In elementary school, I planted trees; cleaned up the beach; and made recycle, reduce, and reuse posters every Earth Day. After a month of learning about “going green” and estimating our own carbon footprint, I remember telling my parents they couldn’t purchase an SUV, and we needed to stop using plastic straws and be more sustainable.

Since then, my environmental awareness has taken a nosedive. However, this spring, I have been thinking about whether remote work supports sustainable living. Are we all sustainable superheroes now that we don’t commute in our pollution producing cars? Or, have we become extra energy consumers working from home?

Hardly, More Sustainable

From one office to thousands

While the future of work is unknown, we can all agree that going back to a commute would be tough. Eliminating daily commutes to work in gas guzzling cars is a major point for the affirmative side. No commute means better air quality, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and less consumption of fossil fuels. Sounds like sustainable living to me!

Highway vehicles alone put out almost 35% of the total nitrogen dioxide and contribute to the 3.3 million world-wide deaths due to poor air quality every year. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA came from transportation in 2017. Conversely, remote workers in the United States avoid emitting 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year, which is the equivalent of planting 91 million trees.

Sustainable living in a singular office

While getting to one office might have had a negative impact, working in one might have been positive. Companies were making huge efforts to reduce their carbon footprint before the pandemic. Fast Company shared how Shopify launched a sustainability fund in 2019, committing to invest at least $5 million every year into technology and projects to fight climate change. Since then, they have offered remote work to all of their employees indefinitely.

Whereas before they could control their sustainability by making environmentally friendly choices for one massive building, they are now dealing with “more than 5,000 offices scattered around the globe. All these offices have different heating systems, different energy grids, and each employee making different decisions now that they’re untethered from a central office.” Therefore, sustainability is not only less controllable but also less trackable. Without clear data, the jury is still out on which is better for the planet.

Hardly, More Sustainable

Different region, different impact

In addition to the inability to track everyone’s home energy usage, where you live and work complicates the questions of whether working from home is having a positive or negative effect on sustainable living. BBC brings up two important factors.

The first factor is workers in other countries, such as Norway, were using electric vehicles at high rates. Therefore, the lack of a commute is far less impactful there than in other countries that are highly reliant on petroleum, including the US and UK. In other words, sustainable living practices were already in place.

Additionally, cities where public transportation is used at large to get to and from work might not see any major changes in energy consumed since buses, trains, and metros are still running.

Where you derive your energy matters

Secondly, where your energy comes from plays a role in determining whether working from home positively contributes to sustainable living. For example, if you live in Iceland (where a significant amount of clean geothermal energy powers commercial buildings), virtual work is not scoring you many brownie points. Conversely, if you live in a U.S. city where coal power is the main source of commercial electricity but many homes have solar power, remote work could have a positive impact.

Similarly, the temperature varies greatly across the U.S. and the globe. In places like Florida where the heat is treacherous, fossil fuels are pumping from every home all day and required in large office spaces. Therefore, cutting out the cooling of big buildings could be beneficial. Versus if you live in San Francisco where the weather is mostly mild, heating or cooling systems might be turned off when leaving the house so the change is negligible.

Hardly, More Sustainable

Small habits or big changes

Do the small habits of individuals or the big changes at the corporate level make the difference? I don’t have the answer, but here is some food for thought:

Let’s take the use of paper and plastic. I don’t know about you, but I print various things when I’m at work, using someone else’s printer. Every time there is a meeting, we receive a paper agenda, which everyone throws in the trash on their way out, and a paper copy of the Powerpoint presentation (even though it was emailed to everyone the night before). But, when working remotely, I let the digital version suffice. Who wants to pay for all of that paper and ink?

On the other side of the coin, I see plastic Starbucks cups on everyone’s desk at the office, a product of getting their morning vice on the way to work. Yet,  my guess is  most drink the energizer from a reusable mug when working from home.

Also, what about the lights? In my apartment, I get great natural light all day so I don’t use much electricity, while my office is required to power overhead lights from 7am to 5pm.

More Sustainable? The takeway

Not everyone is environmentally conscious. Therefore, minor habits might not hold a candle to the millions of dollars that corporations can put into environmental efforts. For example, Zapier offset 647 tonnes of carbon through reforestation and Microsoft charges an internal fine of $15 per metric ton of carbon emission to encourage its departments to be as sustainable as possible.

