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Remote control: work in the age of COVID-19

A reflection on maintaining life-employment balance from home
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Looking into labour under physical distancing. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY
Looking into labour under physical distancing. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Who we are in the present day is shaped by our actions and conversations that reflect our past and directly or indirectly affect our future. The power of a world crisis offers the opportunity to live in the present moment or — as Eckhart Tolle likes to call it — the “Now.”

To live in the Now is to pause and embrace yourself by filtering out all the noise that keeps life rushed. You do not realize how important the little things are when you have access to everything — vacations, outings, gyms, restaurants, and especially workspaces.

Physical distancing has led me to build routines, particularly around my work as a research assistant in data privatization for the University of Toronto. However, as we enter this new norm of remote working and a digital divide, we must work harder to stay relevant.

Yes, the future is changing. Of course, physical interaction is essential for transactions. Nevertheless, services like selling virtual real estate and other commodities are captivating for corporations. It is only a matter of time until this shift is fully integrating. Therefore, it is essential to diversify your digital finance skills, digital markets, algorithmic literacy, or web design skills. 

But, how do we manipulate a new bureaucratic system to get something done? We build a routine and learn to adapt.

My hours as a research assistant are very flexible. I structure my day as if I were going to the office. I anticipate my sleep schedule to a set time, making me feel energetic to perform efficiently. I wake up at 6:00 am and sleep at 11:00 pm. This small alteration automatically led to a habit that became natural.

If you’re working from home, you should treat it like a real job. I get dressed up to work. I have kept the same healthy, balanced routine that involves getting up early. Also, by staying active, connecting with nature before work, and getting ready, I allow myself to feel mentally and physically sound. This has positively influenced my work ethic and provided a sense of freshness that helps me ignore the feeling of being lazy.

It can be very lonely and stressful to work from home, and feeling this way for prolonged periods can indeed affect productivity. That’s why many are facing mental health challenges amid COVID-19. While it is important to acknowledge your stress and anxiety, it is also important to communicate and talk about it with your coworkers to facilitate adaptation.

Talking helps you feel less separated from others. Learning to normalize mental health talks can help us move forward when faced with uncertainty. COVID-19 has allowed me to immerse myself into the little things that make my life rich. Coffee breaks enable me to check in and socialize with my coworkers and friends. It is now an exciting part of my day because ‘we’re all in this together.’

Usually, staying focused and meeting deadlines is the hardest challenge, especially when summer is around the corner. I tend to play piano music to remain concentrated; it contributes to my self-esteem and mood and makes me work efficiently. While working, I try to hydrate as much as possible, and I meal prep to avoid any distractions throughout my day.

Working from home does have its perks — sleeping in, wearing pajamas, avoiding the commute, and snacking all the time. But adapting to a new norm, or transitioning to a ‘gig economy,’ has also taught me to be patient and have control of my emotions, allowing me to stay motivated when my anxiety is consuming me and create projects on hold. 

Most importantly, to forget our obsession with talking about the past and the future, we should deepen our focus and attention on our day-to-day actions. We should have remote control of our lives to the extent that we simply forget that we are living under physical distancing.