Working from Home: A Primer
By now, most of the world is working from home or attempting to work from home. With a few weeks under our belts we have each likely found some methods that work and others needing improvement. This post will evaluate some of the findings of our team so you can keep on improving your ability to work from home.
It’s important to have a dedicated “office area” in your home. While having cell phones allows us to have virtual offices everywhere, having a set place to work brings normalcy into your routine and sets your brain to “work mode.” You may not need a full office setup like one you might find in your workplace; however, a good chair and a lack of distractions are key.
If you plan to be video conferencing, think of what is behind you and consider the location of your office as a place where noise won’t disrupt your work. While it’s not abnormal to have your home-life enter your workspace, it also takes away from the ability to sustain concentration. Once you have the basics, the following items will be very valuable:
- Organize your work area so you have sufficient electricity sources to power your electronics: USB devices, computers, phones, monitors – the list goes on.
- Make sure you have good connectivity and plan for contingencies. While you may have Wi-Fi in your home, this connection can go up and down. If you have a hard line (a cable from your router), you can quickly recover from issues of connectivity. In addition, turning your phone into a hotspot can be a good solution for maintaining internet connectivity on your laptop or desktop should your Wi-Fi connection falter.
- A good chair. While seemingly basic, a good chair is really important. Office chairs are rated by how long you can sit in them. If you haven’t bought an office chair for your home, familiarize yourself with the different options and benefits. There is nothing worse than getting “tennis elbow” or experiencing other preventable issues due to bad posture or seating. If you do use a laptop on a couch, consider buying a laptop desk/laptop stand. Remember that many laptops have their fans on the base and while it may be warm and cozy for you, you’re suffocating your laptop’s ability to cool down.
No setup is complete without the right equipment. Here is a list of a few things that can maximize productivity.
- Headphones with a good microphone. Working from home can mean a lot of virtual conference calls, and nothing’s worse than having audio distortions that make you sound like you’re underwater. Sounding good can be the direct result of a good microphone and/or headset. Headphones can also help you drown out the noises in your home, improving your productivity and concentration. Whether it’s white noise or music you enjoy, experiment with different forms of audio to help you get in the proper headspace.
- Computer monitors. Monitors have become very affordable and a large screen (or two!) is one of the best investments for any knowledge worker. You have the ability to see more, be more effective, and multitask more easily. As you use video conferencing, you can see your entire team as well as simultaneously work on a document based on what you’re hearing. It does take some time to properly set this up, but it can be invaluable.
- Video conferencing. Most people are becoming familiarized with video conferencing tools. They’re becoming the new conference rooms and meeting spaces. As such it’s important to invest time learning how to master these tools.
There are many tools out there, and while you or your organization may have a preference, it’s wise to learn how to use the most common ones. The reality is that your client, vendor, partner, etc. may be more familiar with a different platform and, as a result, you need to use it. Try these tools in advance; you don’t want that first-time use to delay the meeting and create frustration.
Tools you should investigate include Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Slack, and also communication platforms such as What’s App, Messenger and Facetime. What you will notice is that each platform has unique features and aspects to be aware of. Here are a few practical recommendations:
- Get familiar with 2-3 tools. Install them, create accounts, and then use them to see how they work with one and/or multiple people.
- Always log into a platform 5 minutes (or more) before your call is scheduled to begin. It’s not uncommon to run into issues with updates, microphones, etc. so you’ll want to give yourself a bit of a buffer.
- Experiment with computer audio vs. phone audio. Computer audio can interfere with your home Wi-Fi, so you’re often better off using phone audio when you can.
- Provide your status to your peers (i.e. when you’re online and available and when you’re not). When needed, you can provide yourself with isolation from notices and incoming calls in order to complete larger tasks.
We’ve mentioned some software and online tools to help you stay connected with your team. Here are a few of the tools that we use to help keep communication channels open and our team members motivated and productive:
- Slack – This is a simple communication hub (and a go-to here at Media Genesis). Think of it as a virtual space where you can meet up with your team in different rooms, have one-on-one conversations with specific team members, or easily start a voice or video chat without having to dive into a different tool. Try it out for free!
