Many organizations have asked employees to work remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you’ve never worked from home, this can be a challenge. Here are some helpful tips as you adjust to your new environment.
- Cut yourself some slack. Working from home can be a big transition. You might feel any combination of lonely, isolated, stressed, frustrated, anxious, unmotivated, or — on the other hand — relieved, relaxed, energized, or productive. It’s all OK and normal. Any transition takes time to get used to, so try to be easy on yourself.
- Take scheduled breaks. Try setting an alarm to get up and stretch every hour or so. Walk around your home while chatting on the phone with a friend. Move to a separate area — away from your email — to eat lunch for 30 minutes. Breaking up the day and moving your body enables you to refresh and can increase your productivity when you return to your work.
- Protect your time. Set “in office” hours and communicate these with both colleagues and family.
- Protect your workspace. Talk to family members or roommates about the hours you are working from home and the ground rules during those hours. I’m a fan of the scribbled “Do Not Disturb!” sign taped to my door.
- Turn on a white noise machine or app. This really helps to reduce noise distractions around your work area.
- Pay attention to ergonomics. Use the most comfortable chair you can with back support. Also consider investing in a hands-free headset. At the very least, pop in your earbuds for long phone calls.
- Overcommunicate. This is my default advice on communication in general — especially in multi-generational teams — but it’s even more important when you are working remotely.
- Know your employer’s remote work policies. Your HR department probably has a handbook or some guidelines on working during a crisis, including remote work policies, procedures, and expectations.
- Managers, tell your team how they can reach you. If you manage people, be clear with them about any new or different communication and productivity expectations you have now that your team is working remotely. Most important is telling your team specifically how you want them to communicate with you now that they can’t pop into your office or run into you in the halls. Don’t assume they know.
- Tell your team when they can reach you. Do you want people to check in with you first thing in the morning? Send a daily or weekly update on what they’ve been working on? This is particularly important if you and your team work in different time zones.
- Make sure to clarify expectations for your team. Connect with key colleagues around communication, work priorities, and success metrics. Will everyone be expected to work the same hours? Will all of the same projects and plans be moving forward? Don’t let people make assumptions about anything that’s unclear — answer those questions.
- Note your project progress. Remote workers need to be especially proactive and alert colleagues to progress on longer-term goals.
- Resolve issues quickly with a phone call. Email, text, IM, Slack, and other written methods of communication are prone to misunderstandings. When you sense this is happening, be quick to pick up the phone to resolve issues.
- Promptly return emails, calls, and voice mails. Keep in mind that people tend to be more aware of time when working remotely.
- Keep up more casual communication habits. If you normally catch up with colleagues in person before a big meeting, do the same before dialing in to a group conference call when everyone is remote. If you normally chat with your admin assistant first thing in the morning, do the same remotely by IM. Even when at home, you should confirm receipt of messages and check in with people when you start your day and end your day. Try to follow the same rituals and habits to maintain relationships and a sense of normalcy.
- Create your video studio. Video conferences are commonplace for remote workers. Make sure to have a professional or plain background behind you and dress and groom professionally (at least the parts of you that others will see onscreen). Check that you have adequate lighting and a decent microphone (most earbuds work just fine).
- Create a system for sharing documents. If you don’t already, now would be a good time to consider Google Docs, Box, or Dropbox to share files. Don’t scatter team files. Consolidate.
- Stay aligned with company culture. Do whatever you can to keep things aligned with your existing company culture. Even though working remotely does drastically change interactions since you’re no longer together in person, you can still make sure that the little things you did in the office continue.
- Take time for “water cooler” chat. Working from home, since you won’t be bumping into your colleagues in the halls or cafeteria or elevator or parking lot, you won’t have the same opportunity for chitchat and human connection, but it is so important to retain. Make time every day to text with colleagues, check in personally, share stories, ask how people are doing. If your company is using an instant messaging system, consider adding a “water cooler” channel to help encourage this element of communication across the team.
- Dress and groom professionally. Your morning prep routine plays a large role in determining your mindset for the day. It’s tempting, but don’t make a habit of joining conference calls in bed in your pajamas. You’ll find you’re more productive when you dress for the day and brush your teeth.
- Use video, even if it’s uncomfortable for you. To avoid feeling isolated, use video technology to connect with your team and colleagues in a more intentional, human way. I know that video calls are not comfortable for everyone, but the slight discomfort can be worth the benefit of seeing people’s faces.
- Emphasize one-on-one check-ins. Don’t cancel your one-on-ones just because they can’t be held in person. Even a two-minute IM chat, video call, or text message chain can make employees feel more connected.
- Ask for feedback on your remote situation. Finally, and especially if you are new to working remotely, ask your colleagues for regular feedback on how the situation is working out. Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more.