Up until about a month ago I spent the last 4 and a half years working remotely for a company based out of the Chicago area. For me telecommuting from home is nothing new. For many people right now, it’s a brand new experience that can be a little hard to get used to.
Getting a routine down, knowing how to connect with coworkers, understanding online meeting etiquette, accessing files can all be a challenge. Navigating all of these things can seem a bit daunting but it can actually be quite efficient and rewarding.
Here are some of the things I learned over the last four years. A set of tips for those of you that aren’t used to or have never worked remote before. A lot of this is common sense, but also easy to forget or ignore.
You need to treat the home office just like going into the main office.
Get a routine.
I am at my desk at a set time every morning.
I launch Skype and Zoom to let everyone know that I’m available as soon as I get in. These apps stay on all day so that I can be reached as needed. Think of it as having the virtual ability to have a hallway meeting or bump into a coworker somewhere in your virtual space.
Check your email on a regular basis.
There are some people that use it as their primary form of communication. Set email up with notifications on so you get a friendly reminder when someone pings you. You don’t have to check every email that comes in when it comes in, but checking regularly helps keep you in the loop.
I’m the worst about this. I’ll start working and never leave my workstation if I don’t get prompted to. I have set up my phone to tell me to take a break 3 times a day. 2 for 15 minutes, and an hour for lunch. If you can, get out of your house and stretch your legs. Usually I a few times a week I try to meet someone for lunch. Socializing helps things feel normal. I know it’s not much of an option with the Covid-19 Pandemic in full swing, but if you find yourself working from home in the future…
You will probably need to share files with your team. Both my current and previous employer use Office 365 so my team has access to OneDrive, but there are a ton of options available. Designate someone to set up a shared cloud drive with an organized folder and file structure in it. And believe me, organization is key. It’s hard enough locating files on a server in the office, but at least you can pop over and ask someone where they saved a file. Working remote not so much. Everyone on the team needs to be able to locate files quickly to keep things moving along.
If you have roommates, family, or anyone else that is home with you, you’ll want to be able to separate from them for meetings and needed quiet time. The other thing is, if you have a separate office or a designated space you can leave it behind at the end of the workday.
Speaking of that. Know when to leave work. Just like getting into the office, I have a set time I try to leave the office every night. It helps keep work and personal life separated.
Tools of the trade.
My team uses Adobe Creative Cloud. The full suite of applications. Trello, Slack, Zoho, Paylocity, Office 365, Dropbox, Zoom, and Skype. There are hundreds of tools for working in a remote situation. Decide on what your team is going to use, and have everyone use the same set of tools for consistency.
How You Communicate.
Not all in-office habits and systems are going to translate directly to a remote equivalent. A video chat may not always be convenient, so ask yourself, “Can this meeting be a document/email/Slack message?” Learn to move more of your communication to asynchronous channels.
Put on your pants.
When I first started working in a remote environment people would joke with me about working in my pajamas or sweats. Taking the time to get dressed and perform your usual self-care routine can prove a big psychological booster. Plus you never know when your boss is going to request a video conference call with you. Don’t get caught with your pants down. Treat it like you are going into the physical office space.
It’s easy to fall into short term thinking, but just like you would at your physical office you’ll want to plot out your next week, month, and possibly quarter. Nobody knows just how long this COVID-19 situation will last, doing as much long-term planning as you can only benefit you.
I’m talking about the internet. Do you have enough bandwidth to video conference? Upload and download large files in a timely manner? Run software upgrades without taking up hours of time? Nothing is more frustrating than trying to work and being hampered by a slow or glitchy internet connection. If you can plug into your router. If you are on WiFi make sure you have a solid connection. I’m fortunate, Google Fiber is blazing fast and always on. Another thing to think about is kids. You might need to set up ground rules for internet use during the day if your kids are home. Why? Because games and streaming videos eat bandwidth for lunch. If you are all on at the same time, your network could slow to a crawl.
If you aren’t used to working from home you will need some ramp up time. Talk to your supervisor about what the priorities are, and discuss how tasks will get done. How is the team going to track projects we’re working on? How will we meet to discuss this? Will you all be connecting on Zoom or email? Will there be standing meetings at a certain time to get everyone coordinated? (I used to have a standing check-in meeting 3 times a week. 15 to 20 minutes to discuss work being done, what’s coming, up and who needs help with projects)
This should be an ongoing conversation. Remember, going fully remote is a new experience for many companies and their workers. Be honest about what isn’t working or can’t get done in these circumstances. More overall communication is going to be necessary.
The Webcam is Your Friend
You might not think so but it is. I know a ton of people that hate to video chat but it helps. When you are on a Zoom call and no one has their camera on, people get accidentally interrupted, you sometimes can’t tell who’s speaking, and it helps combat that feeling of isolation working from home alone can bring. Make sure you have good lighting and if you can position your camera so other viewers aren’t looking up the inside of your nose.
Speaking of webcams, the team should decide what the protocol is going to be. If the majority says no we don’t want to video chat, then no one should video chat. If there are 15 people on a call and only one or two have their camera on, its annoying and distracting.
I hope some of these help. Remember to take in stride. You aren’t defusing a nuclear bomb or curing cancer. You’re simply trying to work from home and do the best job possible. Go with the flow, be open to suggestions and recommendations and things will work out. By the end of April you’ll be a telecommuting pro.