At Hardly, we are striving to be environmentally conscious on all fronts. From our commitment to the sustainable packaging of products to our CEO’s use of S’well bottles, Hardly is making sure we do our part as a company of remote workers. Are you doing yours?

Earlier in 2020, there was an inflection point when we all shifted from a mindset of “I just gotta get through this” to “This is my new reality. What can I do to be OK?” 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs2.svg

We all reached this frame of mind at different times, particularly when we each individually moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the bottom two rungs to the top three. Or whenever we decided to stop hoarding toilet paper and canned food— whichever came first.

Being “OK” in the madness of 2020 involves taking care of yourself mentally and physically. We all know this is important, but why? AND HOW?

With work, I’m all about maximizing my productivity and making every minute count. But when it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the worst. While I watch others running 10 miles a day, you will catch me and my sweet tooth scooping ice-cream into coffee when I run out of oat milk. I’m not one to workout. In fact, I have always hated it. While I may not be the best example when it comes to physical wellbeing, I’m an honest one! And if I can work in a few small ways to take care of myself, then you can too.

TIP #1

Take a moment to breathe

Do you have 30-seconds to spare? Damn right you do… you are reading this blog post. I encourage you to take a break from reading after this paragraph. Set a 30-second timer on your phone, put yourself in a comfortable position, let your hands drop naturally, and breathe in and out— deeply and slowly.

 

Don’t you feel better? That’s because you just shifted your body closer to its “rest and digest (R&D)” mode and away from “fight or flight” mode. In R&D mode, your body is able to focus better, since you are supplying your brain with the necessary oxygen to work optimally. Apple Watch has a built in app to remind you to breathe, or you can check out Headspace, which has a section specifically for work. 

TIP #2

Encourage yourself with repetition

Repetition is powerful. Just think about all of the actions/words that you repeat on a daily basis: inputting passwords, looking at your homescreen, texting loved ones, etc. These tiny things really add up.

 

A month ago, I switched my passwords to be encouraging.

 

Obviously, I’m not going to share what they are with you (duh!), but sometimes it is nice to type something like “YouMakeYourOwnLuck47” instead of your standard run-of-the-mill password. Think about what you need to hear often— affirmations, a mantra, whatever. Typing it regularly will help train your brain to believe it.

TIP #3

Do what you can stick to

Do I wish I loved jogging and yoga? Definitely.

Am I going to wake up one day and do one of these? Yes. Maybe!

Everyday? Hell no.

But you know what I can do everyday? Walk.

Sometimes it’s more important to do something consistently rather than your ultimate goal sparingly. I try not to beat myself up about not doing more, and instead concentrate on the things I can do. If you do something for 21 days consistently, it becomes a habit.

What is something tiny that you can commit to every day?

Here are some ideas:

  • — Take 5 minutes to have your coffee in silence before starting your day of meetings
  • — Before you go to sleep, read a few pages of a book
  • — Reconnect with a different friend each day through text. They’ve been in your phone for 10 years, so you may as well!
TIP #4

Double up on good vibes

Grab a friend

My husband and I have been really strapped for time lately. Though we are working and living in the same house it is hard to catch any time to just be us without distractions. We decided to start taking morning walks together so we can encourage each other to be more active, and have some time to just talk.

 

Reframe chores

I had a workout coach that told me she lost 30 lbs just dancing while she did chores. Since then, I’ve been trying to find productive ways to stay active. My favorite productive workout is gardening. You can easily get plenty of squats, lunges while gardening, and if you are lifting, your shoulders and arms can get in on the action too.

TIP #5

Focus on the things that you can change

We are all in different situations— some of us feel comfortable and in-control and some of us (probably most) feel completely out of control. It is painful to watch the news, provide and care for your close family, and stay in touch with the rest of your family and friends, meanwhile staying productive in your day-to-day.

 

Wherever and whoever you are, there are things within and outside of your control.

 

One of the most helpful books I’ve read for my own mental wellbeing has been The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I’m the type of person who cares too much about most things, and whenever someone asks me to do something I tend to go way too overboard. In the past few years, I reached a breaking point of what I could care about. Mark Manson helped me reframe my brain to focus on what really matters to me and only truly stress about the things within my own control. So now, instead of watching 40 documentaries on animal welfare and beating myself up about using chicken broth in a soup, I choose to reduce my meat intake to 1-2 days a week. That is the level of f*cks that I can give and still maintain my own sanity.

See, all it takes is a few steps here and there to do what you can to destress and not burn out.

