Remote work: 8 tips to sharpen the senses

Remote work can take a toll on collaboration. Grab a desk snack and consider these sensory-focused tips to keep your team – and yourself – engaged and productive
208 readers like this.
Man in blue chair works at computer next to white bike

Are you struggling with remote work fatigue? Do you find collaboration with your team difficult in a virtual environment?

Maybe it’s time to check in with your eight (nope, not five – eight!) senses.

Managing the complete sensory experience in your remote work environment can significantly improve your outlook.

Managing the complete sensory experience in your remote work environment can significantly improve your outlook, productivity, and ability to collaborate with others. Let’s look at how your eight senses impact remote work – and offer some tips to help both leaders and team members stay productive and collaborate more successfully.

1. Sight

Some people love seeing their colleagues on screen; others find it overwhelming. Also, keep in mind that people with hearing loss or tinnitus may rely on facial expressions to understand what others are saying.

[ Does remote work leave you exhausted? Read our related story: Remote exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]

Leaders: Let meeting participants take turns being on screen. Reinforce behaviors you want to see, but don’t try to enforce rules that make people uncomfortable.

Team members: Accept that your colleagues’ meeting preferences might differ from yours and be respectful. Also, consider that a colleague might need to see you in order to understand what you are saying.

2. Hearing

High-quality audio is essential for productive meetings. Occasional distractions are easy to ignore, but constant disruptive noise makes effective communication all but impossible.

Leaders: Encourage team members to mute themselves when they are not actively participating in a discussion and ensure that everyone has a noise-canceling headset.

Team members: Try to work from a quiet space – but if your workspace is noisy, use mute when you are not speaking.

3. Taste

It’s hard to engage in a meeting when you’re hungry or thirsty – just try to collaborate while your stomach is growling!

Leaders: Schedule regular breaks to eat and drink. Encourage team members to take a 5-10 minute break for every hour of work - it will help everyone stay sharp and focused.

Team members: Make sure you have easily accessible snacks and drinks to enjoy throughout the day, and don’t forget to schedule longer lunch breaks to recharge.

4. Touch

Limiting our interactions only to what we see and hear online is isolating and can reduce engagement.

Leaders: To boost engagement, encourage meeting participants to do something active with their hands. For example, ask them to write down five ideas based on the theme of the discussion, or to show off a piece of their home office décor.

Ask team members to write down five ideas based on the theme of the discussion, or to show off a piece of their home office décor.

Team members: Use a fidget toy to keep your hands engaged during virtual meetings. This will also reduce the temptation to check email or find other distractions.

5. Smell

You may not think smell has anything to do with remote work, but all of our senses work together and impact our well-being. Our sense of smell is closely intertwined with memory. Use this to your advantage to help you create a more engaging space.

Leaders: Running our of things to discuss during casual team happy hours? Ask team members to describe their favorite smells – this is a surprisingly interesting, engaging, and powerful way to share.

Team members: Add your favorite scents to your workspace to help create a more relaxing and enjoyable environment.

That covers five senses – but we all have three more important ones to consider:

6. Movement

Have you heard? Sitting is the new smoking.

Leaders: Consider leading brief “chair yoga” sessions – or simple pauses to stretch – during calls. Make sure virtual meetings aren’t too long and that they include regular breaks.

Consider leading brief "chair yoga" sessions – or simple pauses to stretch – during calls.

Team members: When appropriate, consider using a phone or tablet so you can stand or walk during some meetings. Even angling your camera so you can stand at your desk for short periods of time is helpful.

7. Balance

Some people report dizziness after extended periods of sitting at the computer: The less we move, the less we use our sense of balance.

Leaders: Incorporate movement breaks and lead your team through a few simple stretches. Resetting the connection between the brain and the body is one of the best ways to boost engagement and productivity.

Team members: Get your head “out of vertical” during the workday. Doing simple neck stretches can increase alertness and wake up the brain: Try tilting your ear toward your shoulder on each side, then nodding your chin toward your chest and back (chin up in the air), for starters.

8. Interoception

The eighth sense, interoception, communicates physical signals from the body such as hunger, thirst, heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, and more.

Leaders: Respect your team members’ need to tend to their physical and emotional needs. Enable them to take regular breaks and be flexible on timing. People are most engaged and productive when they are physically comfortable and their basic needs have been met.

Team members: Build time into your day to stay fed, hydrated, and comfortable. Communicate to colleagues when you need to be offline and schedule your workday accordingly.

Team members and leaders who respect all eight senses will be rewarded with a happier, more productive, and collaborative remote workplace.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Christel Seeberger is an occupational therapist, Founder and CEO of Sensory Friendly Solutions.