Suddenly, a big slice of the worlds population is finding out what it’s like to let the people you work with see the walls of your home.
“Interesting art choices, not that I’m judging you on them,” says a colleague, clearly judging you on them.
Before my current job, I worked mostly remotely for 3 years. When I first started, I got interested in knowing the best practices, and obviously I learnt a lot during that period. So, here are my 5 key ways to make working from home work.
(I know loads of other people are doing this too, and their advice is also excellent, but this is my perspective).
Routine and habits
Get up, shower*, eat breakfast*, get dressed**, get your morning coffee*, and be at your computer ready to start work at the right time.
(* I am aware not everyone does these, so you know, just maintain your regular schedule ** This though is non-negotiable)
Finish work at a specific time, close your laptop, put your work phone away. You are done, clock off.
Be either at work, or not at work. Don’t let the two become mixed up.
Keep exercising (you do exercise, right? I mean, you really, really should). It’s not sensible to go to the gym right now, so work out a different exercise schedule. Ask a colleague or friend to hold you accountable, and maybe sync your schedules.
Set your workspace up – get a comfortable (and preferably adjustable) chair, make sure your desk or table is at a good height with your screen(s) at eye-level. Have you got a standing desk? Could you hack one together? Try to use a separate keyboard and mouse – it’s more comfortable.
If possible, separate your workspace from your living space. Be able to close the door on work.
Get a better microphone and speakers for your computer. Sound quality isn’t a big priority for people until they notice it. If not speakers, get good headphones or a headset.
Don’t have light behind you, people won’t be able to see you on video calls. Have light on your face (maybe get a lamp if needed? Selfie lights are good for this, or windows).
What kind of background noise do you like? For a lot of people, they can’t stand the silence of not being in a busy office, but you might like it. If not, perhaps music? There are playlists of music designed to help you focus – using your favourite music is usually a distraction as you singalong, epically. There are also apps that will generate white noise for you – the sounds of a coffee shop, or the sea, or a woodland glade. Try a few things, pick the one that works.
Remove or avoid distractions. Sadly, human beings have invented the greatest distraction mechanism of all time – the internet – which you need to avoid like Pac-Man avoids those ghosts.
Take regular breaks – go get yourself a lovely cup of tea or a coffee. Try to make sure your workspace isn’t too close to the kitchen or bathroom, so you need to keep moving around.
Take a proper lunch break too – get away from your computer. Maybe go outside for a walk, get some fresh air, try to avoid sitting down for long periods.
Work in bursts of productivity and focus, you’ll find it more sustainable than a long slog. Try the Pomodoro Technique, or find something similar.
Rather than “sending that quick email” have a video call with someone instead. There’s no better way to explain or demonstrate something than a quick screenshare and you talking them through it. You probably would do it that way if you were in the office, so keep that up.
Have regular calls with your team, people you work with a lot, people who might need more contact (they work alone, or in a small team).
Set up group chats based around your team, common interests, projects, ANYTHING AT ALL. And keep them updated – try some ideas to stimulate conversation – what do everyones workspaces look like today? What are everyone’s pets up to? What did everyone cook last night?
Be punctual for meetings – its much more noticeable when you’re late for a video call. Don’t keep people waiting.
Some people aren’t going to like this – but always have your camera on for a call. It’s better for connecting and building relationships if people can see you. Also, just before you go live make sure you check what’s behind you…
When you’re not speaking on a call, mute yourself. But remember, people can still see you – be engaged and look engaged.
Avoid doing video calls on the move – it’s distracting for everyone.
Don’t worry about your partner, child, hamster, dog, parrot or lizard appearing behind you unexpectedly. It isn’t as embarrassing as you think – it happens.
Your hair doesn’t look weird today. Nobody is looking at that spot on your nose. Everyone wants to see and hear from you.
Nobody will mind that you look more casual at home than in the office (but maybe avoid the Megadeth t-shirt?).
Keep active on chat, participate in calls, keep in touch. People miss you, worry about you, and want to know you’re okay.
If you want to read more about working remotely, I strongly recommend Remote by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried of Basecamp.
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