So now you’re working from home full time for the first time?

Three women and a man at home office standing behind a deskDating myself, I remember being on the GE task force to define and implement “flexible work arrangements” so long ago maybe Netscape was coming alive as the first real consumer access to the new thing called the internet. Things have changed a lot since then. Even though the internet and technology has changed at a rapid pace, at least we individuals had some control on how fast we decided to adapt to it. Then COVID-19 came into our lives.

The good news is that you have almost certainly been working virtually for many years now; you may just not have thought of it that way. Most of us would have anxiety if our personal devices were taken away for a day. A few of you relish in it as your time to disconnect. But you may not be as efficient working full time, with all your work colleagues totally remote. To that end, let me share what I’ve learned working at my home office for many years.

As with any change there are the obvious, not so obvious, and the “hmmm, didn’t think of that’s”. Leveraging what has proven to be effective is often called Best Practices which fall into three general categories:

  • Enablers and Assisters – communication and collaboration technologies
  • Protocols – Guidelines, Repeatable Processes and Cheat Sheets
  • Better as you go – Sharing of Lessons Learned, Champions, and Gamification

So how do you most effectively deal with your new realities?

You are now physically distanced from your co-workers you are used to working with every day.

  • Get connected virtually
    • Emails & Text communications
      • No change for all those things you use email & text for today.
      • For new uses, be careful not to include sensitive information. You may not want to put in an email what may be OK to share at the water-cooler. And just know that emails and texts are not private.
    • Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Free Conference Call, etc. online work sessions
      • Connects you to colleagues in the same way you have already connected with suppliers and customers.
      • If you cannot connect to your workplace community tools, you can set up free accounts (with some limitations). Just be sure that you follow safe protocols, so you do not share business or personally sensitive information online. What is best kept to an in-person conversation is better done one-to-one over the phone. These sessions can be recorded without you knowing and can easily be shared outside of your intended group.
    • The different tools allow you to set preferences so for example you have to “admit” anyone who joins so you know who is on the session. Check them out to find what works best for you; and ask your company if they can provide guidelines or policies to help with this.
    • Webinars and distance-learning
      • Make sure your “visuals” are effective. If you planned to present materials on the overhead in a conference room, check these out to see how well they are projected on a screen-sharing session. The size of text, color schemes and other factors may need to be adjusted so they work well for everyone viewing on a desktop, tablet or smartphone. Unless your visuals are very clear and legible, try to do more explaining than requiring people to be able to see what you are projecting. Watching what’s on their phone while driving is not only illegal but very ineffective, so minimize the visuals.Husky dog sleeping on a couch
      • Make sure your audio is working. If you plan to present online versus projecting your voice in a conference room, make sure your microphone works on the device you will be using. And check out the settings so you can mute and unmute your participants. Hearing someone’s dog barking during a call is only cute and funny for the first 2 seconds.
    • Connectivity and Access
      • If there are differences in the way you can use your company or personal devices while not at the office, check with your company to work through any issues. Your company may have BYOD policies that are enforced while at work that need to be made more flexible now you are on your own internet service at home, or in a coffee shop.
      • Use available security protocols now that you may be sharing more information over the internet instead of your workplace’s more secure intranet. Two-Factor-Authentication (TFA), One-Time-Password (OTP) and other second level access protocols are available and should be turned on.
    • Make your environment conducive to an effective work environment
      • Privacy
        • Use, and encourage the second level access mentioned above (TFA, OTP, etc.) to improve your privacy while online.
        • Be careful not to share sensitive information, or any personal information when you are in a place where others can hear you or may be able to see what is on your screen. Others around you also do not want to hear everything you’re so excited about doing with your colleagues. That may include your spouse.
      • Limit interruptions
        • Kids, pets, visitors, TVs, people outside, etc. all make an excuse to stop what you are doing. Minimize this. Find a space that is void of these interruptions where you can work productively. When you need a break leave the space for a walk or visit and return. Again, it’s not about becoming a recluse; but it is about being productive in your work.
