The Elephant in the Room

Two Activities for Working Remotely

By Trish Candler

For those normally working in an office setting, you may be working remotely, somewhere other than a designated office building setting. Your remote location may be full of different people these days. Perhaps it’s one or many children in your “new office” or maybe a partner, or perhaps you’re completely alone, actually remote-remote.

All the news outlets and online resources, even celebrities, are highlighting what it’s like to work remotely. And it looks great, doesn’t it? You’re getting a glimpse into their homes, perhaps checking out their décor for some fresh ideas for your own home.

There are endless tips for setting up your workspace, minimizing distractions and staying focused on tasks to complete. You’re reminded to take breaks, exercise, eat healthy and perhaps crank up the music you love while working on that tedious spreadsheet.

What’s not being discussed—the elephant in the room—is that you don’t miss some aspects of the workplace. There‘s the micro-managing supervisor, the know-it-all coworker, the histrionic team member, the “always positive” individual, the “always down“ individual, the “boomer” or “millennial” or ____—you can fill in the blank.

Whatever workplace issues existed prior to COVID-19, they’re still there, and perhaps better with separation or worse with regular online or (yikes!) video interactions. If a team was not cohesive in the workplace, they are not going to suddenly become cohesive working remotely. If trust was low with each other, physical separation may provide even lower trust because the mind continues to confirm what it “knows.“

One approach is to believe that physical separation allows time for all of us to reset and whenever we return to the workplace, everyone else will become a great person. Maybe not.

What can you do? You know you cannot change others. You know you can only change yourself. One approach is use this remote time for some work on self. Try these two simple activities to help you gain some perspective.

Circle of Control.
Draw a circle on a large piece of paper. Next, write inside the circle what you know you can control—things like values, principles, your attitude, being personally accountable, taking responsibility for your job tasks, choosing to be empathetic, displaying kindness and grace.

Next, write outside the circle what you cannot control—things like others’ thinking or communication styles, what others do or don’t do, how they approach their work, what the boss does or does not address. Many sources indicate you can certainly influence things outside of your control. Perhaps once you change your focus and redirect your energy to what you can control, you may find just seeing things differently gives you energy and improves your outlook.

Self-Awareness Reflection.
Write a list of items that trigger you. Perhaps it’s that micro-managing supervisor, the coworker who doesn’t share information when you need it, or yet another mistake by that “millennial.” These triggers are normal reactions, right? Doesn’t everyone have triggers? Absolutely.

The self-awareness element is being able to pause long enough to determine a response, if any, instead of immediately reacting to the trigger. This is hard work. The reflection element takes some more time. As humans, we have the unique ability to expand our thinking and choose how to respond. Perhaps become curious about how others approach their work or ask questions to check your own assumptions. Explore techniques for relaxing those triggers such as mindfulness, focused breathing or praying. This too is hard work. The power we gain from freedom to choose is so amazing compared to giving away this power to others.

What would it look like if you did one or both of these activities? What about creating a space for being vulnerable to this exploration instead of judgmental with yourself? Again, more hard work.

There is not a magic wand for your workplace as you see it today. There is the opportunity to have a better workplace when you show up differently. If each one of us took some time to own our “stuff” and commit to growing past ourselves, we may just find a workplace changed for the better.