So Now You're Working At Home (Part 1)
Posted by Charlie Recksieck
and Laura Goodsell
A Helpful Telecommuting Primer
We figure that means many of you might be telecommuting for the first time. We've both been "home-sourced" for 20 years now - (in Charlie’s case: first while employed by Autodesk, then as a solo consultant and now as principal in a small software firm where everybody works at home, with no central office). So, we'd like to try to share some tips for working out of your house and see if they are of use to you.
Good Habits - For You While Working At Home
Here are some tips from a longtime telecommuter to those who may be doing this for the first time.
TV (Bad) - Perhaps watching TV will be a temptation for you. Especially now, you might be watching the news to keep up with coronavirus developments; watching the news can give you a sense of control (until you overdo it & it just stresses you out). But in general, it doesn't take long working at home that daytime television is generally garbage. Also, you figure out that as long as you have the ability to record with a DVR, it gets very easy to have the discipline needed to keep the TV off.
TV (Good?) - This is strange, but you might find the silence in your home office a little off-putting. You may have gotten used to the sounds of your office and the deafening quiet at home might be something you need to deal with. Some people can work with music on (raising my hand) and some can't. But also consider keeping a TV on in the other room at low volume on something innocuous, just for the dull sound of conversation or other human beings.
Don't Forget To Groom - Yes, we did mention the reduced grooming can save time & a dry-cleaning budget. But maybe sure not to go too far the other direction. Working in your pajamas might seem like a "perk" of working at home but it really does create a bad psychology. Take our word for it and put on something that gets you going; whether it's real work clothes or just running clothes.
Keep in mind too that it's likely you'll be video-conferencing or on Skype, GoToMeeting, or something during your day (especially if you office is just now starting to telecommute) ... don't get caught not having shaven for four days or, even worse, video of you in PJs.
Don't just take our word for it, read this great article on the subject from The Guardian.
Remote Work + Parenting - If you have children, then they're also home and not at school during these COVID-19 times.
* Stick to a Routine - Keeping naptimes at the same time can help you schedule conference calls during a quiet time.
* Keep the kids Occupied & Happy - A bored child becomes a difficult child. Rotate toy boxes so the little ones don’t get bored with the same items. For older kids, write down fun solo activities on pieces of paper and keep them in a jar. When the whining starts, let them pick a new activity.
* Taking Breaks - When it’s time for a break, grab the kids and get outside for a walk or to throw around a ball.
Breaks, Walks & Dog Walks - You might feel like hunkering down at your desk for 8 or 10 straight hours makes you the best employee. It doesn't. There is a wealth of paradigm-busting info showing that taking breaks actually improves the quality of the rest of the day's work: they help the brain, they improve your work and lower your stress and even just standing up more often can make a huge impact.
Charlie here, speaking as somebody with a Golden Retriever at home, he's my motivation to resist the "super-employee" temptation and make sure I take the break. Even though this COVID-19 pandemic is certainly stressful and a little scary, your dog has never been happier to have you around more!
For dog owners looking for coronovirus dog advice (dogs can’t get it) or tips for being home more now with your dog, read this terrific advice from Rover.com.
Have A Designated Work Space - You might think that you'll do fine with your laptop on the coffee table, but you probably won't. If at all possible in your house, be at a desk. You need to have a consistent space to work in your house. Even if it's a chair at your kitchen table, you need some little space that is "the office" at home.
And Starbucks doesn't count. Unless your pretending to work on your screenplay for 6 hours a day.
The dedicated work space helps get you in and out of your work mindset.
Plus, it lets kids and other people in your home know that when you are in your work space to keep interruptions to a minimum
If your home really is too chaotic or crowded, consider working in a library - as long as it's not too packed of an area, you really should be able to practice social distancing at some desk in the bowels of your local library. Just bring some sanitizer or wipes with you & be smart.
Settling in for the Long Haul - If you’re new to remote work, here are a few things that you need in your designated work space
1) Get a comfortable chair and a table at an ergonomic height
2) Put your power strip within reaching distand with the charging cords for your computer, phone and tablet
3) Consider using a real mouse rather than a trackpad with your laptop, it’s much faster and better for your wrists
4) If you have the budget, get a big monitor to use in your space. Better yet, get 2!
Errands Around The House - Guess what you can to take those breaks? You can multi-task by doing the dishes, watering the plants or doing the laundry. We Americans love to pat ourselves on the back when we're ultra-efficient. What's more well-organized than getting something done while taking that break.
Word to the wise: be careful that you don't get completely side-tracked by your side-activity. Watering the plants for five minutes is terrific. But don't go down a rabbit hole. Pulling that one weed in the garden can lead to obsessiveness, pulling two or five weeds, then pretty soon you're getting out the shovel and pick to move a bush. That's too much.
Errands Out And About - This is the benefit that would be to give up once you return to working at the office. The amount of personal flexibility working at home is incredible. But for now in COVID-19 home quarantine is our priority.
That said, in a "normal" telecommuting environment then going to the store, the dry cleaners, picking kids up from school, etc. all get exponentially easier and less stressful working at home. If you do this right, this is where work-life balance gets great.
