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  • Writer's pictureJudy C. Arnold

I lost my “N” — impacts of remote work

I typed away the “N” on my keyboard and a few other letters are sliding away as well. That’s a result of remote work I didn’t expect. How did it happen, you might wonder?

Chalk it up to a fully remote job focused on communications and writing.

Prior to the pandemic, as a career marketer, I rarely sat in my office typing on my laptop. Instead, I would travel to various conference rooms in the building or across the corporate campus attending meeting after meeting. Face-to-face collaboration is how business was done.

This meeting mania could be invigorating and inspiring while other times posed challenges. More time in conference rooms discussing the projects meant less hours at my desk getting the work done. As with any meeting, some were productive, well-organized with agendas and focused facilitation, while others featured painful presentations and circular discussions lacking resolutions or defined next steps.

At that time, bringing your laptop, even to take notes, was often frowned upon. People often got distracted by emails or messages. It was considered rude to the meeting organizer and attendees if you were multi-tasking and not giving the topic under discussion your undivided attention.

For the past two years, I’ve been working 100% remote as a marketer, which has included many copywriting responsibilities. I was thrilled to join a flexible, global firm offering virtual work and am extremely grateful for the many benefits. No more white-knuckle, hour-long commutes in traffic or stressful reliance on a train schedule. No more 5 am wake up calls to squeeze in a workout before hitting the road ahead of rush hour traffic. No more costly, rushed lunches out every day.

I genuinely appreciate the flexibility to go to the gym or take a morning walk, make breakfast, shower (or not) and put on sweats and slippers to walk a few feet to my office door. Having lunch almost every day with my husband, who also works at home, is a refreshing and welcome highlight of my day, and a pleasant break of human interaction away from the computer screen. Washing a load of laundry during lunch or being home for any special deliveries or service maintenance brings a wonderful balance to the intersections of work and daily life.

Although the transition to working from home has been an adjustment, it was also surprisingly and pleasantly smooth. It’s impressive how effectively my team of nine work seamlessly with everyone being remote — from Illinois to Oregon and several other states in between. Having top-notch technology tools for video conferencing, email, messaging and file sharing, plus a weekly video status meeting, keeps everyone informed and our initiatives on track.

Remote work, however, has its share of complexities and obstacles. Virtual video meetings pose similar challenges to in person meetings. You need to be organized to keep attendees engaged. If videos are off, it’s very easy for participants to shift attention to email, chats or other work. Despite the fact I consider myself a talented multi-tasker, I must admit it’s true you can’t give your full attention to more than one thing at a time. Meetings get stalled and are less effective when questions are repeated for those who have drifted off. And, as someone who prefers in-person conversations, focusing on a video screen for more than an hour in a meeting is very difficult for me.

Personal interaction and relationship building among teammates is more difficult and not a natural byproduct of sitting side-by-side. When 100% remote, you can’t walk to a coworker’s desk to ask a question. You can’t corner the allusive teammate you need answers from around the water cooler or coffee pot. (I resolved many issues with corridor conversations and kitchen catch ups!) You also don’t have as much time to get to know each other with morning chit chat or when wrapping up at the end of the day.

Instead, we collaborate digitally. We send Slack messages as a virtual tap on the shoulder to a teammate to have a discussion. We huddle on Slack or have a Teams call to work together on a project or brainstorm about a new initiative. Documents are shared on One Drive and Sharepoint on a well-organized digital directory, making it easy for everyone to find the files they need. An online project management tool allows us to manage our time, assign tasks to each other and track every step of our projects. And as we gather in virtual Teams conference rooms, there is occasional chatter about everyone’s weekend, the weather, or other personal conversations before the meeting gets underway.

The result, however, of this new virtual way of working, leads us to predominantly talking with our hands as our fingers fly across the keyboard more often than using our voices. Plus, apparently, my “N” has become a casualty and several other letters on my computer keyboard are starting to disappear, too!

I suppose it’s a small price to pay for the predominant perks of remote work.

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