Luckily, we have others on the Hardly team that are way better at taking care of themselves than me.

Let us know in the comments what you do to not burn out.

When I imagined graduate school, I didn’t imagine the distance-work and the loneliness that would soon follow. I envisioned study groups at the homes of my classmates complete with wine and charcuterie boards, meeting my professors for coffee while discussing new theoretical research, and attending social science conferences with fellow honor society members. My classmates and I would share the blessings and the burdens of being Masters of Social Work students as we were all committed to the same purpose — to enhance human well-being and empower those who are vulnerable and oppressed through mental health. 

My graduate school experience looks very different than what I daydreamed about. I opted for a more flexible option (an online program) so that I could move across the world with my husband. As the program progressed in a remote environment, I soon felt isolated and lacked a sense of belonging. Interactions with classmates were only through formal discussion board posts that did not encourage organic conversation or collaboration and lectures were prerecorded or in the form of PowerPoints. I had zero facetime with classmates and professors; it was as if I was going through the curriculum alone. I became disengaged and only did the bare minimum to get decent grades rather than diving into the material with excitement and a thirst for growth. I knew something had to change. 

Distance work can cause similar feelings of loneliness and detachment. 

Distance Work, Hardly

Who doesn’t want to skip the commute and take the first call of the day in pajamas from the couch? Working remotely affords so many of us an enhanced quality of life. Many consider distance work to be a perk of the job – being able to work where you are happiest whether that is in your home office or on a beach chair in Tulum. That sounds amazing, right?  However, one of the challenges we often forget to consider is how isolating working outside the office can truly be. Isolation can lead to a sense of loneliness, even if you are a part of a large team.

The good news is these feelings aren’t inevitable. This week I interviewed Dr. Tom Guariello, psychologist and professor at New York’s School of Visual Arts Masters in Branding program, on the topic. I have developed some tips and tricks to help conquer feelings of loneliness and boost your sense of belonging.

Step 1: Talk about it

Stop the silence and speak up about how you feel. 

In Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work Report, they learned 20% of distance workers felt that loneliness was one of their biggest struggles with working outside the office. What does this mean? You are not alone! Chances are some of your colleagues feel the same way and are waiting for someone to share that they, too, miss chatting by the coffee machine and the weekly dessert hour (nothing beats sweet treat Friday!). By voicing your challenges related to loneliness, you can actually build a stronger relationship with your coworkers. Your openness could lead to more discussion and subsequently, make you feel connected after all. 

But your colleagues aren’t the only ones you should talk to. My advice is to seek support from your boss as well. Their job is not only to ensure you are getting projects done on time but to also keep tabs on whether you feel happy with your work environment and culture. If you are craving more interaction with team members, host a weekly brainstorm over Zoom or provide edits over the phone rather than through email.

A good company cares about its workers and should welcome the opportunity to address whatever concerns you have around isolation. 

Step 2: Connect with coworkers on a more personal level

Distance Work, Hardly

One of the reasons you might be feeling lonely is because you find that working from home means all of your conversations with colleagues center around work. While being an employee at the same company is the initial connecting point, relationships are formed by learning more about the people themselves, not just the work they do. In order to regain that sense of community, you have to make a concerted effort to get to know your fellow distance workers on a deeper level. Do they have a family? What do they do for fun? What do you have in common? These are questions that were typically answered organically during face-to-face interactions in the break room. 

Luckily, casual interactions can happen in a variety of virtual spaces as well. It just takes a bit more planning and intention. Dr. Guarriello is an advocate for very small change.

Look for little opportunities for connectivity by figuring out where you intersect with others, even if your Venn diagrams only overlap 5%.

Use this small amount as the foundation or jump-off point and build a positive relationship from there. Try inviting one distanced coworker to a 30-minute virtual coffee break or vent session via Google Hangout each week, or start off your Monday morning by sending a “How was your weekend?” message via your company’s chat platform. Dr. Guarriello even suggests asking coworkers, “What is the coolest thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours?” as a meeting ice breaker. Another option is to kill two birds with one stone: 

Satisfy your craving for meaningful conversation and practice your distance networking skills by activating some of those dormant LinkedIn connections.

Fruitful networking requires nurturing relationships, not simply making a request and forgetting about it. Try sending out 2 different invite requests, a regular 30-minute touchpoint and a happy hour invite to people you genuinely want to bond with within your professional network. People like to work with those they feel a connection to so getting to know their interests in addition to their resume is beneficial. Plus, who doesn’t like getting business done with a glass of vino in hand during these Linkedin meet-ups? 

