HOW TO MAKE FELLOWSHIP FROM HOME SUCCESSFUL: 5 INSIGHTS FROM A REMOTE FELLOW

It was Orientation week (the conference and induction at the beginning of the fellowship) and I was sitting at my desk attending the last online session of the day sipping on some hot chai in the evening cold. The AIF Livelihoods team was taking a session and there was an animated discussion going on. I had many questions and raised my hand, unmuting myself to speak once it was acknowledged. I was not even two sentences in when the loudest screeching noise sounded in the whole house, audible to everyone on the call. 

There were only two scenarios that could have unfolded:

Scenario A – I apologise and mute myself immediately and never unmute again in my whole life because of the embarrassment.

Scenario B – I apologise to everybody for the accidental assault on their eardrums and continue my question.

How do I know there are only two scenarios? Well, think about it, scenario A was everyone at the beginning of the pandemic. This was when most people weren’t confident with the concept of remote working. Two years later, almost all of us are now at scenario B and for good reason! The days when you would be looked down upon for having a messy room in the background or the sound of loud family members trickling its way into your mic are gone. We have found ways to find peace with working at home. Whether it’s from our bedsides or home office setups and sometimes (ok, who are we kidding – mostly) both. 

If you’ve reached here and are still curious as to what the screeching sound was – it was the sound of my dog fighting a mongoose. However, both were unharmed since it was mostly a verbal fight.

When the acceptance into the fellowship came, I knew that I would have to relocate to another location. Due to the prediction of the third wave of COVID, I knew it could be cancelled or delayed. Since I had done almost 3 semesters of my Master’s online, it didn’t faze me. I knew how to work from home and conduct primary and secondary research. Once I got to know about my placement at my host organisation – Frontier Markets, it was even more exciting. The idea of moving to Jaipur, Rajasthan and experiencing a whole new culture was thrilling. 

As predicted, the third wave hit us in mid-January 2022, just a few weeks after orientation. I was inducted into the organisation online and then began working from home. My project was on evolving the digital platforms being used by my host organisation with a focus on UI/UX design. This was easier to do remotely with the help of a few collaboration tools. In the past 4 months of my fellowship, I have gained some useful insights about working on the project and with my host organisation. I hope these will be helpful to my peers in the cohort or future cohorts who will join in a remote/hybrid capacity.

#1 Communication is KEY (no surprise there!)

As people come from different cities, cultures and social capital, it is only logical that there will be instances where one might feel out of place even when working from home. What helped me cope with this and be able to deliver quality work is by setting expectations. My supervisor from the host organisation and I were able to get into the expectation-setting discussion at the very beginning of the fellowship during the orientation week itself. This helped set the ground for me to potentially explore the types of work and professional relationships I could have. Having regular and frequent check-ins with the team helped me understand the pace of work in which the organisation operates and acclimatising myself to it. It is also essential to know what channels of communication the organisation uses and be active on those channels throughout the day. In my case, these channels are telephonic calls, e-mail and WhatsApp. Lastly, it’s also important to update the supervisor about work done every day and I find that keeping a daily work log is helpful. Creating a simple work log with not too many columns makes it easier to maintain and update every day. A work log helped me keep myself accountable and focused on what needed to be finished on a certain day.  

A screen shot of Prakriti's worklog with her daily activities.
A snapshot of my daily work log. Source: Prakriti Chawla
#2 Kill boredom with proactiveness

I said yes to all work when I was starting out, big or small! I realised early on that the fellowship is a limited time opportunity and I have to leverage this time in a manner that will not only allow me to get all deliverables completed but also expand my own skill sets. In 8 months, I need to leave as a person who knows in-depth about the host organisation, the development sector, and my potential. Every time my supervisor would propose a new project to me, I would immediately agree and take the help of the team wherever I needed it (no matter how small I thought my questions were). Coming to a tech startup where my work was mostly UI/UX design, where I had to learn some new skills, Google and the willingness to learn is all it took to figure it out on the go. As someone who would get bored easily when there wasn’t much work, taking up new tasks also helped in keeping my motivation high and letting my horizons expand. Due to this, I have enhanced my multitasking and time management skills as well.

