With United States President Trump giving federal guidelines regarding social distancing and #Lockdown expanded through April 30, 2020 (as of this writing), anyone and everyone who can work from home virtually will probably be doing so for the foreseeable future. This means plenty of former corporate office workers are getting a crash course in how to work-from-home successfully. Many have already started telecommuting virtual jobs and already have their first paycheck in hand.
While yourportablejobs has always been a fully remote and flexible company, there are plenty of things we’re experiencing for the first time, too. For example, we typically have our four legged coworkers to keep us company.
But now, many of us also have our kids and spouses present. This has happened in previous years with emergency snow days, few of us have ever worked from home with a house full of people as our regular workday situation. In the past we always had the option of heading to the Starbucks, the library, or a WeWork location. Right now, that’s just not an option.
Since we’re all new to working from home in extraordinary circumstances, here are some work-from-home tips to help you be a successful remote employee.
Create a Routine
This is one of the most important work from home tips. Right now, your normal routine has been upended. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt your regular routine to your new normal. For example, if you normally wake up at 6:00 AM, eat breakfast, then hit the road, continue waking up at 6:00 AM, and eating breakfast. But, instead of hitting the road, use that commute time to either get a jump on the day or to do something else, like workout, read, go on a walk, or play with your kids.
Don’t Forget Your Breaks
If part of your workday includes a 10:00 AM coffee break, keep that going if you can. But, if you can’t, that’s OK. Maybe you take your break at 9:30 or 11:00.
The key thing here is that you’re taking a break. When you’re working from home, it’s easy to get caught up in the “I have to work, so people don’t think I’m being lazy,” mindset. However, that isn’t healthy. Taking breaks helps you stay more focused and more productive than working straight through your day.
To Dress or Not to Dress is the Question
One of the stereotypes of working from home is that you can work in your pajamas if you want. And, while that could be the case for you now, consider getting dressed every day as part of your routine. The simple act of showering and putting on work clothes can help you maintain normalcy during these uncertain times.
Plus, you never know when someone is going to want to video call, so it’s better to be prepared than caught off guard in your pajamas or worse!
Divide Work, Home and Pet Life
As easy as it is to get caught up in working all day, it’s just as easy to get distracted by things at home. When the laundry and dishes are piling up, you may think it’s easy to just start a load or wash the dishes and have plenty of time to get back to work.
But working from home means you have to work. And while that doesn’t mean you can’t toss a quick load in the washer, it does mean you have to stay smart about setting and creating boundaries.
If part of your routine means blocking off 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM for work, then make sure you’re working, not washing the dishes. And, if you’ve designated 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM as your lunch break, then only do “lunch” things (like the dishes, or watching TV) and don’t do any work.
This division of time will help you maintain some distance between work-life and home life, which isn’t easy these days.
Along those same lines, creating and maintaining these boundaries will help you stop working once you’ve “clocked out” for the day. It’s easy to get tricked into working a little bit more when your laptop is a few feet away from you at all times. But don’t do it! Stick to your boundaries, and you’ll find yourself better able to work and relax when you need to.
That said, you may not be able to maintain your exact work routine right now. For example, if you’ve got kids at home, they may need help navigating online learning or may be bored. Your 2:00 meeting may need to be moved because your roommate has a client meeting at the same time, and your regular speed internet can’t handle the extra load.
Whatever it is, flexibility and adaptability are essential skills for everyone right now.
Setting Up Your Home Virtual Office
If you’ve got a home office and have telecommuted previously, great. You most likely have everything you need to work from home. Even if you don’t, with a few quick purchases, you’ll have a virtual home office and be telecommuting in no time.
However, if you don’t have a home office or need to share it, you’ll have to get creative about what counts as a “home office.” Using the kitchen or dining room table is a great place to start. But in a pinch, a folding table is all you need.
You’ll also need to think about privacy. Without an office with doors, it can be hard to take a client call or conduct a meeting. Your conversation might be too loud for the rest of your “office mates.” Conversely, if your “office mates” are having meetings (or arguing about who’s turn it is to walk the dog), you may find it equally hard to conduct business.
That’s the time to get even more creative. Can someone work in a bedroom or the basement? In a pinch, the bathroom or even the car will do for calls. Creativity is key, but so is honesty. Make sure you let everyone on the call know you’re doing the best you can (and in the closet because it’s the only place with a door). You might be surprised how colleagues and clients are being just as creative with their office space.
Use a Quality Moderately Priced Headset
While we’re on the topic of privacy and noise, consider investing in a high-performance headset. This will help you focus on your conversation without having to filter the noise of the other conversations happening throughout your home. And, you’re less likely to “cell yell” when you can hear the other end of the conversation easily.
