Last week, I took a look at common sense items to consider when working remotely. Most notably: setting up and connecting securely. You’ve followed all the rules and instructions from your IT department, and you and your manager have an agreement about how your working remotely is going to proceed. So now you just log in and get to work, right? Well, not exactly. There are a lot of potential pitfalls to what may be your first time working from home. Here are some things to consider to ensure success.
Create your workspace
Using your couch, a comfy chair, or even the kitchen table for your workspace may be tempting, but keep in mind that these are shared family or roommate spaces that not only serve other purposes, but are likely to be used by others during your work time. If possible, use an unoccupied bedroom, den, or office for your workspace. Putting yourself in a serious work environment helps keep you in the right frame of mind for productivity. You are, after all, at work; you just happen to be in your home.
If possible, use a work desk complete with all the trimmings: notebooks, lighting, in/out baskets, family pictures, etc.
Isolate yourself from as many distractions as possible. If the room you’re working in has a door, close it. If there’s a television within earshot, turn it down or off. There are likely to be some things that you can’t ignore (see the section about kids below), but control those things you can.
The camera never lies
You’re likely to be using some form of web-conferencing software to hold meetings and communicate with workmates, clients, etc. There are many different brands (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype to name just a few), but they all do essential the same thing: allow you to use audio and video tools to hold virtual “meetings.” Many of these applications allow you to share screens, work cooperatively on a document in real time, and write notes privately to others during an event. A successful virtual meeting is one where the application is secondary to the work getting done.
Furthermore, before your first virtual meeting, conduct a test with a coworker to ensure that that everything – including the audio, video, and any special features – works properly.
Dress for success
Though there are a lot of jokes about dressing down while working remotely, your top client may not appreciate your Hello Kitty pajamas during a web meeting. Dressing professionally (based on your manager’s instructions) not only keeps you prepared for a surprise meeting, but also keeps you in the workplace state-of-mind.
Think about other things that virtual meeting participants see and hear other than you. If you have a light source behind you, you’re likely to appear shadowed and dark. A plain background, or one with books or art is much better than a messy room with toys on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink.
Communicate early and often
Dependent upon your job responsibilities, once you’re all set up, you may be able to dig right into work without a second thought. But keeping in touch with your manager and teammates on a regular basis is essential.
You may be the only one working remotely, or your entire team may be at home. Either way, making sure that you’re all on the same page when it comes to project expectations and day-to-day activities is key to success.
Take time to “drop-in” (if appropriate) with teammates the way you would if you were all at the office. Emails, IMs, and video conferencing for no other reason except for a quick hello is a great way to keep social and feel part of the team.
Keep on a schedule – one that includes breaks
If you’re the type of person who uses a daily to-do list, there’s no reason to put it aside because your working remotely. In fact, this might be a great opportunity to start the habit. Consider a free application like Evernote, or even your Microsoft Office™ Tasks feature to keep you on track as you get used to this new work method.
But despite all this talk about keeping things professional and making working remotely appear seamless, there’s no denying that this is likely a big change for you and the way you go about your workday. Allow yourself some time to get accustomed to your new environment and address issues as they appear.
There will be interruptions
If your kids are at home while you’re working remotely, you may need to address their needs. If they’re old enough to understand the situation, set some ground rules and/or look for help from others in the house. Personal phone calls, home deliveries, curious pets, etc. are all likely to compete for your attention as well. You know this, and your manager knows this. Do your best to anticipate these interruptions and plan accordingly.
Get up, stretch, take a break, and don’t forget to eat lunch!
Sometimes, a remote worker feels like they need to overachieve because they don’t want to give the perception of taking advantage of the situation. This may result in eight or more hours of sitting at your desk, without taking any sort of break. Not only is this impractical, it’s harmful to your health, your morale, and your work quality. Regularly stand up, stretch, take a quick walk around the house, pet your cat, say “hi” to the kids, and make sure you take a lunch.
Working remotely is a great alternative to the traditional workspace, but it needs to be addressed with professionalism, an understanding of the potential issues, and self-care. Communication with your IT team and manager before and during the process is important. You can do this!