Working from Home
Call to Action: We are all being impacted by the current events albeit differently – for some it means adjusting to a remote work structure (the focus of the below post), for many it means losing work, compensation, opportunities, investments, security, and there are also so many who are continuing to serve, support and protect. While so much is uncertain and quite frankly terrifying right now, please remember to be kind – check in with your neighbors, coworkers, friends and evaluate how you may be able to help (support doesn’t need to be in person to be helpful – ex. financial donations). And remember the inverse of fear is gratitude – counting the blessings you have immediately transitions the brain from a negative to a positive mindset, and it takes a positive focus to be able to develop solutions.
Well, while we sit and wonder, it’s best not to just wait or wallow, but instead to work (and workout).
Fortunately, consulting lends itself well to working remotely – we work anywhere; have internet (or even cell phone service) and we can be operational. As a result, I’ve been working in all different settings since I began my career. I’ve supported clients, managed large disparate teams and worked to develop businesses from all over – cars, doctor’s offices, planes, hotels, on vacation in fun destinations, and occasionally my home (kidding – this is where I do most of it) – you name it.
Working remotely with a more flexible day is wonderful because you are no longer constrained to only getting things done while at ‘work’ but as a result it basically means you are always working – always connected, always available. However – fair warning…. once you transition towards this structure, it’s near impossible to go back to a typical 8-5 structure M-F. Having the flexibility to work when you have meetings / when you’re most productive is fabulous, and ideally how we’d all be able to work – it’s why I can’t work for anyone else anymore! (Side note: I think this total shutdown is going to highlight a lot of the inefficiencies we as a country have and some of our archaic priorities / structures – I’m hoping that more businesses realize they can enable a digital / remote workforce effectively!).
As a result of having no clear physical barriers it becomes imperative to develop good behaviors that help you set appropriate boundaries when you are working outside of a typical office setting. It can become way too easy to spend multiple days in a row in the same outfit, barely showering, and not getting to the gym because your workday is taking over your entire life. And if that’s easy to allow when we have other priorities and activities going on, that’s going to become even more likely when we have no where else to be! So here are the key things I recommend if you’re transitioning to working remotely along with some recommendations for managers who are just starting to manage their teams remotely – it’s a transition, but you can do it. (The benefit of having remote employees – you very quickly can see how much value each person is contributing, just showing up is no longer a stopgap for poor performance).
Confirm your system access:
- Ensure you can actually function remotely – do you have a laptop, access to remote desktop or vpn and can you perform all your usual job functions
- Is your wifi sufficient? If you’re doing heavy development work or needing to be remotely accessing different software environments sometimes standard Wi-Fi isn’t enough.
- Does your team use messenger functionality (ex: MS Teams, Skype, Jabber) – keep your availability status updated throughout the day so that team members know when they can reach you.
- Adjust the away setting so that it only times out after you’ve been gone for an extended amt of time (ex: 5 minutes I find isn’t enough – I regularly pace around my house on conference calls and having it show as away when I’m literally in the house with the computer open and operational is annoying).
- Also, most have an app for your phone – download that too so you don’t have to be tethered to your computer in case you need to take a walk or run an errand.
- Keep your cell phone available so that team members can reach you throughout the day – I upgraded to an iPhone Max a few upgrades ago (like 2015) and have zero regrets. I do soo much work from my phone that having the extra screen size is a necessity.
- Familiarize yourself with WebEx/UberConference/etc. functionality if you do not already use it regularly. If you don’t need to be on a video chat, keep your web cam off! You don’t want to inadvertently be on video in non-professional attire. I keep my work webcam covered with a stamp, and my personal computer has an off setting that turns the camera off.
- Keep yourself on mute, unless you are talking! Everyone is home with varying distractions (which it is important to try to minimize) but inevitably there will be outside sounds – dogs, children, birds chirping, etc. by staying on mute until you need to speak you can minimize how distracting the sounds are. Inevitably River (who is silent 98% of the day) will find someone outside to bark at right as I have something important to say…. #typical.
- Identify a designated area in your home where you are able to work. Clear off the space, and try to minimize distractions (keep the TV, news, and podcasts off – try to mimic your work setting at the office as much as possible).
- For the first 1.5 years I lived in my house I worked exclusively from a laptop at my kitchen table. Only in the last few months did I upgrade and setup a full standing desk w/large monitor workstation (game changer!!). Even without a dedicated desk, you can be productive if you keep the workspace clear of distractions.
- Set designated start and end times for your workday so that you know when you will begin working and end working. When working from home it’s difficult to establish boundaries, and the work day can quickly take over all your day because there is no longer a commute into the office to differentiate periods of the day.
