House Rules: Working Effectively Outside the Office
For all of us, the world has changed overnight. Suddenly, many of us are wondering how we’re going to function without going to an office. We’re used to bouncing ideas off our colleagues just by lifting our heads. But a large portion of the workforce can’t do that right now.
I’m here to help.
Working remotely has been my daily existence for the past six years. Remote work is not easy. It has its perks. Yet it can be lonely and isolating. You’re trading office distractions for home distractions. But they’re distracting all the same. Here are some of the things I’ve learned that might help ease the adjustment and maybe even make you more productive than you ever could have imagined.
Stick to the Routine
Humans are creatures of habit. Having a daily routine can go a long way toward keeping you sane during this period. If you start treating remote work as a vacation – rolling out of bed at the crack of 10, working in your PJs – you’re going to find yourself struggling very quickly. By all means, enjoy the fact that you no longer have a commute! Use that extra hour or two a day to get a little closer to your family. Read some books. Get a few chores done around the house. But during your regular working hours, you have to shift gears, just like you would when arriving at the office.
Have a Dedicated Workspace
The nature of working remotely will have real-life intruding on work and vice versa. It’s unavoidable. The more you can dedicate a space for work, the easier it will be for you to shift gears at the start and end of your day. And I mean dedicated. A corner of your bedroom or an alcove in the living room doesn’t cut it. You need a place that says, “I’m working now.” But trust me when I tell you it really can’t be a space you use for anything else, or you won’t effectively make the mental shift you need to be at your most productive. Having a door that closes is ideal. I gave our office to my work-from-home wife, so I have a little loft upstairs. That’s right. Even with another person working at home, we don’t share a single workspace. She has hers, and I have mine. That way, we can both focus on our work tasks. (Meeting for lunch in-between is awesome, though!)
Embrace the Overlap
Take advantage of the more flexible environment – within constraints of your job, of course. Real-life stuff is going to bleed into work hours. Your dog might demand to go for a walk right now. Your daughter may decide she’s lonely and wants to see what Daddy is doing. Go ahead and carve out a few minutes. It may mean that you put in longer days. But you can always start earlier or end later. Use the flexible time during the mid-day to deal with personal stuff without feeling guilty.
Personally, I err on the side of high availability. My co-workers know they can reach me just about any time, and I’m happy to give them quick solutions whenever I can. It may mean that I’m doing it on my off-hours while on an errand, sitting on the couch, or lately while I’m completing my MBA coursework. I don’t begrudge my co-workers my help when they need it. And when they need something that requires more focus or more involved work to be done, I head to my workspace. It’s not for everyone, and by all means, stick to a work schedule if that’s what you need to be successful. But it’s how I maintain my work-life balance, not by keeping a rigid center but allowing the pendulum to swing as needed.
Get Comfortable with Video
I sometimes joke that turning on video during a meeting is the way you give “proof of life.” But in all seriousness, you should treat working remote just like you were in the office when it comes to interpersonal relations. The distance remote work creates between you and your co-workers can be hard. So, use whatever tools are at your disposal to get a virtual presence during meetings. Turn on that camera. Use that time to really connect. And as much as possible treat it like a face-to-face interaction. It’s not just important to prove that you’re working. It’s important so that you feel connected.
If You Feel Disconnected, Speak Up!
This is going to be hard. Don’t suffer in silence. Even those of us who are introverts still need social interaction. If you feel out of the loop, it’s your responsibility to raise your hand. Remember, all of your co-workers are trying to figure it out just like you. Do you need more face time? More frequent updates? Need something analogous to those water-cooler moments? Let people know! This is a time when we can get creative and come up with cool solutions. In my case, we already schedule weekly team meetings and weekly one-on-one meetings with our managers. Now we’re adding a quick daily stand-up to help maintain that connection.
Things are very uncertain in the world right now. I realized today that we’re living through a future history lesson. This is an opportunity to show that remote work isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s a way that we can all be productive and thrive – even in the face of that uncertainty.
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