How to Prioritize your Mental Health and Well-being while Working Remotely
By: Sydney Reis
Disclaimer: The views are those of the author's alone and do not represent the views of UNA-Canada.
I love the French word for the act of working remotely. Télétravail rolls off the tongue a lot better than the English equivalent, ‘work from home.’ Whether you transitioned to a remote work environment during 2020, or were keeping Canadians safe, fed, or healthy on the frontlines, the term has entered popular discourse. So, can we all agree to adopt this ‘francicism’ already? The sheer scale of the usage of the term ‘work from home’ necessitates it.
I, like many others, found myself on the remote work side of the pandemic. When I first found out that I would be working from home for UNDP Rwanda, my excitement was interspersed with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I wanted to connect in person with my team in Rwanda, get to know them in their real-life environment, and gain a deeper understanding of Rwandan culture and country in the process.
On the other hand, however, I understood why my placement had to be remote. The point of my work was to support the country office, and thanks to my trusted pink laptop and Microsoft Teams, I could do that just fine from home. Traveling to Rwanda during the pandemic meant I was at risk of arriving with an unwanted guest, COVID-19. Although Rwanda has a much lower measured rate of the virus than Canada, vaccine and treatment access is not as robust as in Canada. Safety for my host office, host country, and self, was understandably paramount.
Despite the necessity of remote work in the current health context, it would be remiss to ignore the mental health impacts that can arise from isolation and zoom fatigue. I went through an adjustment phase as I learned how to navigate the remote workplace. Below you’ll find a few tips I’ve picked up along the way during my time as a Junior Professional Consultant at UNDP Rwanda.
1. Schedule regular video interactions with your direct supervisor and team
Human connection is a pillar stone of mental health. Without the buzz of daily office chatter, it can be easy to hole away on your own and only interact with your team when it’s necessary. What’s worse, is keeping your camera off and your microphone on mute when it does come time to interact. Don’t do this! Set a time for you and your team and/or supervisor to connect and catch up every week. If it’s comfortable to do so, use your camera. This can bring an added element of humanness and familiarity to the meeting. Comradery amongst those in similar situations can be a protective factor when the loneliness of remote work begins to creep in. What’s more, if you’re working for a UN agency, chances are your colleagues
are from all around the world. Take the time to meaningfully interact and learn from them, their viewpoints, and experiences. When working remotely, video calls are the best way to do this.
2. Set a work schedule for yourself and stick to it
When there aren’t any colleagues to see when you walk in and out of the office, it can be tempting to intersperse your work throughout the day. At first blush, it seems harmless to start work at 9:00am one day and 7:00pm the next (permitted that your team is okay with it). In my experience, however, keeping the same work hours has added a level of predictability in my daily life that can be hard to come by amongst the backdrop of a global pandemic (or let’s be real, life in general). I use my remote work situation as an opportunity to begin my day earlier. There is a 9-hour time difference between me and my team in Rwanda, so starting my day early was the natural choice for me. This allows me to have regular connection with my colleagues during their working hours, while allowing me to finish my workday earlier. I love wrapping up at 2:00pm after a full 8-hour day and using the afternoon to cook fancy dinners, meet up with friends for walks in Stanley Park, or try out a new yoga flow. You may find that you enjoy starting work at a different time. Whatever your preference, be sure to honour the schedule that you set yourself.
I love to set up my workstation at a new coffee shop whenever I can. Photo taken at Fisherman’s Wharf Marina, Victoria, B.C.
3. Take up ‘non-digital’ hobbies
This one was the hardest for me. A lot of my hobbies include screens: after work you can often find me curled up with my e-reader and some tea or practicing languages with tutors from around the world over Zoom. When I began working remotely at UNDP Rwanda, I knew I had to unhook from my tech at some point in the day to reemerge in the tangible world. Whenever I can, I like to try new hiking trails, explore the area around a previously un-ventured sky train station, or try a new restaurant with a local friend. It’s important to remember to plug into the here and now. This creates a cycle of positivity, effectively allowing you to show up as your whole self wherever you go, be it in the digital workplace, or amongst family and friends. Plus, my colleagues in Rwanda enjoy hearing what I’ve been up to back home in Canada.