See The Sun - We all probably instinctively know that being outside is good for you, but there are plenty of studies showing a myriad of quantifiable health benefits and also how you stay in touch with your circadian rhythms. Get away from that artificial light and recycled air!
For now, while self-quarantining, it’s tempting to completely hunker down inside. We all want to be overall healthy, which means you still need to exercise and see the sun for your health. A healthy body is more likely to stay healthy.
Eating - This is the toughest part of working at home. That refrigerator is likely only about 10 or 20 yards from your desk. It's a huge temptation.
We wish we had some magic bullet advice to make this easy. You should do your best to stick to a 3-meal schedule like you would at work. But you could also use one of your work breaks as an opportunity to make something healthier like an elaborate salad or nice pasta; whereas at work you might drive to get a burger or personal pizza.
Loading up on water or healthy snacks like celery or carrots can really help. It'll fill you up & it'll fill that need to be doing something with your hands. Plus, now you're hydrating.
Alone In The House? - If you're working by yourself at home, it might feel a little lonely at first. Even when you're in the office, there's a temptation these days to conduct most communication by email, or in Slack chats. While you're first at home, then maybe up your human-to-human contact by picking up the phone to talk to your coworker or client where you would normally email.
Good Habits - For Your Work
The previous section focused on things to keep you feeling good. But let's focus on some practices that keep your work more effective.
Start Early - It’s pretty satisfying to jump into your email Inbox as soon as you wake up. There are conflicting articles of advice on this issue: should you start right away, or give yourself some time? (Both have credible arguments.)
If you like to chip away at some emails when you first get up then all of a sudden you’re multi-tasking by emailing while coffee is brewing, and English muffins are toasting.
By starting the workday earlier - allowing room for breaks and errands through the day - and finishing a little later, general work availability is broadened to about 11 hours even though we’re still just working 8 hours.
Not only does this reduce the amount of stress in a day, but it also gives more exposure to clients in different time zones. Although we’re in California, we both personally interact a lot with clients on Eastern Time. The extra general availability gives us 7 hours of overlapping work time instead of just 4.
Quarantine Facebook, LinkedIn - Your browser is likely open on your computer throughout your workday. There's no stupider way to get off track is to hear the Pavlovian bell of a Facebook notification or a browser tab title of "(3) LinkedIn" telling you have 3 notices from LinkedIn.
Keep intruding sites off your open browser and when you start noticing emails or other announcements from non-work sites during the day then go to your account settings for them and shut that down. It's a rabbit hole that doesn't help you during the day; and jumping over to Facebook while seated at your desk is not a "break" (like washing dishes or playing with the dog).
Multitasking Is A Slippery Slope - This might seem like contradictory advice since above we extolled the virtues of answering emails while making coffee. But you need to make sure that you're not multi-tasking so many work duties that you aren't actually finishing anything through the day. Which ties well into our next item ...
Deadlines & Goals Are More Important Than Ever - The solution for "multi-tasking" may just be "tasking". All of the benefits of working at home also double as potential pitfalls for getting your work completely done.
Not only should you be taking your own to-do list very seriously, but this is really the time to improve communication with your coworkers, supervisors and employees whom you manage. If telecommuting is new to all of you, then you all are new at knowing how well the other person is doing working at home.
If you have stated lists of goals for the day, week, etc. then it's very reassuring to you both to be able to send a quick email or Slack message detailing what you completed. Remember that your manager is just learning how to manage remote workers right now too; make his/her job easier by giving them the reassurance of what you're accomplishing. They're naturally suspicious of a loss of productivity in this new order - don't give them a reason to doubt you.
Communicate with Your Team - Set up a morning meeting to go over priorities, assign tasks and review any questions.
Use Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype or any of the other online chat tools to talk in realtime, no need to fire-up the video
Are Your Colleagues Also Available? - With you all working remotely, it's going to be very easy to lose touch with what your fellow workers are doing. The biggest loss of working at home is not being in the same space where you just know what others are up to; when you’re all there together you’re aware of what each other is doing almost by osmosis. Now all of a sudden, phone meetings are more necessary in separate locations.
Again, these phone chats should be scheduled. Keep this in mind: In a non-pandemic world you would have this newfound flexibility and work-life balance to go to Costco, the vet or ride your bike during the day (a great benefit!). But even now you might be looking after loved ones, exercising, going to the grocery store, etc. - your coworkers also are likely doing the same thing. So, the chances of you calling them at the spur of the moment and you both being in front of your computer are actually drastically less than in your office days.
Make the habit of getting these mini-chats on your calendar, even to discuss real granular, small issues.
Music - Everybody is different; some people can work with music on, some people can't. For those who do, the right playlist can increase productivity. Heavy-metal gets some workers going, background jazz great for others. As long it's something that can be background in your mind and not grab your attention, it's great.
This is an opportunity you do NOT get at the traditional office. But be honest with yourself if you are one of those people who work well with music. Try going without it on Tuesday and work with it on Wednesday and assess if you are one of those people.
Coming Up In Part 2
Gonna stop right here (the washing machine just beeped and need to get clothes into the dryer). Next week we’ll get into some of the broader implications how life might change.
Meanwhile, get yourself into some good home-working habits this week from the get-go of your telecommuting experience.
Let us know how you're faring at home - or send us some other tips we have missed.