- Full disclosure I’m terrible at this (it’s 11:36 pm and I was doing client work until 20 minutes ago….I started working at 6 am, worked till 9:30 am, then took a big break in the middle of the day to deal with some personal errands while getting ready to quarantine, took a nap, walked the dog, and then started working again at 5ish pm…. That’s still a 9.5+ hour work day – just amortized across the whole day. I personally do much better breaking up the day around key meetings and actions I need to take while balancing exercise, eating, and other priorities (and for me every day is different – so I’ve learned to adapt and recognize to make the most of every day as they come).
- Shower & get dressed! When working from home it can be very easy to want to just lounge in front of your computer, but you won’t feel as productive. By ensuring you shower and get dressed you’ll maintain a sense of composure which is helpful when working from a less structured environment.
- Schedule a few designated breaks throughout the day to stand up, stretch, walk around. When you’re working in an office, you regularly walk between meetings, but at home you are in one place all day – it’s important to make time to move around. I purchased a mini trampoline as a good 5-minute break activity…. I also pace, run my stairs, do squats, or walk the dog while on conference calls, and with a standing desk I got a balance board that really helps keep me moving a bit all day.
Managers: Managing a remote team may be a new challenge – but if you have smart people working for you – it’s absolutely feasible. It just takes a bit more structure to keep everyone moving forward productively. You can no longer rely upon quick hallway chats, instead everything needs to be an email, a text, a chat message or a specific meeting.
Here’s how I prefer to work in general and I think it translates well to remote work:
- Do not call – Text or email.
- I HATE PHONE CALLS THAT AREN’T SCHEDULED. If we need to talk, text me and ask if I’m available to talk – don’t presume I am and just call me. It’s a major distraction from what may be a higher priority focus.
- Texting is an awesome way to quickly interact with team members when the communication doesn’t need to be a full email. As I’m typically dealing with team members who are in transit (think consulting sales professionals who are traveling) texting is way easier than any computer based skype option as they don’t have to be logged into the app to respond when they are running through airports.
- Email should be the preferred way for more formal communication when something needs to be documented and detailed, or when multiple people need to be looped into a topic.
- Do not drop by someone’s office – schedule a meeting to talk.
- This is probably because even when I’ve had an office I was never there…. But this reeks of Office Space – just don’t do it! If you need to meet with someone – book time with them on their calendar – even if it’s for the same day. It makes sure you both can be prepared to spend time together discussing the topic at hand and that they won’t be distracted by other priorities.
- For those of us that live off of our Outlook Calendars (I currently run 6+ email accounts and calendars off of Outlook… without it nothing would get planned or completed) having meeting invites makes all the difference.
- Also, by booking time on the calendar – you have a record that you met with them at a certain time – which is sometimes helpful, you have a specific event that you can reference or send additional emails related to, and you can book time as needed based on that event.
Once you get used to protecting your time, and no longer being ‘always available’ because you’re in person – you realize that those antiquated structures kill productivity. When you know when your meetings are, and when you’ll check email throughout the day so that you are prepared to respond – you are far more efficient and effective. It’s the constant disruptions of the typical workplace that make it impossible to collect your thoughts and focus on the key priority at hand.
Setup a Weekly Accountability Structure:
- If you don’t already have a weekly team meeting – start one. You have to have a dedicated team meeting every week to set key priorities, share updates, discuss hurdles and issues and provide a forum for questions.
- In addition to the weekly meeting it’s good to set incremental structures as needed (in the beginning start with daily, you can ease off to 2-3x/ week or less once team members are comfortable with the remote structure)
- Consider standing up a daily huddle meeting with your teams at the beginning or end of the day to check in on team progress and keep everyone moving forward – this helps when not working with team members face to face.
- Also, consider asking your team members to complete a weekly status recap outlining progress from the week – knowing at a glance what everyone is accomplishing helps when your teams are remote.
- Transparency with team members on team progress, direction and next steps is imperative when working remotely – utilize email updates to keep everyone informed!
As for my typical work from home outfit…. I’m far less fashionable when I’m at home… while I always try to take a cold shower in the AM – I’m always in workout clothing (provided I ever get out of my robe; which is unfortunately typical too – I start early and sometimes get so busy I never get a chance to shower and change…). My goal when working from home is to be comfortable, and functional – I need to be able to take the dog out to walk in the snow (in winter), and run to the gym – I love to go to lunchtime yoga when schedules permit or to work out after work – though for now workouts are contained to my house or the trails around it! As a result, I’m primarily in Lululemon 99% of the time I’m home.
Working remotely is a win, but it takes a bit of wrestling with office norms to acclimate.
All my best,