It’s 5:20am and my alarm wakes me up. It’s an early start, but I don’t begrudge it in any way because this is my time. By 6am I will be out on my bike, enjoying the beautiful countryside of Suffolk, England and this next hour and a half will set me up for the rest of the day.
I have been working at GAIA Insights for just over one year now, and like many people, my experience during COVID has been defined by working from home. One difference, however, is that we are not preparing for a ‘return to the office’ like many other organizations because GAIA Insights is a 100% virtual business – which means working remotely from home, or in some cases elsewhere, is a norm for the entire team. So, I decided to reflect on my first year working remotely, asking myself: What lessons have I learned? And what do I need to either keep doing or perhaps change to make sure my current working arrangements are sustainable?
Indeed, given that for me there will be no going ‘back to normal,’ making sure I have a sustainable working routine is doubly important. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how many of us will be going back to the way things were…
Getting out on my bike first thing is key for me. As I have a young family (two girls under 5) getting out early in the morning has the least impact on family life. Yes, part of this routine involves creeping around as quiet as a mouse desperately trying not to wake anyone else. Unfortunately, I can’t say I always succeed! However, making an early start means I can have a decent bike ride and still be at my desk ready to start my day at 8:30am. This exercise is something I value, not only because I enjoy it, but I feel the health benefits and have a greater ability to focus when I start work. This feeling contrasts starkly with how I have felt in previous jobs where I have had a long commute to the office each morning!
Next, I’ve found that having a set routine with regular breaks enables me to pace myself and keep my energy levels high. For example, whenever possible I have lunch at the same time of day together with my family. This ensures that I step away from the screen and gives me a complete break from thinking about work. I’ve noticed when I get back to my desk in the afternoon, I generally have more energy as a result. That said I’m not immune from the post-lunch ‘dip’ in energy levels so, as someone who is energized by interactions with people – even virtual ones – I try to schedule calls straight after lunch if I can.
I am thankful that in my role, I do not have back-to-back video calls every day, and this is something I will endeavor to maintain going forward. Making sure I plan my schedule so there are gaps between calls as well as not booking too many during one day makes a big difference to my vitality and focus. This, in part, is aided by having a clear priorities, which enables me to say ‘no’ to some otherwise worthy activities in which I could otherwise involve myself. I remind myself that in every decision I make about how I prioritize my time, I am effectively saying ‘no’ to something.
At the end of the day, I plan a hard stop at 5pm for family time, which is a combination of taking on childcare duties, cooking, followed by the bedtime routine of baths and stories. I am convinced that having this structure to my day not only enables me to give more energy and focus to my work, it also means that I am able to be more present as a dad, which is important to me.
Where possible, I like to keep the remainder of the evening for relaxing, but equally if I have a few work things to finish, this is where I allow myself greater flexibility. However, I always allow some time to unwind before bed to promote good sleep quality – at least as much as the children permit!
One aspect that I find challenging is never having met any of my colleagues face-to-face, which undoubtedly makes it harder to build strong working relationships. While the culture at GAIA Insights has helped me to get to know others in the organization better than I would have expected, I have a natural ‘task focus.’ This means I have to work harder at taking time to build connections, for example, diarizing ‘coffee chats’ with colleagues – a call where there is no agenda, just a chance to check-in and chat. This is in response to the lack of so-called ‘watercooler conversations’.
What has been pleasing is that even in writing this blog I have realized that over the last year I have been able to find a natural rhythm and balance to working for a virtual business. A big part of this is that everyone else at GAIA Insights also recognizes the importance of well-being and respects each other’s needs. This underlines to me the value of working in an organization that practices what it preaches.
So in summary, what are my top tips for working sustainably in a virtual business?
- Make time to exercise – even if it is just a walk around the block or in the park.
- Have a routine with set start and finish times, as well as regular breaks away from the screen.
- Where possible, structure your day in harmony with your energy levels.
- Eat well, and healthily.
- Be aware of your natural preferences, how they could sabotage your well-being and actively plan to mitigate them.
- Ensure you regularly get some ‘me time’, doing something you enjoy.
- Be clear about what is important to you when setting priorities and don’t be afraid to say ‘no’.
Authored by James Salter, Tenacious New Opportunity Explorer at GAIA Insights