- Asana – Need a way to better track those ongoing tasks with your team? Asana lets you organize your projects and tasks in an easy-to-follow and overly transparent fashion. Everyone is aware of ongoing tasks and can jump into task-specific conversations without replies getting lost in an email chain. Free for up to 15 people!
- Bonusly – This tool is a no-brainer during this time of face-to-face separation. Bonusly allows you to give praise to those who you work with in a fun, lighthearted, and easy post that the entire company can see. Employees receive micro bonuses from each other (which can be used for actual prizes!), and your whole team is made aware of the awesome work each person has been doing. 30 Day Free Trial available.
Many people are not as familiar with being in a full-time WFH (Work from Home) situation, so it’s important to rethink your schedule. Guidelines may differ from one employer to another, or from one job to another, so this feedback may need to be customized for you.
For knowledge workers, work isn’t about a place or a time. It’s about getting what needs to be done; done well, done efficiently, done on-time, and done on-budget. Making yourself available for more hours during the day than the typical 8 AM to 5 PM and taking breaks throughout is a really good way to space out the work while allowing you to stay sane and efficient. Productivity can actually increase when you’re in that highly effective zone.
This is your chance to experiment with the typical eight-hour workday. Just know that availability is key. Most people expect a quick response or acknowledgement. If a response takes hours, it can make the sender feel as though they are being ignored. A quick response to communication goes a long way for the other people working with you. Managing your responses and your workload in order to be most effective is the where you can really become more efficient.
One of the hardest parts of working from home is having to create a new routine. The world feels as though it’s gone upside down right now, and, as a result, it’s become even more imperative that you maintain a normal setting.
However, for many people, there is nothing normal about their situation: kids are home and stuck indoors with extracurricular activities temporarily suspended, which means parents are being forced simultaneously to work at full capacity while caring for their children and managing the home.
Here are a few techniques that can help:
- Have a conversation with your family/roommates. It’s important to explain your expectations for when you are working (quiet, no interruptions, etc.) so this is something that is understood up front.
- Take breaks. Taking regular breaks throughout the day is important for many reasons; physical health, mental health, and productivity being only a few.
- Physical health. Much like being in an airplane, you need to get up and move around every hour or so. Even standing up and stretching, moving your legs to improve circulation, is a wonderful way to keep your blood moving. If you have a home-exercise setup, this is a wonderful way to take a healthy five-minute break. Many exercises can be done with no equipment and lots of videos and apps can help you with this. Taking a five-minute break can also help your eyes if you’re looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time.
- Mental health. In order to stay mentally healthy, it’s important to stay active and maintain some normalcy in your day-to-day. One option is to go outside and breathe in some fresh air – take that conference call on a walk, for example. This is a nice change of pace and allows you to recharge, improving both your mental state and your productivity.
- Pick up the phone. Being in isolation and working from home is not easy. Even if some people are introverts and need time between interactions, there is no doubt that humans are social creatures. Keeping up basic human contact through the phone can do a lot to help bring some of that human interaction back. While another option might be to video chat, something as basic as an old-fashioned phone call goes a long way.
- Overcommunicate. One of the biggest issues when we remove face-to-face contact is that so much of our communication is non-verbal, it can be difficult to communicate this through phone or text. If we don’t somehow make up for inflection and body language, we may not know what people are actually trying to say. Even more simply, by not seeing someone at the office and not hearing from them regularly, we cannot easily appreciate the work they’re doing. This is why overcommunicating is key. Tell your peers, supervisors, clients, partners, and vendors what you’re doing and provide as much detail as possible. Email check-ins at the beginning and end of the day are a great way to achieve this.
Hopefully some of these working from home tips in this article are helpful for you as we adjust to a COVID-19 WFH economy. It’s likely that many of the techniques, video conferencing, remote work, collaboration and many others are here to stay beyond this outbreak. It’s an opportunity to rethink work, while focusing on productivity and resilience. In closing, stay safe, share your WFH techniques through our contact us form or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, or reach out to us at (248) 687-7888 or inquiry@mediaG.com.