In these ever changing times, one new reality that many of us have had to confront in the past few days is transitioning from working in an office to working remotely. More and more organizations are attempting to slow down the possibility for infection and transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. While we’re still learning details on how this disease spreads, one clear takeaway is that we all have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy, and to reduce at all costs the chances that we might spread infection to those most vulnerable members of our society. If you haven’t seen this graphic on flattening the coronavirus curve yet, it’s the perfect way to illustrate how we all have a responsibility to reduce risk for everyone.
Should you be in the position of having to work from home when you never have before, you might be thinking to yourself- this is great! But, I’m not sure what this is going to look like in practice. Or, you might be a few days into remote work, and realize that you haven’t changed out of your pajamas in three days and you actually miss the annoying chatter from the office kitchen. No matter how you’re feeling, know this– it’s not that easy to go from working in person to being on your own. So, if you’re feeling nervous or overwhelmed, that’s OK. We’re here to help!
At She+ Geeks Out, we have a blended team– some of our people already work remotely 100% of the time, and others choose to work from home some of the time. Based on the team’s own experiences, I’ve collected some thoughts to share with you. Working from home has its ups and downs, but hopefully these tips will help you settle into your new work reality.
- If you can, create a space that’s just for work, preferably at a table – if it needs to be a mixed-use space, do your best to create rituals that define when it’s used solely for work.
- Create routines for before, during, and after your work day so that you have some structure and don’t fall into the trap of home distractions.
- If you can, invest in technologies that will help you succeed – a good headset, solid internet connection, and a good computer.
- If you’re in a position where you can choose tech for the company, find collaborative tools such as Slack, Asana, and Google Calendar, which all integrate and make work more efficient and public to the team.
Where are you going to actually be working? It can be very tempting to roll out of bed, grab some coffee in your pajamas, plop down on the couch and start working. However, working from home requires discipline just like you would exercise if you were commuting into a physical office.
Designate an area of your home as your work zone. If you don’t have a home office, maybe this is your kitchen or dining room table. If you can, stay away from working on the couch or from your bed. If you have a family member, partner, or roommate who is also at home and/or working from home, try and have a separate work space from whoever else shares space with you. Also set some guidelines for interaction. Is it OK to chit chat randomly? Do you have any phone or video calls that you absolutely need privacy for? Will you take breaks at the same time? Having these conversations early will help streamline your working experience later on. One other note– your ‘roommate’ might be a young child. Don’t forget to have conversations with them too! What does a closed door mean? Let’s not forget this infamous moment:
Try to create a special space that includes a chair (or sitting/standing space) that you’re comfortable using, and get a headset/headphones that work for you – if you go bluetooth, you’ll have the added advantage of wandering around and moving a bit. If your space is mixed-use, use the below routine ideas to make it used for working only at specific times.
Set up routines
I usually work from home 1-2 days a week, and I always think to myself- I’m going to get sooo much extra work done because I don’t have to hop on a bus or a train! If I’m not careful, what can happen is: I sleep late, hang out on the couch doing my morning Twitter check, and before I know it it’s later than I would have started work had I gotten up to leave my house, and I haven’t even opened my laptop yet. Avoid this trap!
Come up with a morning routine or rituals, to signal that it’s time to get up and ‘go to work’. My routine is as follows:
- Wake up to the alarm
- Make the bed
- Take a shower
- Put on work clothes (no pajamas! Putting on regular clothes will help reinforce your working schedule and give you another way to separate work from personal time.)
- Have a cup of coffee
- Walk into office to start working
Your routine might look very similar, or you might start off with a bowl of cereal or a gym workout. No matter what your morning looks like, set a routine and stick to it. Come up with a routine to end your day as well. Perhaps it’s stepping away if it’s after 6 PM, whether it’s going to the gym, making/going out to dinner, or finally having that precious time to watch Drag Race. Tell yourself that once you do X, you are done for the day. This can be a challenge in our hyper-virtual world even without commuting to work, but do your best to put work away so that you can come back fresher than ever the next day.
