I hadn’t met any members of my new team in person. This made it especially strange to connect at first, and I couldn’t help but feel a little unsteady for the first few days and weeks of my internship.
You may find yourself so wrapped up in the ‘doing’ of your work that you can log off for the day without having spoken to anyone on your team. While this isn’t intentional, going without those short “hello’s” can be isolating.
Nearly every week, my team would have a status call. We met on WebEx and discussed topics well beyond work activities which helped humanize the experience, kept us feeling connected and allowed me to experience the corporate culture that I’d heard so much about. I also made it a goal of mine to connect with as many people as I could in different areas of the bank, and checked in routinely with a few of the other interns.
It’s easy to detach yourself from those around you when you’re not physically with them in the same space, but it’s necessary to push yourself to check in with your teammates in order to stay connected and visible.
2: Don’t cut the morning commute
The impact this pandemic has had on every day routines is exceptional. A lot of people have been consumed by feelings of anxiety — not knowing what tomorrow will bring and wondering when life will return to “normal.” While I did experience these very same thoughts and emotions, I’ve found small ways to overcome them and embrace this new way of living. Sticking to a routine is key.
If you work in a large city like Toronto, commuting can take up a significant portion of your workweek, and although working from home removes time spent on the road, you should not abandon the morning commute entirely. Routine and habitual preparation can have a significant impact on productivity. Sure, those extra couple hours of sleep are a dream (no pun intended), but once you hop on the struggle bus (getting up 10 minutes before logging into work), there’s no getting off.
Every morning I’d make a conscious effort to get up at least 40 minutes before starting work. This gave me enough time to get dressed, make something to eat, and dedicate enough time to self-care. It set the tone for my day — allowing me to prioritize my time and control my schedule, rather than it controlling me.
This concerted effort allowed me to take on the day with more energy and mindfulness. So, allow yourself that extra time to wake up and take care of yourself before you dive into those emails.
3: Create a comfortable workspace
This one was incredibly difficult for me at first. As my mom and I both began working from home at the same time, my first week on the job was spent experimenting with what would work best for the both of us. I ultimately decided on reconstructing my bedroom into my own personal home office. And although those midday nap temptations are strong, I made it work.
It’s so important to create a relaxing, yet productive space you can operate in. On top of the many distractions already at home, desk clutter for example can shift your attention to things not relevant to your work, and ultimately impact your ability to focus on the task at hand.
Every morning I’d wake up, make my bed and open the blinds enough for the sun to peek through and every evening I’d make sure to tidy up my desk area so that it was ready for the next day.
If possible, find a quiet, clean space with natural light. If this means operating from your backyard, deck, or balcony, so be it! The best part about remote work is that there are no rules. It’s about finding what works best for you in your unique situation.
4: Can this wait until tomorrow?
When both your workplace and personal life reside under one roof, it can be difficult to unplug. Even worse, the two can begin to blend into one another … am I working from home or am I living at work?
For example, you’re about to log off for the day and another email comes through. It can be difficult to distance yourself when you live in your office. Yet, it’s important to ask yourself: “Can this wait until tomorrow?” because often the answer is yes.
While the temptation to work beyond your scheduled hours is there, it’s crucial to understand balance and when it’s time to step away. Every morning I’d write out what my day looked like — what times I had meetings and when I planned on completing each task. This gave me a sense of what I was able to accomplish so that I didn’t find myself slipping into overtime or overworking. Sticking to daily goals can keep you motivated, and the personal and professional separated.
5: Okay now put the phone away
When you’re a few feet from your bed, have family members and pets invading your office space, and friends texting you, it can be difficult to not let distractions consume you.
As someone who’s easily distracted, I was very honest with myself about what kept me from being productive. I know that if my phone was in sight, I might have easily gotten lost scrolling through my Twitter feed, so I always kept it on the other side of the room to avoid that interference.
You know yourself best. Think about what minor changes you can make to limit potential setbacks in your day, but also give yourself moments to reset. Every hour or so I’d grab my phone for five minutes and head downstairs to get away from my office space. When you use that time to de-stress, you’ll find yourself re-energized and ready to take on your next task.
6: You’re going to have bad days
Life is weird right now — that may not even begin to sum it up. It’s hard to know when we’ll feel a glimpse of how things used to be.
A lot of people are riddled with feelings of anxiety, and it can be difficult to not let that affect your work. There are days when I felt burnt out and unable to take on the day as I usually would, and that’s okay — I didn’t beat myself up over it. We’re all doing the best we can, and that’s all we really can do. Stay connected, take breaks, and remember to check in with yourself.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.