Can’t afford a headset (or don’t want to spend the cash right now)? No problem. Any set of earbuds with a mic can work, too.
While you’re setting up your home office, make sure you set it up correctly. It may sound like a great idea to sit on the couch while you work (and we’re not saying you can’t). However, over time, this could create some aches and pains that you don’t want to deal with, and generally isn’t advised as one of our work-from-home tips.
You don’t have to buy all new furniture to get through this. There are a few things you can do with what you’ve already got.
You may or may not have an adjustable chair. If you do, adjust it to the right height and depth for you. Specifically, you want to sit in such a way that your neck is upright, and your two feet are fully touching the floor (not dangling in any way).
Of course, this may not be possible. So, consider some “hacks” instead. For example, use a footrest or even shoes to help your feet rest properly on the floor. If you have a laptop with an external keyboard, consider propping the laptop up on a pile of books, so the screen is at the right height.
Keep in Touch
Staying in touch is a critical remote work tip. In fact, one of the key things we advise remote employees to proactively communicate. You don’t have to send an update to the entire company every five minutes. But, consider sending a summary email to your boss at the end of every day (or every few days) to let them know what you did and did not accomplish, and what you’re going to prioritize next.
That said, there are plenty of ways to keep in touch with your boss and coworkers. Some of these are asynchronous communications, and some of them are synchronous. What you’ll find is that no matter what kind of work you do, you’ll end up using both methods of communication.
Collaborate from A Distance
Just because your team is working at home doesn’t mean you aren’t working together. Take advantage of collaboration tools to continue working on “group projects” or just to keep people aware of what you’re doing. A service called “Slack” is one of those tools. Slack.com
Working remotely doesn’t mean working alone. This is often an overlooked remote work tip. You’re part of a team! And being part of a team means that you will still have meetings. While those meetings can’t happen in the conference room right now, they are happening virtually.
Make sure you take the meeting from a quiet location. You’d be surprised how much background noise sneaks through your microphone. And always use your name when you speak. Even when you’re using video, when more than three or four people are in the meeting, it can be confusing to figure out who is speaking. So, start with something like, “This is Sara, and I have a question,” so people know it’s you speaking.
One last quick tip. Even if you’re using video, make sure you are describing to people what you’re doing. If there’s a long silence, people will get confused and think you’ve frozen or dropped the call. So, if you have to look something up, describe what you’re doing so people know you’re still connected. Say, “OK, I’m looking for that spreadsheet right now,” so people know what’s happening.
How to Maintain Your Professional Relationships and Sanity
This new way to work is difficult for everyone but it’s something we all have to do. To make it easier on you, your coworkers, and your boss, make sure you’re communicating clearly and often about your situation and listening to what your team needs from you as well.
The best tip we can offer is to start from a place of forgiveness. Try to remember that almost anything that goes wrong right now is likely starting from a place of making a mistake and not malice.
Set Expectations With Your Boss
As difficult as this is for you, remember it’s also hard on your boss right now. While they’ve got their personal pressures, too, they also have business-related ones, like how to stay in business right now.
That said, you want to help your boss. This is new for them, too, and they are probably nervous about managing a remote team (especially if they’ve never done it).
In the end, there are really only three things you need to do to get through this. That is:
- Be online
- Be responsive
- Be productive
If you do these three things, your boss will, hopefully, be satisfied that you are working, and not treating this as vacation time.
Beyond that, you will need to discuss with your boss what their expectations are compared to what your reality is. For example, if your boss expects you to work from 9 to 5 every day, but you’ve got children at home, that structure may not be realistic.
Explain your situation to your boss and see if you can come to an agreement about when your work will take place. For example, you might be able to work eight hours a day, but maybe that’s four hours in the early morning and another four hours after the kids are in bed. Open and honest communication is the key here.
As a team, you may need to establish what things need to happen in real-time (synchronous) and what things can happen separately (asynchronous). For example, a team meeting about a project may need to happen synchronously. However, each individual’s work on the project could happen asynchronously.
But, even with established expectations, also keep in mind that you may need to switch. A good rule of thumb is that if an email has gone back and forth four or so times and there’s still no answer or solution, it may be best to stop the email and pick up the phone.
Lastly, even though you may have established work hours, emergencies may crop up. Let your boss and coworkers know how to get a hold of you when you’re offline, just in case. Can they text you? Should they send you an email? Make it clear that they can use whatever the channel is to get a hold of you if they need to.
Working in a Full House
Working from home right now is presenting unusual challenges. Whether it’s sharing the wifi, entertaining the kids, or figuring out where to take that conference call, communication and compromise are essential.
The (Temporary) New Normal
Hopefully, the pandemic will end sooner rather than later, and we can return to normal. But regardless, yourportablejobs is here for you with plenty of work-from-home tips.