You wake up in the morning, go through your morning routine, check your email and find out that your business leader/CEO/head of people operations have set a company-wide policy of Working from Home. You work for a Technology company which actually means that you are perfectly set for a Working from Home type of a situation, but within two days you hear all your colleagues that are used to going to the office complain about their new state of working from home.
You can help. You have experience. You spent the last 4 years working from home. When you go into the office there is typically a 14 hours flight involved and at least one border control. You have advice to offer. You also know that for some people, those who are always late by just a few minutes to any meeting, those who will “send by the end of the day” but often do not, working from home will be a tough challenge.
Any challenge is an opportunity to grow. Working from home and minimizing social contact is imperative at the time of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. If you want to understand why it is important to minimize social contact now, you should spend the 25 minutes needed to read this excellent article. But even if you don’t read the lengthy article, you have no choice. No one will go to the office and most customers will not take that face to face meeting, so you better figure out how to effectively work from home.
Bookend your workday. One problem that people who work from home are facing is that work will spill into their family life and into their home. You already talk about work at the dinner table and check one last time your email while watching Netflix with your significant other and now with work being in the home you are basically going to be working all the time. Don’t. You must bookend your day with physical separation. The morning, for example, can start with a jog around the block or a bicycle ride around the lake near by. 20-30 minutes before you read your email or took your first conference call. You start your meetings at 6AM since you live in California and your customers are in Europe? Well, maybe it’s time to block your calendar and start your first conference call at 06:30 or do what you do anyway and take your conference call with you on your walk. Whatever you do, do not shift in your PJs with your morning coffee into the computer and start working. This will make you miserable within 5 days. The same routine applies to your evening. At some point, depending on your family situation, you have to declare that your day is done. At that point you turn off the laptop, lock it in your home office or the table you spent the day working on, and then you leave the home office and commute back to your home. You physically leave the house, take a walk, ride your bike, drive to the supermarket, and then come back home. You are done with working for the day.
Do not confuse email with communication. Ever since your Working from Home policy started, you see a spike in the amount of emails you receive every day. People like to confuse email with communications. Email is not communications. Only a tiny percent of people in the world are getting payed to “do emails” (those who do tend to be Nigerian Princes). Email should be used to set a meeting, summarize a meeting, or convey a one-sided piece of information to your colleagues.
Do not confuse chat with talking. Most Technology and technology-dependent companies have implemented some sort of chat programs. These might be official business tools like Slack or Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams and some unofficial chat tools such as Facebook’s WhatsApp or Apple’s iMessages. In any case, you already hear people complain about typing 12 hours a day. Don’t. The more effective way to use these chat program is to convey information quickly. If you need more than 10 exchanges, switch to voice. Voice is about 1000 times more efficient way of communication. You can ping your colleague, see if they are available for a quick chat, and then call them using the same tool. Most chat programs have a voice function so all you have to do is express the need to chat and then call. You can follow up with a quick summary email if that’s needed.
Invest in silence. One of the best financial investments you can make in a world in which Working from Home is the new normal is a great noise cancelling headphones that are also a great microphone. There are plenty such options in the market. The good options are expensive, but will keep your sanity. Why are these things so important? You will be spending a large portion of your day speaking to people. You want to have two free hands to type your meeting minutes and you want the headphones to be comfortable. Last but not least, you want people to hear you well. There is an added bonus to having a good set of noise cancelling headphones: they will take care of the outside noise from your neighbour mowing the lawn or the construction truck backing in a drive way. Outside of a great chair for your home office, the best investment for your work life sanity is a great set of headphones. Sony WH1000XM3 are a great investment, but other good options exist in the market.
Communicate your communication tools. Some companies have a plethora of collaboration and communication tools. For example: Office 365 (which includes Teams), Skype for Business, Zoom and Slack. How will your colleagues find you? If your IT organization did not conclude on the correct tool to use, make sure the people who work with you know how to get a hold of you. Consider being flexible and using what your co-workers find as the most convenient tool.
Use Video. You lament the loss of meetings where you can see your colleagues and sit around the same table. Have you considered turning on your video camera during your next conference call? Why is it that you miss meeting your colleagues around a big conference table yet are keeping the video chat function off? If you start your day by commuting to the home office that means that you are properly dressed. If you find a good place to work at home, you have nothing to fear. Keep the camera AWAY from you and face the camera. You can stay connected and also show your office to your colleagues. Using video during conference calls will also mean that you will be missing your colleagues just a little bit less.
Focus on output. The virus outbreak and the fact that most people are now Working from Home means that we can finally shift our focus to deliverables and not “being there.” Your manager and colleagues will now see how productive you are as opposed to being that person in all the meetings. You need to produce output that is shared and communicated with colleagues, managers and customers. The virus outbreak and the workforce being directed to Work from Home might finally get us to increase productivity. If you need some inspiration on the topic, read this great HBR article.
At this point no one knows how long it will take before you’re allowed to go back to the office. You are likely to be staying at home for at least 4 weeks now. Get comfortable with it.