7 Tips for Scientific Researchers Working Remotely

Working remotely can be difficult to navigate, so we’ve created a guide to help you stay healthy, motivated and productive during this time.

Amid all of the economic and social changes that the coronavirus pandemic has caused globally, there has been a notable shift in the way that people work. In an effort to practice social distancing, many people have shifted to working from home, and as a result have had to adjust to new work environments and routines over the last few months. Scientific researchers are no exception to these changes. Institutional shutdowns, supply chain disruptions, and a lack of access to lab spaces are some of the many new challenges you may be overcoming as a researcher.

These unique challenges may be overwhelming at times and can result in a range of emotional responses, but all of these feelings are completely normal and justified. Everyone is facing this crisis differently, and being aware of your emotions will help you create strategies to cope with them, which will go a long way in helping you manage day-to-day tasks. 

As scientists at Nicoya, we face these same challenges and one of our utmost priorities is ensuring the health, happiness, and success of our employees during this time. In keeping with our mission of improving human life by helping scientists succeed, we’ve compiled a list of our own best practices for helping you tackle these challenges too!

1. Establish your research workspace

Create a dedicated working area. As a researcher, you are used to spending hours in the lab or office developing new experiments and research ideas, and having your home be a place of sanctity. Now that your home has also become your office, establishing a dedicated workspace to be used during working hours can help to recreate that sense of physical separation that you may be accustomed to. This can also help to encourage the same sense of inspiration and keep you in the same head space that you would’ve had in the office.

Minimize distractions. Let your house members know when you are working or in a meeting by closing your door, telling them in person, or putting up a sign beforehand to minimize distractions. Finding a location in your house that has low traffic will also help you remain uninterrupted throughout the day. 

Have an ergonomic setup. Try to have the proper equipment and an ergonomic setup for your workspace to prevent strain and injuries caused by improper work conditions. As a researcher, you may be used to standing for most of your day and being on your feet running experiments in the lab. While you’re at home, you can incorporate different workspace variations to avoid being stationary all day. Check out this article for some tips on ensuring your setup is ergonomic, no matter where you are.

2. Build a routine

Know what you need. With a change in environment, establishing a new routine can be challenging, especially at home. Although your routine at home won’t be exactly the same as in the lab or office, modifying it to fit your new needs will help you stay motivated and comfortable. As a result, you’ll be able to stay productive with your research projects. 

“Commute” to work. For a smooth transition, one helpful tip is to keep to your usual routine as much as possible. This could include going for a walk or drive around the block before and after work to mimic your daily commute. Even a stroll around your house could help you get in the right mindset to start and end the day. This commute can help in establishing working hours and maintaining a good work/life balance.

Remember to take breaks. Maybe you’re used to natural opportunities for breaks and having changes to your work environment throughout the day, as a result of moving between the lab, the office, and meetings. Try to be mindful of setting up times to take mental breaks to keep your mind refreshed. An effective way to do this is by implementing the pomodoro technique, where you work in intervals of 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off. 

Keep your body moving. Do you find that you often have your eureka moments or think of those great ideas as you’re walking around? As researchers who need to constantly produce new ideas and think on our toes, it’s important to keep our bodies moving. Studies have shown that any physical activity, even something as simple as walking forward, can increase your creative thinking. You can try incorporating activity into your routine by going outside or doing some yoga!

3. For researchers with little ones

Plan ahead. For researchers with children, there are many strategies that you can implement to avoid feeling overwhelmed and to make this transition as smooth as possible for everyone in your home. As a result of the structure in schools, your kids are likely used to a schedule. Plan activities and create resources ahead of time to help your children keep to their usual routines of playtime, learning and napping. There are also many online resources that you can leverage to help your kids stay engaged, such as Education, Khan Academy, and Legends of Learning! Keeping your children engaged with planned activities will also help you stay focused throughout the day.

Communicate with your team. Let your team know of any obstacles that come about as a result of having your children at home. Remember, everyone is going through a similar transition and they understand the challenges you are facing, so don’t hesitate to communicate and be transparent with your team if you need support!

