Note: This was originally posted on my old web site and on LinkedIn in early 2020, when offices started shutting down for the pandemic.
It seems likely that the number of people working from home will increase significantly in the coming weeks and months, so I wanted to put some notes together to help people make that transition.
- Take time to set up a good working environment for yourself. Think about what helps you to work well. Set up an environment where you are comfortable, where other events and people from your home won’t interfere or distract you. Indulge a bit – decorate your space, set up music if you like, make sure your chair is comfortable, and play with the positioning of your laptops, monitors, and everything else to be ergonomic.
- Know thyself – You are now controlling your own environment. If you ask around, you’ll get a hundred different people adamantly telling you how to work effectively while remote. Listen to them all, but listen more to yourself to filter out which answers make sense specifically for you.
- Increase communication with your team. You won’t have “water cooler” conversations, so you need to actively reach out to your coworkers to discuss even the small things. Some remote teams even set up specific times just to chat with each other, to help bring some of that casual conversation that bonds a team into the remote working experience.
- Increase documentation of what is going on in your world. You are more disconnected from your manager now, and they have less of an idea where everything is at. So help each other out by documenting what you are working on, and how it is going. Most companies already have an intranet, a wiki, or similar tools that can be sued for this purpose. If you do, use them. If not, ask your IT department what options can be made available.
- Set boundaries – Tell the people you live with that when you are working, they should act as if you are not home. Set personal boundaries as well – whatever hours you are working, do the work, then shut down and walk away from your desk. Don’t fall into the trap of lettiung your work overwhelm your life just because they now are in the same location.
- Set Team Expectations – Talk to your coworkers about how you want the team to work. Is everyone working the same hours as you did in-office? What response times do you expect from email, instant messages, voices mails? Do you want to set aside specific times for meetings, and specific times to avoid meetings? If someone needs to step away from their desk for 5 minutes or an hour, do they need to let the team know? Have a talk about specific team norms along those lines, and make decisions so everyone knows what to expect from each other.
- Enjoy the experience – step out of your home office when you take a break and chat with the people in your home. Step outside and take a walk at lunch. Think about the time you are not commuting, and take some pleasure in getting that time back.
- Don’t stress over a lack of visibility – There is a tendency to want to prove that you are working from home effectively, which can lead to working overtime, or putting in so much energy on work that you burn out. We’re all in the same boat here, so if you lead people, trust them to do their work, and if you are an individual contributor, trust that your manager is placing that trust in you.
- Don’t hide problems – if something is not coming together well when setting up your home office, let people know quickly, so they can assist. If you find that being away from your coworkers makes you feel isolated, get on a call with them all tell them so. For any problems that arises, talk about it earlier than you would in an office. Problems of all sizes are easier to handle, and quicker to resolve, if you are actively talking to your team about it. So talk.
- Don’t be inflexible with meeting agendas – When phone/video calls are the only contact you have with your team, be more flexible on casual chatting, or tangents during those calls. Otherwise, the team will feel more isolated, and you won’t know what other topics need to be discussed to keep your business going. Find the balance in letting people chat, and letting new topics comes up…. but also get in the habit of getting back on track. If a new topic can be discussed and decided in a few minutes, do it. But if it is turning into a larger discussion, make a note to talk about it in another call. And then schedule that call.
- Don’t expect communication to work like it did in the office – Remote workers develop an innate understanding that real life is going on for everyone else behind their screens. People show up at your door, kids come into the office, bio breaks are needed… in short, life happens. On the tech side, networks drop, laptops crash, power goes out. When people will suddenly drop off of a call or become unresponsive in a conversation, it is just part of remote life. Set your expectations that communications may be slower, and disjointed.
- Don’t let frustrations win – There will be frustrations, especially as large numbers of people go through the process of learning how to work and communicate remotely. You’ll get through it better if you can laugh a little at the chaos. Just keep talking, and trusting each other, and you’ll figure out what works best for your organization.