Laptop on bed with laundry basket beside it

When COVID-19 abruptly yanked workers out of their offices, many found their new virtual workplaces lacked a key ingredient that brought them happiness at work: face-to-face interactions with other people. 

Alley was a fully remote company before COVID, so when the pandemic hit, I didn’t have a physical workplace to miss. Instead, I found I was wistful for face-to-face conferences, networking, and knowledge sharing events, which used to get me out of my home office and kept me inspired. 

You can imagine my excitement when event organizers began offering virtual options, where I could still learn new ideas and meet new people. You can also imagine my disappointment and surprise when, after I logged onto my first event, I struggled to engage. 

How could I focus on a webinar while constantly tempted to answer slack messages and check email? How could I resist the temptation to multitask, knowing my two preschool-age kiddos would soon arrive home like two mini whirling dervishes?

I’m happy to report, I’ve discovered my secret to staying focused when attending webinars and watching training videos: folding laundry.

Socks on bed with laptop beside it

This discovery is just in time too, because I recently started an online course (thanks to Alley’s commitment to, and funding for, professional development) which is heavily video-based. The videos don’t require me to be “camera-on” or to interact with others, but they do require me to pay careful attention and absorb the content. I’ve found that folding laundry while watching the videos allows me to keep my hands busy, avoid computer-based distractions, and carve out uninterrupted time to focus on the material. 

My experience got me wondering, how are my co-workers and friends staying engaged at work? Here are a few tricks they shared:

  • Get cooking. Got a meeting where you don’t have to be “on?” One of my co-workers puts on headphones and makes lunch. 
  • Walk- in place. Another co-worker placed a treadmill under his desk so he can walk while on webinars or doing work. Warning: watch out for models that automatically shut off after 15 minutes. Flying into your desk doesn’t help with concentration!
a screenshot of a Slack conversation. Kevin says "I bought a treadmill for under my desk so I could walk while working and on calls/webinars/etc where I'm mostly listening, but it keeps shutting off after 15 minutes, so that hasn't worked out so well so far." Renato replies "walking in a meeting… now that's new…" and Susan adds "hahaha - same thing happened to me kevin and I would fling forward into my desk each time it shut off!"
  • Get inspired. Yet another co-worker reports that she starts her day with a mini oasis of professional development by taking in a work-related podcast or video. This keeps her centered and motivated.
  • Remove electronic distractions. During video meetings, disconnect your second monitor (if you have one). Along these lines, quit other applications like slack and email or at least silence or hide alerts. One of my co-workers puts his cell phone outside of his office to fend off disruptions from each day’s barrage of news. 
  • Take notes. Note-taking helps us process and remember ideas and be better listeners. Even if I don’t intend to reference the notes later, taking notes keeps me engaged in what is being said.
  • Go camera-off when appropriate. When working remotely, there’s real value in defaulting to camera-on. With that said, many moments of collaboration don’t necessitate video, or could be even more productive with the camera off. Pair programming, collaborative copy-editing, and one-on-one discussions are examples where camera-off might be the best approach.
  • Turn to your phone now and then. Using the phone to communicate allows us to step away from the computer, and perhaps even get some fresh air and rest our eyes. I find that after a long string of video meetings, I’m often able to think and communicate better when I’m concentrating on a phone call. 
  • Embrace asynchronous work. At Alley, we rely heavily on asynchronous, ongoing dialogue in slack for collaboration and communication. This is especially important now, as we all accommodate one another’s schedules, many of which have shifted in the pandemic.

What techniques do you use to stay focused, motivated, and connected to your co-workers? Got something that tops doing the laundry? Bring it! We just might add it to this post.

Now, where is that other sock? 🧦 

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