Distance Work, Hardly

Step 3: Find meaning in your work

Dr. Guarriello shared that belonging is fostered through clarity of purpose. In other words, feeling passionate about your company’s vision and mission is key. Colleagues who share a mutual commitment to producing work that mirrors the company’s overarching goals have a stronger connection. Take some time to reflect on why your work is meaningful and how your contribution brings value to the team and company. Discuss your thoughts with your coworkers and brainstorm ways in which you can collaborate at a higher level to help each other live up to that commitment and common purpose. 

Step 4: Stay engaged with friends and family outside of work

Lastly, socializing outside of the workplace is a must. Let’s face it, most of us have acquaintances at work, but our best friends may be from other parts of our lives. Distance work allows us the flexibility to meet up with neighborhood friends for lunch or FaceTime family members in different time zones during the day. So, make the most of it, and keep those relationships outside of work alive.  Personally, I plan two periodic after-work outings and virtual chat sessions with friends or family members who I don’t often get to see each week. 

You may also like… 

Socialize Better, Faster, Stronger than Ever BeforeJoin Heather as she shares her story on how the remote environment has expanded the reach of teams driven by more communication rather than less.Read NowA Lazy Guide to Better Wellbeing in Remote WorkCheck out Hardly CEO Allison’s lazy guide to avoiding burnout, de-stressing, and centering herself. Read Now
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Sick of connecting with loved ones over food and alcohol? Try starting a hobby together. 

My grandmother and I started practicing our creative writing once a week by simply responding to a one-word prompt for 5 minutes and then sharing our prose. Not only are we bonding over an activity that stimulates our minds, but we aren’t ruining our fitness goals in the process!  

P.S. Find the upside in solitude 

While distance work loneliness does have its downsides, solitude can be advantageous— not just lonely. If you are lucky enough to have a quiet space to work in your house you might find that the seclusion increases your productivity.  While it might have taken you 3 hours to write a memo before, not being interrupted by coworkers allows you to finish your work in only two. Another benefit of distance work is not being watched by superiors. If you are anything like me, I enjoy working in spurts and taking frequent breaks. In the office setting, I hated having to prove to others that I was getting my work done by being chained to my desk. And that can be lonely in a different way.

Sources:

Tannenbaum, Arielle. “A Guide to Conquering Remote Work Loneliness From Remote Workers.” Buffer Resources, Buffer Resources, 13 June 2018, buffer.com/resources/remote-work-loneliness/

Interview with Tom Guarriello

Over the last several years, I have worked on many distributed teams, meaning my team has been spread across various different states and not necessarily co-located. I was never in the same location as my boss, unless I flew into that office or vice versa, which used to happen quite often. Coming from an institution where everyone was colocated in the same building/ area to joining a company and team that was so dispersed gave me some anxiety at first. With only a few team members in my office, and my boss elsewhere, where is the employee connection? Well, my boss was a mastermind at keeping the team engaged. She had individuals across three states and three time zones. She found ways of engagement where she would hold weekly video conference calls with the team and then hold weekly to bi-weekly calls one-on-one. I was also on constant calls with my teammates in other offices. It didn’t feel like we were so spread out. 

Since then, I had various different bosses. The video meetings stopped and so did the one on ones with my manager. I still had various calls and meetings with teammates throughout the day and week so I felt some sense of connection, yet it was different from before. Due to personal circumstances, my family and I decided to move. Luckily, I was able to become a telecommuter or remote worker. While the company has had remote workers, I was the only remote worker on my immediate team at that time. Slowly things started to change, where individuals didn’t want to make the two-hour commute to and from home, fighting traffic. More and more people would work from home a few days a week. 

Now fast forward to 2020. I am on an entirely new team. I am one of two remote workers on my team and the only team member on the west coast. The time zone difference can be a little challenging at times, but I’ll save that for another day. I miss some things that would  have been shared during an office chat or a quick drop in. Having to pick up on cues and listen intently on team calls is a critical skill that I’m developing. I need to interject often so individuals realize that certain things that are discussed in side conversations are best for team calls. Then COVID-19 happened. Everyone went remote. The silver lining to all of this is that my team members and managers now see the importance of communication and employee connection beyond the office walls. Remote work has changed the face of business and how we manage our teams. 

Remote work has changed the face of business and how we manage our teams.

