I work from home on the regular, but for a lot of people this is a new experience.
So if this is all new to you, here are some tips as we prepare for another week of working remotely…
Maintain a workspace
I find that a dedicated space – physically and mentally – helps to keep me on track.
For me, that’s currently an actual office in my home, but in my old place it was a desk in the corner of another room.
Because I’m in my “work space” I take on a work mindset.
The same can apply to how you dress for the day. Working in PJs is super comfortable but doesn’t necessarily put you in a “work” mindset. I’m not saying you can’t, or that you need to put on a suit, or even shoes. But, think about what helps you feel official, to be official.
Mirror your work environment
This may not be 100% possible, but the more ways your work tools at home match the ones at the office, the more productive you’ll be.
At my in-the-office workspace, we all have docking stations, real keyboards and a mouse, as well as a second monitor for dual-screen computing. That’s in the office.
If you usually use a real mouse in the office, but suddenly have to use a trackpad when you’re remote, it slows you down. I know I find it painful if I have to work with just one computer screen, when I’m used to being able to see two programs side by side, and not be constantly opening and closing windows to get things done.
So at home, I have set myself up with a second monitor (which I had because once upon a time, we all had desktops not laptops, so monitors were a thing).
Now obviously, you might not have everything you need on hand to close those gaps, and getting tools might not be simple at present – please do not go to the mall right now – and I certainly can’t promise your company is fronting costs for anything. (Though I did learn that some locations at my company are letting people sign out their office monitor to use at home.)
YMMV, so you might think about what’s on hand. Maybe that’s just the mouse you have in a box somewhere from before you switched to a tablet.
I chatted with my office team, and it turns out a couple of them had monitors somewhere in the house that were not in use and they hadn’t even considered that these could be connected to their office laptop or how much easier that would make their work life. One was about to move and had thought he would divest himself of the monitor, not realizing it would actually be useful, at least in the short term, for a working space. (For me I had needed a dongle to make the connectors match, but his monitor and computer both have HMDI cords. Easy-peasy!)
As for me, I actually have a USB hub to connect my external keyboard, printer, speakers etc if desired – but I find that just the monitor and mouse – and of course my high speed internet connection – make me fully functional for 99.9% of what I need on a typical work day.
Now, what counts as a distraction may vary from person to person, but I think the principle applies. For me, this means I don’t turn on music or the TV at all (there currently isn’t a TV even on the same floor as my home office).
Now, that said, some people listen to music even at the office, with headphones, as their means to reduce other distractions. I don’t, so for me music is distracting, but if it’s your ‘work-normal’ that might actually be helpful to you.
Also if you’re at home with kids, and they’re on break or otherwise not “schooling” for portions of the day, that no-TV rule might be challenging or even impossible. When I had long-term houseguests, I closed my “office” door so that they could watch TV without it really impacting me.
Set some boundaries
In your house, you might need actual boundaries to keep out the dog. Or the old-enough-to-fend-for-themselves-but-opting-not-to kids.
And that’s valuable. During your workday, you need to be able to work. Your company needs to be able to count on that. And you need some space to think clearly.
But there’s also the boundary of your work vs your life. When I first started working from home, my workday started spilling over into all of my life – starting earlier and earlier and staying later and later – and that was a stressor on my well-being.
For me, my boundary requires me to set a schedule.
- I try to get up early, have some quiet time, do my daily Duolingo lesson, listen to a few minutes of news via podcast, and get my workout in the morning before I log on for the day. (I have a WiiFit in the basement, so I do 30-45 minutes there, usually before work, but if I oversleep, I do 30 minutes at lunch).
- I get my first cup of coffee made and in hand to go face the day.
- I get on the company’s VPN connection and start my workday at 8am — an hour earlier than my colleagues generally, but gives me a little extra overlap with the team in Europe. Plus, it gives me generally uninterrupted time to make a plan of attack for the day’s projects.
- Midday I reheat or make lunch, which I often eat at my desk, but if I miss my AM workout I try to squeak it in at this point. (Some of my colleagues have kids home with them, and lunch is now their break to have another meal together, while the kids take a break from online schoolwork and they take a short mental break from the office.)
- After that, I’m back on the clock, working on projects and conference calls as needed.
- I try to knock off between 5 and 5:30pm, to have dinner and go about my evening routines.
Stay in touch
Whether it’s a messaging app or calls, stay in contact with your team.
Even though I don’t usually see my colleagues, I talk to my boss (by phone or text) multiple times a day.
That happens organically, because even when I’m in the office, we’re not in the same location. But my manager’s open door policy includes discussing projects as needed. And he makes a point to check in just to see how we’re doing from day to day.
If you’re a manager, this is so important, but also potentially tricky – you want to be staying in contact with your people and making sure they are doing okay and have what they need, but not make them feel like you’re checking up on them to make sure they’re working.
(So much else is in upheaval, and I know introducing distrust in working relationships isn’t something anyone needs on top of it all. If you have ‘problem children’ on your team, that’s a separate issue, but you should be able to trust that your best performers are working, or trying to, technology and life permitting. Some of your people are probably doing even better in some ways, without all the in-office meetings, distractions and disruptions. But it is still an adjustment for most people.)
If you would normally discuss project statuses in person, set up a standing call to replace that, or find some other method of staying in contact that fits how your team works.
But even if not, check in and see how your team is doing, what they need, or if there are any challenges you can help resolve.
That’s good advice whether you’re managing a remote team, or just trying to be a good teammate.
So that’s how I manage working at home.
If you are too, what’s working for you?
And hey, can you not post memes that make it look like working at home is just an opportunity to slack? Because most of us may be less formal than in the office but we aren’t slacking, and we don’t appreciate that image being circulated to managers who maybe tend to doubt remote employees.
I’m an office worker. I can do what I do from anywhere. I don’t have a high-contact position and I wouldn’t thrive in that scenario anyway. That said, I realize that’s not the case for everyone, and if the type of work you do doesn’t lend itself to remote scenarios, and you’re currently not able to work / earn an income at all, please know I do know you’re out there, my heart goes out to you, and I am keeping you (and everyone in that position) in my prayers.