Create work schedules
One of the biggest dangers with working from home is that the lines between personal and work time start to get blurred. Set a schedule, and stick to it. It’s so easy to fall into one of these two extremes: either you find yourself getting extremely distracted (TV! Laundry! Naptime! Now would be the perfect time to clean out the fridge!), or you fall into a depth of working nonstop with no breaks at all (there have been many times where I would get super engrossed in a project, only to realize that the entire apartment was pitch black and it was much later than I’d realized).
Take frequent breaks to get up and stretch. If you use a step tracker, make find ways to hit your step goal. Take a break for lunch and actually step away from your desk or work zone. It’s not only good for stretching, but you also want to give your eyes and brain a rest, too.
Your schedule might shift day to day depending on what else is going on, but make sure to clearly communicate your working hours to the rest of your team. It’s a lot harder to tell when someone is ‘at work’ when everyone’s remote, as opposed to being able to look over and see if your teammate is sitting at their desk. Personally, I like to keep my shared Google calendar extremely up to date so people know when I’m around, when I’m available, and when I’m truly offline.
Use tools to collaborate and communicate
Working from home means that you’re going to have to shift how you work. Instead of having quick chats or hallway catch ups (if that’s your thing when you’re in person), you’ll want to find ways to create opportunities for conversations virtually. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to miss out– it just means that these discussions will look different.
If you’re in a position to choose technology for your team and can set standards/make suggestions, consider the following:
- If you use a collaboration tool like Slack, Skype, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts, consider setting up a check in time in the morning for everyone to say hello, chime in with what you’re working on, and simply be present. We use Slack and I’ll be sharing some more Slack-specific examples below. We start off every day by each taking a minute to check in in our #admin-general channel. We use this check in to share that we’re online, what we’re working on, and what we have in store for the day. It takes very little time, keeps us connected with each other, and sets an intention for ourselves for the day.
- Set up a Slack channel dedicated to working from home. HelpScout has a channel called #office, where they pretend to work in a co-located office.
- Hold non-sensitive work conversations in public Slack channels, so the discussions are still out in the open.
- Remember that tone and facial expressions can be lost over text. The message you’re sending to a teammate that might have one impact if you were delivering it verbally could land very differently over chat. Also keep in mind punctuation (think about how you’d react to someone writing to you that your document looked ‘fine.’ as opposed to ‘fine!’).
- Really explore the full functionality of your collaboration tool. I have several Slack integrations, but one of my favorites is the Google Calendar integration.
- Come up with a team or office Spotify or Pandora playlist- give everyone the chance to contribute songs. This is a fun way to see what other people are listening to.
- If you’re able to, make liberal use of your webcam/video. Using video is a great way to replicate those face-to-face conversations you would have in-person. As you transition into working from home, using video check ins will help you make sure you don’t have any misunderstandings. We use Zoom for all of our video needs, and I’m constantly hopping on quick last-minute video chats to talk with teammates. (Pro-tip: it also integrates with Slack.)
- Make it fun! Consider offering team members the opportunity to do ‘workplace tours’ of their home working spaces via video conferencing.
Lots of people love working from home, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re new to it and having trouble adjusting, make sure you don’t get completely isolated from the rest of the world. For those extroverts among us, if you have other friends, colleagues, or family near you, schedule some social time in. Get coffee, lunch, or even just set aside some time to chat about non work-related topics. If you’re worried about public health, consider using the Vulcan salute instead of a hug.
And finally, give each other (and yourself) some grace. If you’re not used to working from home, it’s going to take some time to get used to it. If you have children, pets, or someone else working remotely with you, know that distractions can happen just as they can at the office. Funny story, one time I presented a last-minute webinar at home and my cat decided it was the perfect time to investigate what I was doing and co-facilitate with me.
It’s alright- these things happen. What’s most important is to maintain a sense of humor and empathy. Take a breath and roll with it.
Remember that no matter whether you’re super excited to be finally remote, or if this is your worst nightmare, there are ways you can support yourself and your colleagues when making this transition, no matter how long or short your remote work experience ends up being. Ultimately, in these times of new realities, the most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself, and take care of your community.