Sure, you’ve probably worked from home when you’ve been waiting for a mattress delivery or have been feeling under the weather. In fact, according to a 2016 Gallup survey, 43 percent of those surveyed do telecommute sometimes, for two days a month on average. But the coronavirus pandemic means that many people will be working remotely for weeks, and maybe even months, for the first time.
As someone who has been working from home for years, I’ve learned that there are both upsides and downsides to your new, yet familiar, work environment. If you’re finding the transition challenging, here are some key things you need to do to set yourself up for success.
- Communicate clearly to family and friends that you are working, not off – This is imperative to do as soon as possible—especially since many families have multiple people at home these days. For example, while your household might assume that your presence means you’re always available to help with a “quick question” or a ride to the store, even small asks like these can be disruptive when you’re in the middle of a project. If you feel like getting crafty, make a “do not disturb” sign, similar to those at hotels, that let family members know when you are available for a conversation—and when you need to hunker down. You also might want to hang a dry erase board on the door, so they can ask their questions there, and you can answer them when you have the chance. If your children are home these days and your spouse is also working from home, consider working in shifts so each of you has an opportunity for some focused work time.
- Check in and stay in touch frequently – Make sure that “out of sight” doesn’t mean out of mind or that you’re on your own. As you transition to this remote lifestyle for a longer term, it’s important to check in with teammates and direct reports to ensure they’re not waiting on you for something that got lost in the shuffle from office work to working from home. Make yourself available for ad hoc conversations over messaging apps, and keep the communication going by setting up at least weekly check-ins, if you don’t have them set up already. Keeping in touch daily will help you stay connected to your team. Video conferencing tools like Zoom and GoToMeeting can add a more personal touch and allow you to pick up on nonverbal cues by meeting face-to-face electronically when you can’t be together in person. I’ve found that when everyone is working from home, conference calls tend to go a lot smoother because you’re not competing for attention with those physically in a room versus those who are joining the meeting through a conference call.
- Professional Meeting Tip #1: If you are meeting virtually on a regular basis, make sure to have and stick to an agenda for a more productive meeting. Afterwards, send out meeting notes so that everyone has a record of what was discussed and next steps.
- Professional Meeting Tip #2: If you have the option for conference call audio, I’ve found that using the computer audio with a headset provides the best experience, vs. dialing in over the phone (which, believe it or not, sometimes doesn’t sound as clear).
- Ensure you have the right tools – Speaking of tools, it’s important to “think outside the inbox.” Emails can often get lost, lead to miscommunications and can also diminish the feeling of true collaboration. A Forbes article highlighted the importance of collaboration, with one study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) finding that companies that promote collaborative working were “5 times as likely to be high performing.” The article also mentions a Stanford study that found that participants in the research who were primed to act collaboratively stayed at their task 64% longer than their solitary peers, while also reporting higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels and a higher success rate. Tools like OpenText Hightail help you share large files with anyone and everyone, no matter where they (or you) are and then collaborate on content—keeping all feedback together in the same place, in real time. For more about the tools you need to succeed when working remotely, please read “A new way to work: How to enable effective remote collaboration amid the coronavirus outbreak.”
- Stick to a routine – When I first started working from home, I would sleep in as long as possible leaving little time to actually get ready in the morning, then rush to start work as if I were being held up by a morning commute. Admittingly, this habit (which I quickly corrected) created unnecessary stress at the onset of my day. Regardless if you’re going to be returning to the office full time or not, it’s good to keep yourself on track with some of your usual routines, like getting ready for work. This can help you set boundaries for yourself – dress for work when you’re working and in pajamas when it’s downtime—so the two won’t cross over as much. (You’ll also be glad you did when someone asks you to jump on a video call).
- Establish a more permanent space – While sitting at a corner of the dinner table might work for a shorter stint at home, longer-term remote work requires more of a dedicated place in order to stay organized. For a dedicated, but still temporary, solution, get a card table or tray table that you can set up in a corner as a makeshift desk. Some file folders can help you separate your “to-dos,” “in progress” and “completed” items. Also, keep a notebook handy to easily jot down to-do items as they arise. BobVila.com offers up some interesting suggestions on where to create a space when you don’t have a home office. If it’s simply not possible to set up a dedicated space, at least know you’re not alone. PopSugar recently shared these humorous “unglamorous” work-from-home setups.
- Keep to-do lists and schedules – Staying organized is arguably even more important to do when you’re working from your home – which can be fraught with distractions. To stay on track with deadlines or things you want to accomplish each day, set calendar reminders. Also, end your day with a list of to-dos for the next day, so you can wake up knowing you’re organized for the day (and not waking up in the middle of the night remembering that email you wanted to send). To help you manage your time and focus in on what you need to do, you can also try techniques like the Pomodoro, a timed 25 minutes of undistracted work on a designated task, followed by a short break—and then repeated. You can also turn to apps like Stay Focused, which limits the amount of time you spend on a particular website—to keep you from falling down a rabbit hole on Twitter or LinkedIn.
- Step away from the computer – When your office and your home are the same place, it can be difficult to separate the two. Take short breaks throughout the day to rejuvenate. Also, if you can, work roughly the same set hours that you would if you were going to the office—so you’re not constantly sending “just one more email.” You need some downtime to recoup for the next day of hard work.
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