Remote work terms and what we can do about them

Dev P
Dev P
Dec 31, 2020 · 5 min read

Covid-19 really has shaken the world we live in. One of the biggest hit industries was the corporate workforce. Many of you reading this will one day be (or currently are) a part of the workforce.

Photo by De an Sun on Unsplash

Trends suggest that companies are pushing to make remote work a permanent thing. Companies like Shopify, Facebook, Twitter, and many others are digitizing their employees, by incorporating permanent work from home for most if not all employees (including interns). On top of this, pretty much all other companies will host their 2021 internships remotely.

Photo by Windows on Unsplash

Pretty neat right? You get to wake up 10 mins before work, arent obligated to wear pants, and can probably get away with napping during office hours. While WFH does provide its share of benefits, I believe we should be concerned as students.

I recently did my first work term remotely at WSIB Innovation Labs, based in Communitech. Communitech hires a lot of UWaterloo coop students and boasts an amazing networking opportunity. For my PD11 work term report, I conducted a survey amongst all Communitech coop students. I surveyed about productivity, work-life balance, mental health, networking, and a few more things. And well, the results aren't exactly in favor of these remote internships we will be seeing more and more of.

The results

I asked a series of yes-no questions, and I also had sections for more detail after each question. On top of that, I conducted a few interviews with colleagues over google meets.

Here's what they had to say…

Your stress will go up. The majority of the respondents felt that they were more stressed than they would have been had their coop term been in person. Reasons for this include lack of socialization, increased workload, and not being able to get support for problems as quickly.

The coop program here at the University of Waterloo, and any student seeking internships, in general, is to gain relevant work experience so that they can apply what they learn to real-life settings. With around 65% of respondents saying they haven't gained the same level of technical or interpersonal skills they would have from an in-person coop, it's quite concerning knowing remote internships are here to stay. The whole purpose of internships is early talent acquisition for companies, in exchange for money and experience for students. If we aren't getting (the arguably more important) half of our deal, we should be concerned.

You will likely notice the lack of physical separation between work and home. It will be hard to get work off your mind too, especially if you work from your bedroom. I know stories of people experiencing hearing sounds like a slack notification while sleeping, due to this lack of separation.

To add to this, the lack of work-life balance may push you to do more. Around 85% of the respondents claim they did more work than they would have in the office. It's incredibly easy to just accidentally work a few hours extra. Those few extra hours will add up, sometimes up to 3 weeks per year, but you aren't going to be paid for it.

This one is self-explanatory. Although I got to visit, I was pretty bummed out that I couldn't be in the office. Communitech is beautiful, and the open-concept workspaces filled with coop students is a great way to make friends. And well, it's hard to recreate that at home. I would say maybe 15% of my work term was spent with another human being in my presence. Of that, I’d say 90% of it was with my own lab. Although I did have fun with a few communitech and inter-lab socials, this term of coops missed out on the networking and friendships that naturally build when working together in real life.

What can we do about it?

Everything here can be applied to in-person internships as well! These are things I followed that led me to have a meaningful experience this Fall.

There are plenty of ways to handle work-related stress, I won't get into it much, as everyone deals with stress differently.

Building interpersonal and technical skills is always going to be tough when working remotely. What I did before starting my coop term was write down some things I wanted to get better at from a technical standpoint:

  • Learn to work with SQL databases
  • Get a better understanding of Cloud-based services and platform (AWS, GCP, etc)
  • Familiarize myself with Docker and DevOps
  • Deep learning

I then spoke to my managers and presented them with this list, and talked to them about how I can find opportunities to build on these. Reason and negotiate. Since we couldn't figure out a way for me to use Deep learning in my projects, I was encouraged to take courses on Deep Learning when I wanted to and when we had fewer priorities.

I was fortunate enough to work in a lab where I get the freedom and flexibility to hose how to go about the project, so I was able to cross off everything on my list for the term.

Don't work from your bedroom. Try to work from somewhere that isn't right next to where you sleep. A couple of places I worked from that weren't my bedroom include:

  • The guest bedroom
  • Kitchen
  • Garage
  • Backyard

It's hard to prevent someone from overworking. For me, I took a PD11 course and a CS course over my coop term, so I would be pushed to stop work and start an assignment, lecture, or quiz when it hit 5 pm.

Ask for or prompt social interactions with your team. Some ideas include:

  • Weekly Demos, where people demo what they have been working on
  • Drinks and Games, 60–90 mins at the end of every other Friday to just relax, unwind, and play some games with your team. Some ideas are, codenames, or Scattegories
  • Holiday/special occasion themed ideas. Is it December? Great, you can make Holiday cards together on Figma.

These are just some things that helped me with my remote work term, best of luck with yours!

uWaterloo Voice

uWaterloo Voice is an unofficial student run publication…

uWaterloo Voice

uWaterloo Voice is an unofficial student run publication aiming to showcase articles created by University of Waterloo students. These articles can be of any topic and anybody from the University of Waterloo is able to write for this publication.

Dev P

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Dev P

I like to write and do other cool things...

uWaterloo Voice

uWaterloo Voice is an unofficial student run publication aiming to showcase articles created by University of Waterloo students. These articles can be of any topic and anybody from the University of Waterloo is able to write for this publication.