4. Stay (virtually) connected

Communicate with virtual tools. When you were in the lab it was easy to share ideas, brainstorm and give research updates to your fellow lab mates, most of whom were usually just a few steps away. Working from home doesn’t mean that the flow of communication has to stop. With the advent of virtual communication and conferencing tools, it’s just as easy to stay connected and engaged with your colleagues to keep productivity and research moving forward! Communication platforms such as Slack are a great space for project planning and resource sharing, while video conferencing tools such as Google Meet allow you to take your weekly lab meetings online in a more interactive way (we use both these tools ourselves here at Nicoya!). 

Take it to the next level. Already using these tools? Adapt your typical work routine to update your lab mates and colleagues with your “online hours” so they’re aware of your availability and the best times for scheduling meetings in your calendar. Small improvements such as having a “video on” policy or implementing daily stand up meetings can compensate for less face-to-face interaction. This will also boost the effectiveness of these tools and your overall sense of team connectedness.

5. Continue the learning

Stay up to date in your field. Just because Isaac Newton did his best work while social distancing during the Great Plague of London, it doesn’t mean you should feel like you have to use this time to be immensely productive. In fact, many professors are finding they actually have even less time while working from home due to the added complexities and responsibilities of the current situation. That said, you may find yourself having to put some of your projects on hold while being away from the lab, and inevitably looking for ways to keep your ideas and brain juices flowing. To keep productive in a more manageable way, you can access easy-to-digest content, such as JoVE’s Video Journal, or online technology demonstrations to catch up on new protocols and technology in your field.

Join an online community. The absence of conferences shouldn’t mean you are losing the opportunity to connect with your colleagues. Joining an online community can be a great way to stay connected to the newest topics in your field and to learn about the latest advancements in the fight against COVID-19. Check out this excellent article about how a researcher has joined virtual communities to become even more connected with scientists from all over the world.

6. Turn free time into hobbies

Hobbies for personal growth. Commuting to the lab, running errands, and other daily tasks are all important aspects of your regular routine. However, they can be time-consuming and leave you with little energy to spend on yourself. You can replace the time spent on these daily tasks with trying a new hobby or picking one back up. Hobbies are an excellent way to work on your self-growth while spending more time at home, and the possibilities that adhere to social distancing guidelines are endless! 

Hobbies for scientific success. Pick a hobby that gives you a much-needed break from work and the overwhelming flow of information you receive from the news. A study from 2008 investigated the hobbies of researchers over many years and found that ‘creative’ hobbies, such as singing and painting, were more common among the most successful researchers. Keeping a ‘growth mindset’ and trying new and creative hobbies may actually help foster more scientific success!

7. Enjoy some fun activities

From the comfort of your home. With everyone’s schedules in constant flux, it’s still important to find time for fun. Finding ways to have fun while socially distancing is a great way to relieve stress and disconnect from work. Many organizations are doing their part by offering free at-home services and online activities to consumers. This article is a great resource for the different types of entertainment available, from print-and-play board games to opera streams. 

Get creative. For those looking for fun ways to stay active, virtual yoga and workout classes can keep you feeling energized and healthy during these times. For the foodies, instead of writing lab protocols, try writing some recipes for the kitchen and challenge your lab mates to a virtual cook-off. You can also get creative with how you stay connected with family, friends, and co-workers. As an example, here at Nicoya we’ve been having weekly Netflix parties and virtual cocktail hours! 

Every week, the entire team gets together for a virtual “Hot Topic”, where we share new and creatives ideas on how we can grow as individuals and as a company.

During these unprecedented times, you will inevitably face many new challenges and changes in your day-to-day routines, but remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As a scientist, you’ve built the resilience to overcome ups and downs and the creativity to problem-solve in uncertain situations, and it’s these skills that will get you through this time. Be like a proton and stay positive! Keep connected with your loved ones, and take the time to do things that make you happy, and we’re confident that we will all come out of this pandemic stronger and more resourceful than ever. 

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