Working from home. I’ve never heard these 3 words uttered as often as I have over the last few days. As the global situation unfolds, many San Francisco Bay Area companies are moving towards remote options or even entire work from home operations.
Right now, it’s a matter of public health and safety, but regardless, the “future of work” will continue to evolve. That being said, if you typically work in an office and now find yourself scrambling to be effective and productive from home, here are a few tips to stay on track.
1. Test Your Tech
You may have given very little thought to your internet connection before working from home, but now, it should be at top of mind. Make sure your internet speed can handle the platforms your company uses to conduct business. An unstable connection can cause disruption in VOIP calls and video calls, and company systems and VPN might place undue stress on your current bandwidth.
Walk through this quick tech checklist, so your internet connection is the best it can be:
– Use fast.com to test your connection and make sure it’s not under 20mbs.
– If you have problems with poor connection on video calls, pause syncing programs on your computer like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.
– Test audio and Bluetooth earpieces like AirPods before doing calls, especially if using a secondary computer.
2. Setup Your Work Environment To Encourage Productivity
Depending upon the activity level in your home, make sure you have an environment that’s conducive for calls and focused creativity. For me, this can be my bedroom or even in a pinch, the closet, when there are uncontrollable noises and distractions (dogs, kids, etc.) in the common areas.
To eliminate background sounds, you can use apps like Krisp, so you don’t have to constantly tell someone you’re sorry for the noise.
“Right now, it’s a matter of public health and safety, but regardless, the “future of work” will continue to evolve.”
If you have roommates, plan ahead together, so you all know when calls will be taking place or when work hours are. The clearer the communication, the easier it will be for everyone to work around one another.
3. Keep a Normal Schedule
It’s a luxury to sleep in a little later, particularly when you can avoid what would otherwise be a long commute. This is often one of the first perks that come to mind. Of course, some of your work can be done on your own schedule. However, for most jobs, a lot of “work” consists of interacting and collaborating with teammates, or clients, or vendors during regular work hours.
The more consistent you are with your schedule, the more productive you’ll be because you’ll have a hard line of when work starts and stops.
And don’t forget to schedule a limited number of breaks for yourself. We all need a breather every now and then, whether we’re working from home or not.
4. Keep Your Work Space Separate
When you arrive at your office, you automatically switch into work mode.
Switching into work mode at home is just as important. Set aside a space that’s just for work, whether it’s a home office or a specific seat at the kitchen table. Other triggers could include having a “work only” coffee cup and dressing for work every day.
According to the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Being More Productive, “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel like you’re always at work and losing a place to come home to.”
Boundaries are vital when it comes to working from home. While it’s tempting to grab your laptop and get in bed, the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard recommends keeping electronics and “work materials” away from where you sleep, so you’ll think of your bedroom as a true place to rest.
If you’re constantly working from bed, your body and mind won’t be able to separate work from relaxation.
5. Have Open Lines of Communication and Protocols In Place
Given that you can’t just pop into your colleague’s cubicle to ask them a question or give them an update, communication is key. For example, I don’t normally schedule daily check-ins with my direct reports because I see them regularly all day. But now that we’re working from home, I need to be intentional to make sure we’re collaborating when we need to. I’ve noticed when you’re working alone it can be out of sight, out of mind, which could have a negative impact on others.
Open communication could mean utilizing forms of collaboration technology like Slack, or even setting up a rhythm of daily check-ins, to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. More communication is better. Always.
But set up some protocols, so everyone on the team has clear expectations.
“Just because you’re not in the same physical space as your colleagues, it doesn’t mean you have to lose all in-person connections.”
If you use an instant messenger like Slack, make it a practice to not just “pop-in” whenever and chatting people up. Those tiny conversations can pile up and destroy your concentration.
For regular check-ins, they could be daily 15 minute stand-ups. Our team that does this is now meeting over Zoom.
Consider the unscheduled communication you take for granted and experiment with how that can still happen remotely. Just because you’re not in the same physical space as your colleagues, it doesn’t mean you have to lose all in-person connections.
A Word for the Managers
If you are a people manager, it’s important to think about your teams and not just yourself. What might be comfortable and common sense for you, might not be for your staff. Proactively communicate with them to ensure they know what’s expected, how to get the coaching and training they need, and are set up for success even when they can’t lean back and tap you on the shoulder in real time.
Yes, as a leader, you need to put your own oxygen mask first, but also check up on each person on your team. Consider their unique challenges, and what they need to do their best work. For example, if your team is in sales, they’ll feed off the energy of the team, so you’ll have to recreate that somehow.
Some employees may be more distracted at home or may not be ready to do specific tasks by themselves, so you may have them log their activity. Using this time to strengthen your processes and identify holes can help you see problems you may have overlooked otherwise.
You won’t have everything figured out if you haven’t done it before, but you can anticipate where hiccups might be. Be prepared to address issues and talk about them up front to avoid further problems.
Noone knows what the future of work will be, whether in this current climate, or something else down the road. But we are fortunate to live in a time with tools and infrastructure to enable us to conduct business almost wherever we are. Now, if I can just get the dog to stop barking….