In The Future of Work, we explore how companies are transforming to stay competitive as global collaboration becomes vital. We will feature stories from both builders and leaders who manage these transformations to illustrate workplace trends and what’s coming next.
The spread of coronavirus and rise in COVID-19 cases worldwide is challenging every aspect of our interconnected world. As the world comes to grips with our new normal, more people than ever are working from home and dealing with an ever-changing reality.
Even before this crisis struck, companies have become more comfortable with remote working. More specifically, according to Telecommuting Trend Data, there has been a 17x growth in fully remote workers. Despite that growth, only about 4% of the US workforce works fully from home (though about 40% of workers work remotely part-time) . However, over half of modern workers are able to do their jobs effectively from home.
The social isolation countermeasures within many communities is beginning to proves that many jobs can be performed remotely and will definitely have long-ranging effects on the nature of work. This is an immense challenge to the ways we work as individuals and collaborate as groups. However, it’s also a topic that I have a lot of experience with.
Remote work is the future of working for many staff because we operate in a global economy, and technology allows for workers to do many tasks virtually. As companies and teams become increasingly distributed and decentralized, we’ll all need to get a lot better at communicating and staying on the same page, even when we’re in different timezones. The current coronavirus pandemic is just driving home just how vital this lesson is. That said, here are some working from home tips we think will help you and your distributed teams become better virtual workers
Dedicate space to your office
First off, make sure that you have a workspace that is away from your daily “life.” Ideally, you shouldn’t even have to walk by your desk unless you are intending to do actual work. When you’re working from home, distractions can be everywhere! A dedicated “office space” helps limit distractions while working, but it also ensures there are boundaries between your personal and work activities. (“Oh, I will just respond to this one email.” has been muttered way too many times in my house by both me and my husband.)
For some, this isolated space away from the endless household to-dos also helps keep them from being tempted to do other things while they’re working. I have the opposite problem: I can’t even remember to move the wash to the dryer! Whatever your routine is throughout your day (more on that later), keeping work and home separate can be a game-changer.
Create a routine that makes sense for you
When you work from home, it can feel like you’re “always on.” But humans are creatures of habit! Try to start and end your day at regular intervals that make sense for you. Are you an early-morning workout person? Make sure you get up, get some exercise, and are at your workspace when you want to start your day. Especially if you’re working from home due to emergency conditions, you want to try to preserve some semblance of normality.
Make sure your colleagues know roughly when you will start and end your day. Some teams even like to start their days with a virtual standup where everyone can check in, get on the same page, and get charged up for a day of distributed work!
Your workmates aren’t the only ones who need to know your schedule: if you cohabitate, then make sure your housemates know when you will be busy and when you’ll be free. If possible, you’ll want them to avoid popping up in the background of your work calls or ask about personal or household things during work times.
One last remote work tip is to dress for success: slouching around the house in pajamas sounds like fun, but getting dressed for work every day (even if you never go into an office) can get you in the right “work” mindset. Then at the end of the day, when you slide into some comfy clothes, that’s another separation of your work life and home life.
Turn on your camera and join calls with video
Personal connection is probably the thing people miss the most when they work from home. Video calls aren’t the same as connecting in-person, but you can get some of the benefits of meetings and chats by flipping on your computer’s camera.
Being able to read facial expressions leads to fewer misunderstandings. (And, as a bonus, if you happen to have a cat like mine, everyone can “oooh” and “aah” when it decides to walk across your keyboard in the middle of the meeting.) The little quirks of life that happen when you work from home can create more personal connections with your colleagues.
Virtual meetings are incredibly effective because everyone has an equal voice at the virtual table. As an added bonus, if you have meetings that happen at crazy hours, you don’t need to worry about commuting at inconvenient times. Just wake up, get ready, and sit down at your workspace with a clear, collected mind.
Automate with productivity tools, but share carefully
Workforce tools like Asana, Slack, and Trello are keys not just for project management and communication, but can also help you collaborate at a distance with teams all over the world. But they only work if you use them. You need to pick the task-management process that works for you: do you check every morning and evening? Make sure to update Asana stuff every time you do a task? Do you reply to every Slack within minutes of it coming in?
Whatever your personal protocol is, make sure your various workforce tools are set up with all relevant stakeholders and that you are still using them properly, wherever you are. The centralized virtual environment should be the same whether you work from home regularly or go into an office.
Your Asana or Hive board (or whatever tool you use) can be a place of organized calm in the chaos of a hectic WFH situation, but as more of our workforce becomes decentralized, these online realms will begin to become more and more the main place that we all interact as a team. As these tools evolve to streamline activities, putting analytics, insights, and the ability to take actions together can make them not only convenient but an integral part of how work at your business gets done!
Permissions for documents and data sources are also an important part of keeping your remote working experience smooth and effective. If you are collaborating remotely via GoogleDocs, Microsoft Teams, or another platform, make sure you know who has the keys to giving everyone (you, your team, external collaborators) access to the documents and folders you need to do your job.
Ditto dashboards and data sources: if you are working on analyses of any kind, you need to know you can connect to the data you need, no matter where you are. Single Sign-On protocols and enhanced authentication (via an app on your phone or a specialized VPN key) may be necessary to get this access, but it’s worth it to secure your data.
Create a virtual watercooler
Another missed opportunity when people work from home are the casual connections people make with colleagues around the office. Grabbing a cup of coffee or a snack or just waiting for the elevator are all little interstitial moments when we bond as groups, away from our specific tasks and especially with people from other teams.
Reach out to a few people every day to connect on a personal level. Who haven’t you talked to in a bit? Let them know that you are thinking of them and that you value your relationship: Ask for a recipe. Send a photo of your dog. Share an article that made you think of them…. Anything works. With less office serendipity, you need to create your own connections to stay top of mind.
You can build a strong team, anywhere
Hopefully, this collection of tips has given you some inspiration for your own work from home journey, Whether you’re doing it for a brief period or the long haul, using your communications tools, keeping up relationships, and creating a routine that works for you are all vital elements of building a work from home program that works for you. You can build amazing products — and a strong team — no matter where your colleagues are.