When it comes to working remotely, it’s not always about being more efficient or getting more done than what you would do in the office. Rather, it’s about finding the right balance between work and home. People who have never worked from home often assume it’s hard to focus and get anything done. In my experience, it can be just as easy to let work dominate this balance as the line between work and personal life becomes blurred. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, our goal is to achieve balance.
In this blog, I’ll share some of my techniques for working remotely. We’ll be discussing reliability, focus, sustainability, and collaboration, and how they come into play for working from home successfully.
Reliability Means Thinking Ahead
When you think about your individual situation, have you thought about what can go wrong and how you would recover? Reliability requires that you know your dependencies (internet connection, quiet area to work in, etc.), as well as your potential failure points (ISP outage, power outage, etc.). That way, you have thought about ahead of time and planned for a backup plan in case your work environment gets disrupted.
What you are doing on a given day may also determine your backup plan. The way you handle an issue such as loud construction may be different for a short meeting than how you would handle it for an all-day customer session. To prepare for these situations, I plan my options in advance including outlining what my days typically look like. For the different situations I face in a day, I need different requirements. For instance, if I’m teaching a class, I need both a good internet connection because I’m screen sharing and a quiet place to work.
Examples of Outlining Backup Plans
I also make sure to shower and get out of my pajamas so I can leave my house at any point if something were to happen, such as the power going out. Note that in this exceptional time, many of us find ourselves practicing social isolation due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so this won’t apply. By all means, work in your pajamas if that’s what makes you happy!
Focus and Avoid Distractions
Just like we think about all the things that could go wrong, we want to think about potential distractions, and take steps in advance to limit those distractions. You should know the specific distractions you face in your environment. What I’ve always found helpful when working from home is to create a dedicated work space. It’s also helpful to think about distractions through the lens of your audience. The ultimate goal is that your audience shouldn’t know you’re working remotely.
Here are some examples of the types of disruptions you may have experienced in conference calls. How would you avoid these?
“Conference Call Bingo”
You don’t want to be the person who wins at conference call bingo. To prevent losing your message, eliminate as much environmental background noise as much as possible when on calls. I suggest investing in a high-quality, noise-cancelling headset. It needs to be comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. I prefer wired over Bluetooth for reliability and avoiding battery life worries.
The easiest way to avoid distractions is to just isolate yourself as much as possible. Remember that even if your audience doesn’t notice the distractions, you still need to maintain focus on your end.
Sustainable through Balance
When thinking about balance, we want to set ourselves up to be efficient in the long run. Working remote means you don’t have the classic “pack up and go” end to the work day. There’s no denying that the main advantage of working from home is the fact that you no longer have a commute. Sitting in traffic wastes a lot of time. So how are you going to take advantage of that extra time?
What I’ve found helpful is splitting up that saved time across things that are important to me, like work, family, and wellness. Another thing I do to be more effective is to see where I can buy areas of time. Meal prepping is one of the main ways I save a lot of time (and make it easier to eat healthy).
Lastly, since it’s easy not to leave your house when working remotely, make sure to take the necessary breaks you need by going outside, getting some exercise, socializing, etc. (Perhaps not useful today, but good to keep in mind for the future.)
Stay Connected through Collaboration
When you’re working with a remote team, all the things that tend to organically develop in an office setting – such as processes, culture, and camaraderie – need to be deliberately organized. With all the tools that are available now, it’s easy to collaborate with our colleagues and customers effectively, no matter where you are.
What I found to be helpful is to create informal communication channels. Slack is a great way to do this. Creating a slack channel dedicated to your team is an easy way to stay connected with your colleagues. When thinking about communication channels, we need to think about when it’s appropriate to use certain tools. If you need to communicate something that should be remembered, such as an announcement or process for a team, it should be documented in a more formalized communication method, like an intranet or an email.
For a nice change of pace, you can also use video conferencing for customer calls, manager 1:1 sessions, team meetings, and more. Make sure to communicate that you will be using video upfront. And don’t forget your environment!
Lastly, virtual whiteboarding can be captured and shared for longer term reference. Drawing apps can work well, but keep in mind there are “low tech” options as well, such as PowerPoint.
I hope these techniques help you in working remotely. Thanks for reading!