While remote working isn’t all rosy-posey, it does provide opportunities that are lacking from a face-to-face employee connection. I found that face-to face meetings can also feel intimidating for some, especially if they do not feel comfortable speaking up in a big team or broad audience setting. Therefore, people’s thoughts and feelings may go underheard. Secondly, when you do try to put in a word, you may get overshadowed by the dominant speaker that may not pick up on the social cues that let you cut in and allow them to take a breather. Lastly, there can be budget constraints that only allow for some to attend face to face and some virtually. 

With many going virtual and the need to social distance for safety precautions, remote work has allowed teams to be connected on a different level than before, especially with the use of technologies like zoom, slack, and box and others. 

social remote working

Finally Be Heard

Technology has truly provided a platform that connects others in ways that was somewhat inhibiting when we were all face-to-face. As mentioned by business.com, “Thanks to a proliferation in communication technology, virtual teams tend to connect more frequently and on a deeper level than they would in person.” I was able to experience this firsthand last week when I attended our first ever leadership conference for my client group. 

As I helped my client group prepare and restructure an event that was supposed to be in person, yet had to go virtual due to the pandemic, we were so worried that there would be a lack of energy and engagement, especially that it could allow people to multi-task and not truly pay attention.  I’m happy to report we were quite wrong and found that the connection was profoundly and surprisingly unique. 

We used Zoom Meeting that allowed for video and chat to take place all at the same time. It also helped that the energy from the presenters was off the charts. From the very start, people were not shy to share their thoughts and feelings in real time. There were so many “YESSSS”” and “100%” showing agreement or posting questions and thought-provoking messages that added to the conversation that the presenter was having with the audience. These messages not only came from the vocal ones but from some that I have not heard from before and finally coming to the table. It somehow became easier to share your sentiments. I, personally, found myself contributing more than I normally would. While I’m not shy to share my feedback, I just couldn’t help engaging with others from all over. This virtual format just drew you in. 

When our Australian and New Zealand colleagues joined, the chat blew up welcoming them to the conference and the journey. Although it was 3am local time for them, their dedication and commitment were unparalleled. This virtual conference expanded its reach like never before and employee connection was strong.  

This virtual conference expanded its reach like never before

The most effective networks optimize virtual communication and productivity in tandem, bringing together skilled workers across states (and even countries) and allowing members to share tips and stories and forge connections with one another. These relationships simply wouldn’t happen outside of a virtual environment.” Business.com

Couldn’t agree more. We even had senior vice presidents who normally would jump in and out of the meeting or stay for a short period due to other in-person engagement, who stayed for the ENTIRE conference. Way to go team! Engagement was important and the video and chat functions allowed for you to converse with individuals from all over the world and all levels. The real-time response was phenomenal. Unlike holding your questions or feedback to the end, these virtual means allowed true engagement from the start. This virtual platform felt so intimate like I was having a conversation with friends and family and not necessary with our 250+ global attendees and across all levels of the company. 

When we return to in-person events, we NEED to keep up this sense of real time connectedness. The virtual platform allows for a greater global audience to join in (even if it was 3am local time). Going hybrid for future events (in person and online) will be our next challenge. Thankfully, we have a year to figure that one out. 

Sticking to the budget

This option also illustrated a budget-friendly way to congregate. It was a record-breaking year of registrants and attendees. Not incurring a cost to fly and stay in a hotel helped fuel a bigger presence. Remote working has proved to be helpful in more ways than one; employee connection was on a deeper level, chatting and sharing ideas became easier and it was budget friendly all at the same time. 

Lessons Learned

What made this event and virtual engagement was the platform and speakers we chose. It is important to select a platform that provides an opportunity for individuals to engage, whether it is through a chat function or breakout rooms for smaller group discussions. As Forbes mentions, “It also creates the familiarity of engagement and is an attractive option for the introverts who may be overwhelmed by the larger virtual events.” Additionally, the real time feedback provides the ability for different individuals, whether you are the life of the party or a bit more reserve to share what you are thinking.  Your audience is key so picking speakers that can energize a room, even a virtual one, with relevant topics in short bursts will go a long way. The more you engage your audience through communication and excitement, the more you will be able to keep them focused and follow along. This can be done with small and large teams. Ensure your team touchpoints provide an avenue for all members to socialize with each other and connect with the topic. The length of a virtual meeting will be critical and think about frequency. Finding the ideal mix of frequency, communication tactics, and topics is necessary and will enable successful employee connection.