You’ve just woken up, check your phone, and see a message from the office. There’s been a case of coronavirus (COVID-19) at your company. The office is now closed, and you’ve been informed that you will now work from home.
Although your scenario may not look exactly like this, a lot of you have been directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19, and have now found yourselves working from home. We don’t know how long this outbreak will last, so why not set yourself up for success.
If you’re not new to remote work, then welcome back to it! For everyone else stick with me, as this can be an isolating, bewildering time, especially if a culture of remote work doesn’t exist at your company. I worked in offices for 20 years, for different companies around the world. Now, for the last 3 years with my own company I work remotely.
These are my notes of things to consider when going from cubicle dweller to working from home.
A lot of what is covered here depends on your relationship with your employer, so like a lot of things online, your mileage may vary. Any links to products are not affiliate links.
The first thing you will need to consider is your internet connection. If you don’t have this set up already, make sure you have the fastest connection you can afford, and potentially have your employer assist with this. You will be doing a lot of Zoom, Slack, Skype, or Hangouts video calls, all which devour a lot of bandwidth.
Following on from calls, you might want to invest in a decent headset. This one from Logitech for example only costs $19.99 and works wonders. There’s nothing quite like clear communication when you otherwise can’t see each other face to face, and it’s super frustrating when the opposite occurs.
You no longer have to commute, yay! Now that you’re at home, it’s tempting to stay in your pyjamas and work in bed or the sofa. Some of you do that just fine (I’m not sure how), but for those of us who don’t, you can find yourself experiencing this weird, fuzzy brain fog, where you’re stuck somewhere between the land of the awake and the land of slumber - it’s not pleasant.
One thing an office is good at is separating work from home. Since you’re working at home you can simulate this. It’s still a great habit to get ready in the morning, shower, have breakfast, and go to your designated workspace. You get your brain into work mode, and you’ll find yourself clear and ready.
Now you work from home, this is your new keyword: “overcommunication”. Whether it's with your team, your manager, whomever you deal with on a day to day, all the random, as well as scheduled in person interactions are gone for the time being. This may feel a bit disorientating at first, but to alleviate the lack of in person communication, there is one clear solution - documentation.
For all the stuff you do at work, if it isn’t already documented, now would be a good time to start. People don’t know what you’re thinking, and the in person stuff is now gone, so structuring your thoughts and repeatable tasks, then writing them down, will be a great asset to you as well as your team. Are there many things that people used to ask you in person? Document those things and share it somewhere centrally, whether you’re using Office 365 or Google Docs.
In your 1-on-1s with your manager, add the topic of working from home to the stuff you usually talk about. Talk about tools, fears, what’s working and what isn’t, and most of all, agree on expectations. It’s likely your manager is new to working remotely too, so work on figuring things out together.
These are a few things you take for granted in an office setting:
Lunch breaks with colleaguesIn person meetingsAbility to casually walk over and speak in personWater cooler gossip
Of course there’s more, but you get the idea - you now lack human contact with your colleagues. It might not happen straight away, but there may come a time when you miss this contact, especially if you live alone. Even when you live with others, it can be nice to spend time with people outside of home.
Make sure you get out of the house from time to time. In an office we tend to walk around quite a bit. At home, not so much. Go for a walk (perhaps with doggo), do some grocery shopping, cook, do yoga, stretch, or do other forms of exercise.
Try to get into a rhythm of shorter and longer breaks - you will find your flow, eventually. The aim is to get away from the screen from time to time, out of the house, and to utilise your muscles. Be sure to communicate breaks with your team, especially if they're longer ones. This builds trust, especially if your company is new to remote work.
Whenever you can, switch up your place of work, and try a coworking space, a suitable cafe, or library. This puts you in close contact with other humans. If you’re in the same city as your colleagues, you could even have lunch together, and chat about this new experience of working from home.
Because you’re not seen in the office, you might get anxious about performing, and will have a tendency to over deliver, which can lead to longer times in front of the screen. This is where overcommunication with your manager comes back into the picture. Again, talk about each of your expectations relating to working hours, breaks, etc., and when work is done, force yourself to switch work off.
Roommates, children, significant others, they all have the potential to be the source of welcome, and sometimes not so welcome distractions. Children especially, don’t necessarily understand the difference between work and play, you’re simply there for them to access.
Overcommunication also works for the home, and you will need to set clear boundaries. A good idea is to set soft as well as hard boundaries, and communicate these openly, so the expectation is set.
Soft boundary: I don’t mind the occasional distractionHard boundary: No distractions are tolerated except for emergencies
One way of signalling this is by choosing your workspace, to be in a room with a door. Open door is soft boundary, closed is hard. Another way to tackle this, in case a separate room isn’t available to you, is to have a clear sign you can flip from "Don't mind the occasional interruption" to "Don't interrupt". These are very individual things, but it's important they are addressed in your home.
Setting boundaries with your employer is also important. As you’re at home, it can be all too tempting to keep going once your working hours are over, where work time can easily bleed into home time.
If you have a separate work laptop, great - shut it once work is done, no questions asked. If work and play happens on the same device, try to separate it via software. A lot of our work happens in a browser these days, so try to designate a separate browser for work stuff only, and close it once you’re done.