        • Let people know this is your job. Where you are located is now your place to get work done and interact with your work colleagues. If someone knocks on the door treat it as if you were “at work”; because you are. Short of the house being on fire you need the same relief from distractions and interruptions you had at the office. (Maybe you’ll have even more since Joey will not be stopping by to chew your ear.)
      • Avoid work-family anxiety
        • Just as you have heard “don’t bring your work problems home”, now you have brought you home from work, to work! Same issue if you let it become one. Separate your work person from those around you who do not need or want to be part of that you. If you’re over-excited or upset about something, keep it inside your work space or get far enough away to deal with it. It’s a lose-lose if you can’t release the good and the bad without making it contagious for everyone at home, or wherever your remote work space is.
      • Leverage technology and tools for reminders. You won’t get that reminder of seeing others doing something you also need to remember to do. Add the extra discipline to make sure your “work day” goes as it needs to. Your calendar is now more important than before to give you a visual into your workday, and that of your colleagues. Use it.
      • Keep your attitude in the game. Some people find it helpful to dress for work even while working at home. You may want to keep your normal morning routine to help in this way as you get started. If over time you have the discipline to throw on your loungers and still be just as effective, great! In that case I suggest you keep that Polo or dress shirt nearby in case you hear the words “let’s make this call a video”. Be prepared so you’re not that guy in the commercial that gets caught “with his shorts down”.
    • Make effective use of your virtual time together
      • Get organized with your colleagues
        • Use your calendar to give you a view of what’s going on “in the office”, and to keep you focused and connected.
        • Stay connected with your colleagues even more than you may have in the office. Check in with them about meaningful things as you may have done when seeing them pass by or walking over to their desk. A quick text is often sufficient. Schedule a 5-10 minute call for more detailed needs.
      • Apply extra rigor to the process
        • Use whatever mechanisms work best to get you disciplined. Working from home requires more discipline, and more discipline requires real changes in the way you behave. If it is too easy to ignore important things you need to be doing every day then you need to use lists, reminders, and other means you have not used before. And you need to hold yourself accountable to getting things done, every day.
        • Leverage what has been learned by you and your colleagues. Ask others what is working best for them and apply that as it helps you. Share with your colleagues what you have learned works well for you.
      • Take care of your well-being
        • You still matter and are part of the active team. Do not become reclusive or disconnected. Just because you are not as “visible” as you once were, your results or lack of are perhaps more visible now!
        • Your contributions are recognized, even if it’s less apparent; and this goes both ways. Remember to let your employees and team members know you appreciate what they are doing. This is always important, but now you’re physically distanced it’s even more important.
        • Keep to a regular schedule. If you used to go to the office at 8AM and leave at 4:30 PM, set your work day up in the same way. If you used to leave a bit early for some personal matters and then make up for that doing emails, calls or other work in the evening then keep to that schedule, and only adjust as is necessary.
        • Celebrate success. There’s no reason why you cannot celebrate success with your colleagues just because you are not physically together. Set aside time to “share lunch together” and take the time to acknowledge a job well done – virtually. Get delivery from your local sandwich or pizza shop or hop on or another delivery service to get everyone lunch and fire up a virtual Google Hangout session. Nothing has changed in terms of how important it is to keep business going; and celebration needs to continue to be part of that.
        • Keep track of your accomplishments. One good practice is to make a list of what you need to accomplish that day during your first cup of coffee, or tea. Then at the end of your normal workday check off the list and acknowledge what you accomplished, and anything you may not have. This should encourage better discipline with each day and keep you from working extra hours because you are not getting that sense of accomplishment you may get at the office.

In summary, we all work virtually to some degree already; for many it’s just a full-time gig now. The tools exists to make you effective working virtually, and not as much needs to change as you may think. Keep in mind some things do require you to make changes. Together, your work space, attitude, discipline and style of communication is the secret sauce to making it all work.