Welcome to working from home.
Organizations are responding to the COVID-19 virus in many ways. Some are more prepared than others.
The Government of Canada recommends we practice social distancing. This means avoiding large gatherings, cancelling international travel—and for many, it also means working from home.
I have good news. Working remotely can be a blessing—if you do it right. Running a small consultancy business, I’ve done it all: rented office suites, co-working spaces, and worked from my dining room table.
Here are my tips to make your new work life successful:
- Put your pants on. Take a shower.
This seems like simple advice, but it can be surprisingly challenging. You’re at home! Why not bring your laptop into bed with you in the morning? But there’s a positive psychological effect to getting dressed for work and showing up on time. You’ll be more productive and more confident.
It takes discipline, and it’s worth it.
- Dedicate your work space.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate. My sister is a communications consultant who’s worked full-time from home for three years—her strategy is to use her daughter’s “homework desk” during the day. If mommy is sitting at the desk, mommy’s at work (don’t bug her). At night, my niece gets the desk. It works well for them.
The kitchen table is also a good option, but just make sure it feels like a working desk. My rule of thumb is to keep things tidy by asking “what if my client walked in right now?”
Screw that cubicle! You can work from wherever you like now.
- Video calls are your friend.
As we move toward a remote, distributed workforce, video conferencing services like Skype for Business or Google Hangouts are going to be your new tools. There’s an art to video conferencing at home—you’ll need to cut out any distractions that will pull focus on the calls.
First, set the stage. No laundry hampers or a messy kitchen in the background. Next, and this is important: raise your computer to eye level so your colleagues can see your face, not your double chin.
Just as colleagues pop into your office for a quick chat, working remotely means they’ll ping you with “can you jump on a call?” Make sure you’re prepared. For me, that means throwing on a blazer and saying yes.
- Mind your video conference manners.
Stay on mute if you’re not talking, give a pause before speaking, if you’re sharing your screen put your settings on Do Not Disturb (trust me), and don’t interrupt women when they’re speaking (this isn’t just for video calls, just stop doing it altogether please).
- Look after yourself. Take proper breaks.
I cannot stress this enough. Go outside. Get some exercise. This is a terrific opportunity to build in all those self-care habits to keep you healthy and happy. Get a standing desk, dust off those hand weights, and unroll your yoga mat.
- Working Internationally?
It’s a global economy. We have clients in other countries, and they don’t necessarily know where we live. Put your time zone in your email auto-signature as a gentle reminder not to call you at 3am. One auto-signature I particularly like reads, “At [our company], we work flexible hours. If you receive this message outside of your typical working hours, please do not feel pressured to respond.”
- Delete work apps from your phone.
Coworking apps (Microsoft Teams, Slack, Basecamp, etc.) are wonderful work tools. And they should stay at work.
The day I removed Slack from my iPhone was the best day of my life. Sunday morning *pings* from clients can ruin your day off—you know that feeling when Monday starts to creep into Sunday? Don’t let Monday creep into your whole life.
For maximum at-home productivity, consider leaving your mobile phone in another room.
Much of my practice is in crisis communications. In this industry, time is money (and reputation). I have never had an urgent issue come through Slack. In my experience, being available 24/7 for non-urgent issues just gave me anxiety.
Remind your clients/boss/team that if an issue is actually urgent they should make your phone ring.
- When the day is done, put the work away.
When your home becomes your office, it’s easy to feel like you’re always working. Keeners will tell you this makes them more productive—I know from experience that it does the opposite.
We hear a lot about work/life balance, which is difficult enough to manage when you have a physical office to go to. When we’re “on” 24/7, these lines blur and it can be difficult to prioritize what needs to get done versus responding to every email that comes in.
We all need varying amounts of downtime. Shut down your inbox. Make dinner. Spend time with family and friends. Turn off your phone and guiltily binge-watch Love is Blind. The work will still be there in the morning.
- Tired? Take a nap.
This is the best perk of the job.
Welcome to working from home.
Paul Nixey is a strategic communications consultant who is definitely wearing pants during your video call. He has worked from home, offices, and airport lounges, and has been practicing social distancing before it was cool. He has Twitter opinions at @paulnixey.