A diagram of all the projects Prakriti is working on currently.
A diagram of all the projects I am currently working on. Source: Prakriti Chawla
#3 Online collaboration tools can elevate your work

I was always a curious person who would keep trying new digital tools just for the sake of it. In the age of working from home, this helped me immensely as I am now able to match tools to tasks to make them simpler and collaborative. Since most of the work was to be done with different groups of people, managing everything could sometimes be a nightmare. However, with the right tools at my disposal, I could do coordination, creative work, presentations, etc. faster and more efficiently. The following 3 are the most essential and easiest-to-use collaboration tools that as a fellow you must know and master:

  • Google Suite (Gmail, Calendar, Meet, Chat, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Sites and more)
  • Miro (Digital Whiteboard)
  • Canva (Graphic Design Tool)

In the context of my project that includes heavy UI/UX design work, I also use Adobe XD which is Adobe’s UI/UX design software that allows for some amount of collaboration. 

A snapshot of one of the Miro board that Prakriti works on.
One of the Miro boards that I work on. Source: Prakriti Chawla
#4 Upskill whenever, wherever 

In my remote fellowship, since the physical fieldwork is eliminated, I could get a lot more time on my hands. The possibilities to use this time were endless, but I used it to upskill and enhance the quality of my work. Online learning platforms like Coursera, EdX, Udemy, and more, have short-term and long-term courses on almost every topic imaginable. I also audited courses that were free on most platforms, which means I got the content at zero cost, but for a certificate, I would have to pay. However, some platforms have financial aid available for those who need it to get the certificate. While these platforms are more formal and structured, I found that YouTube is the most useful tool for upskilling. You can browse thousands of videos on a topic from various creators and get different perspectives on it. Since I came to the fellowship only a few months after graduating from my Master’s, I found it very helpful to understand the specific skills that I would require in UI/UX design and then learn them via various platforms.

A pie chart stating the importance of upskilling in 2022.
A chart on how important upskilling is in 2022. Source: Prakriti Chawla
#5 Collision of personal and professional is unavoidable

As stated at the beginning of this blog, one of my biggest lessons from working from home has been accepting that my personal and professional life will collide. I would easily get frustrated when I wouldn’t be able to separate my work from my home. Sometimes, all I wanted my home to be was a place to unwind, so I have found ways to set boundaries with my family in order to work in peace but still be there for them when they need me. Another thing that helped me was that I created a workspace separate from my bed so that when I needed that extra motivation to kick in to finish my work before the deadline, I could just sit in that space, plug in my earphones, and work without getting disturbed. However, most of the time, I’m usually found working from my bed, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! 

Prakriti sitting at her work desk at home and smiling.
My work from home desk (it only looked neat and tidy for the photograph). Source: Prakriti Chawla

Prakriti is a Social Designer and has spent most of her childhood on the campus of Muskaan, a world-renowned skilling institute for persons with intellectual disability (PwIDs) in India. Over the past four years, she has worked towards the inclusion of marginalized people in the mainstream workforce through multiple path-breaking projects through partnerships with governments and non-profits. Prakriti completed her Master’s in Social Design from Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi, where she led various projects on migration, disabilities, gender, self-advocacy, and education. She has a certification on disability livelihoods from EnAble India. She has had on-ground experience in the mainstream hospitality industry and has worked with Lemon Tree Hotels, one of the first companies to hire people with disabilities at a large scale.
While there, she directly worked with the Head of Diversity & Inclusion to help develop inclusive policies for the national chain of hotels. Along with India's Skill Council for Persons with Disability (SCPwD) and Muskaan, she has also helped in the creation of a standardized curriculum on vocational training of PwIDs for national dissemination. In her most recent project with Muskaan, she conducted a research study on the experiences of family members of people with intellectual disabilities. A continuous learner, Prakriti believes in expanding her horizons and therefore has learned basic sign language and is also a budding clay artist. In 2019, Prakriti was recognized as a Rising Star by Wedu Global.

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One thought on “HOW TO MAKE FELLOWSHIP FROM HOME SUCCESSFUL: 5 INSIGHTS FROM A REMOTE FELLOW

  1. Absolutely love how you have articulated your journey, Prakriti! I’ve always admired your creativity and how
    you strive to visualise out of the box but maintain a balance between coherence and the intricacy of your work.
    So proud of your growth!

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