The transition to virtual work has been underway for more than a decade. Many people, gig workers, freelancers, creatives, etc. have been working remotely for years. But recent events with the COVID-19 pandemic have forced many businesses to move employees to virtual office settings very rapidly, and in many cases, without much preparation, training, or the provision of necessary equipment and tools.
Working from home is not just like work at work, only done at home. Working from home brings a unique set of challenges (and opportunities). Principal amongst these challenges is the need to adopt a work mindset, even while sitting in your kitchen, bedroom, or (if you are lucky) your home office or den. Try to get up and to go through your normal morning routine, including exercise, personal hygiene, getting dressed, and having something to eat. It is easy to get into a bad habit of sleeping later since you don’t have the commute time, but maintaining a consistent work routine in the morning is key to getting your mind right before the workday begins. Also, the temptation to remain in your pajamas or to dress in ultra-casual attire will almost certainly not help you to get into the right frame of mind. While it may not be necessary to get dressed and prepared in the same way as if you were going into the office, adopting some discipline in how you get ready in the morning is important.
You may not have much choice about the space that you use for your home office. If you have an apartment or small home, you may be forced to work at your kitchen table, or possibly even from your bedroom. You should ensure that your workspace is tidy and as professional as possible. If you work in the kitchen, ensure that the dishes are washed and things are tidy. If you are working from your bedroom, pick up loose clothing and make your bed before you start work. Don’t turn on the television or other distractions that you would not have at work. Ensure that your spouse, children, and pets are settled as much as possible so that they don’t interrupt you or cause undue background noise. All of us that have raised children know how difficult it is to keep them occupied, entertained, fed, and otherwise cared for during the day. Do what you can to keep them from interfering with your work, but let’s be serious here – good luck!
It’s a good practice to start and end your workday at the same time as you would if you were to go into the office. Take the same time for your breaks and lunch, and get up periodically to stretch your legs and rest your eyes. But, don’t drag into your work environment late and then stop working every time something distracts you. Remote work requires effort to focus on your tasks and to be fully engaged in your work. Self-discipline is a difficult skill to acquire, but make every effort to apply yourself to the idea of staying focused on your work while working from home. The other side of the time coin is that it can become easy to never leave your work, since your computer, phone, and any work product that you are using is present in your normal living space. Address this challenge by putting things away when you “leave” work and don’t get into the bad habit of continually checking in or picking up on work after hours.
Of course, you will need your computer. If you are accustomed to using a desktop computer at work, possibly with multiple screens, you will find that working from your laptop is painful and inefficient. Depending on the type of work that you do, a printer or a scanner (or both) may be necessary. Often if your company requires you to work from home, there is a program for reimbursement or direct issue of the equipment that you need to do your job. You will need a work surface, a comfortable chair, and good lighting. If you will be participating in conference calls or group meetings, you may want a headset with a microphone. And, of course, you will need a good quality web camera, either the one on your computer or a higher quality version that clips to your monitor.
Don’t forget the office supplies! You will need pens, pencils, notepads, notebooks, a stapler, paper clips, file folders, and myriad other office supplies, depending upon how you work. Printer paper and ink cartridges are important if you need to print documents, and you will need a filing system for all of the documents that you print.
A reliable and fast internet connection is critical to efficient work from home. Ask your company about their policy for reimbursement of this expense and always choose the fastest speed that is available (that fits your budget). Internet speed is especially important as you begin participating in video conferences, webinars, and using VOIP telephony. The ability to stream video for training or other purposes will also exact a toll on your internet bandwidth.
For communication, check with your company on their policy for telephone usage. It is generally poor practice for remote workers to use their cell phones for routine business calls. Either a complete Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) phone system, Skype, or Zoom Phone are all better alternatives to using your mobile phone. For video conference calls or webinars, we strongly recommend Zoom. It is an excellent service with many helpful features and it is affordable and reliable. For group collaboration, either Slack (our preference), or Microsoft Teams will provide you with all of the collaboration tools that you need to work together.
Project management, task management, and productivity software call all be helpful in organizing your time and ensuring that nothing falls through a crack. For simple lists or project management, we recommend either Trello or Asana. Both of these tools are affordable and feature-packed. If you manage software or other development tasks, perhaps Jira is the best solution for those applications.
All work and no play is, well, no fun. Be sure to set aside breaks throughout your day and consider informal Zoom calls with your colleagues to chat and connect socially. It can be lonely working at home, make time to socialize and to stay connected with your colleagues.
As we all move towards a more virtual work life, keep these tips in mind in order to create the most pleasant and efficient arrangement possible.