Personally, I don’t like working from home. If I can choose, I go into the office. I just get more done. Unfortunately, to protect my family and my employees, going to the office is no longer the best option. For some of you, it’s not an option at all.
For those who have not worked from home full-time before now, you’ll want to prepare by doing the following:
1. Take inventory (literally) of what you need to effectively do your job
At first, it’s easy to think that if you’ve got your laptop, you’re all set. Before making this assumption, take a moment to really think about how you work and the important tasks you need to get done. What files do you need to access? Do you need to print physical copies or ship things overnight? What else do you use to perform your job well and independently?
If your job requires you to collaborate with others often, figure out how you might replicate those work channels. Will you use Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, Zoom, Slack, or other platforms? And, keep in mind that this isn’t your decision alone. You may need to decide as a team which platform works best for everyone.
2. Ensure you have a strong virtual presence
Just like you wouldn’t show up to work disheveled, make sure your virtual presence is equally put together. Does your home workspace reflect how you want people to see you? What, exactly, do people experience when they watch you “through the lens”? Here are some questions to consider: Are you dressed appropriately? Is your sound quality strong? Is your camera lighting and set up effective? Is there a risk of annoying or unexpected background noise?
If you are working in your personal space, control the frame that people see. Perhaps you’ll want to move your laundry basket out of the frame. How about that wine bottle you keep on the counter behind you? Remove anything you’d rather others not see. If you can eliminate or reduce excess background noise, try to do so. If you can’t, address it upfront so the other person isn’t left wondering what’s happening. Since it’s a best practice to turn on your camera, the excuse that your webcam is not working will only last for so long.
3. Create an environment that is easy to work in
Most of us separate our work lives from our home lives and our environments reflects that. If you’re not used to working from home, your home may be filled with distractions. To ensure your own effectiveness, find ways to create a workspace that blocks out those distractions.
Since NYC just closed schools, I have two young kids running around the house. If you can get help from a relative or a babysitter to watch them during key work hours, great! If you and your spouse are both working from home, consider staggering work call times with your spouse in case you need to take turns keeping the kids busy. If you are alone, manage the expectations of your clients and colleagues as you figure out a longer-term solution.
Another practical tip from my colleagues who work 100% remote is to structure your day so you can settle into a regular routine. Decide specific times when your workday starts and ends. Schedule breaks throughout the day since it’ll be unlikely your colleagues will drop by your desk to give you a “natural” break. For some of you with chatty colleagues, this might be a perk.
4. Stay close and connected
When you work from home, you are increasing the distance on three dimensions – physical, operational, relational. Your goal is to understand how those distances impact you and how you can best minimize them. My colleague, Neha Ratnakar, shares 6 ways to reduce these distances in this article.
If you manage people, proactively connect with your team regularly. Schedule one-on-ones and periodic check-ins. This is especially important if you typically check in with your team by just dropping by their offices. You may find yourself less able to catch physical cues when someone is not feeling their best. When we’re in the same office and we see someone feeling down, we ask, “Is everything ok?” This is so much harder to pick up on when we’re virtual. Remember to include small talk in your virtual meetings so you stay connected at all levels with your teammates.
5. Be clear about expectations
Although technology has come a long way to help us effectively engage in remote settings, our productivity is still dependent on the nature of our work and our own comfort level using these technologies. Since it’s easy to assume that we can quickly convert our in-person productivity to virtual, you’ll want to take a step back and ask yourself whether that’s true.
Have a conversation about what is the expected output now that you’re working from home. If you manage others, discuss your expectations and make sure they are realistic. You might also want to leverage email more to make things clear. Consider following up after meetings with a quick email summary of the conversation and confirm your understanding of Who does What by When. For right now, you may also want to add How, at least until we all have a better sense of how to work effectively in this new normal.
There is a lot to think about and this transition can be stress-inducing. You may find that you are less active working from home than you were in the office. Keep up your exercise routine and if you can’t go to the gym because of social distancing, then take a walk or go for a run. On the positive side, if you have a tiring commute or hectic morning routine, you may find that working from home gives you more flexibility and time with family. If you become adept at working remotely, you may also be broadening your career opportunities.