Given the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus and the need for people to practice social distancing, people around the world have found themselves working, teaching and learning from home. Working remotely has its benefits, but adjusting to this environment has its challenges.
When I started with Praecipio Consulting in 2013, I was the second remote employee for the company. Seven years later, we've grown significantly and while many of my colleagues are in Austin, a significant number of people work remotely from cities like Houston, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Vermont, and San Jose, to name a few. Even as a remote-work-friendly company, we are are still able to support all of our clients, even our largest ones with 24/7 operations and people distributed across the globe.
In October of 2019, Praecipio Consulting went 100% remote, which was in large part due to our efforts to become carbon neutral by the end of 2020. Previous to this, we had Work from Home Thursdays, where we set a few clear expectations:
- Be online and available from 9 am to 5 pm Central
- Your calendar must be up-to-date
- Camera must be on for all internal meetings
- Be mindful of meeting start/end times
- Use Slack or Zoom for 1:1 or impromptu meetings
The habits we built during that time positioned us to become entirely remote and prepared us for the world's current events. Below is an excerpt from our internal Confluence instance, where we manage all policy documentation and communication.
Best Practices for Working from Home
When working in an office, the routine of waking up, getting ready, commuting, etc., can start your day on the right foot. Even though we had Work from Home Thursdays, it became a lot more difficult to work from home every day. There are distractions: other people, pets, chores, solicitors. Here are some best practices that will help you transition from office culture to working remotely:
1. Establish a routine and stick with it
You've likely established a routine when going to the office or even to visit a client site every day. Now that you're working from home, it's easy to slip into bad habits. We joke about wearing a robe to work or forgetting to put on pants. However, this is a real thing. Working from home is a 10,000-hour skill; it takes some time to master.
- Maintain your morning routine
- Having a "commute" is helpful and gets your body moving. For some folks, it's taking kids to school or walking a pet. For others it might be going to the gym or for a run.
- Hygiene is important. If you typically bathe before work in the morning, continue to do so. Answering that email first thing in the morning while you are still in your pajamas can quickly lead to a day's worth of work without you realizing it.
- Wear "normal" clothes
- If you wouldn't wear it in the office, don't wear it when you're "at work".
- Set your end-of-day time and turn notifications off
- Set a lunchtime
- Inform others by blocking it on your calendar.
- Keep diverse snack/lunch options in your fridge and pantry.
- If you don't cook (or don't know how), reach out to others for ideas.
2. Create a designated space to call "your office"
This space should be all yours. Communicating the use of the space to anyone living with you is critical as well. If you're in "your office", other people should respect that space. At the same time, be respectful about working in your space too. Make sure you can keep background noise down so that you can focus when you're working. Either way, communicate clearly what your workspace is and stick to it.
- Designate an entire room, if possible, or area of your house as your workspace.
- Invest in a quality desk and office chair.
- Make sure that space is de-cluttered.
- Focus on ergonomics, not style.
- Try not to eat breakfast/lunch in your assigned work area.
3. Minimize distractions, stay focused on work and breaks
Distractions don't disappear when you're working from home instead of the office. Resist the urge to do things you wouldn't do at the office like watch TV, interact with social media, visit with your roommate or neighbors, or work from bed. It's important to practice self-discipline to stay focused on the task at hand and know when to take a break. Carve out parts of your day between tasks or meetings to stretch and to tend to things around the house like your pet, laundry, tidying up, or cooking.
- Minimize distractions like TV, social media, and those in your remote work environment.
- Schedule time for everyday tasks.
- Set a reminder to stretch regularly.
4. Set up a physical barrier between you and "your office"
It's important to have a physical barrier between your work space and your home space. At the beginning of the day, you should be ready to start, and at the end of the day, you will need to be "done." A physical barrier will help separate work and home life.
- Have a separate room or privacy screen.
- Close your laptop.
- Close the door.
5. Switch it up every once in a while
Once you've established your routine, make some small changes. Working remotely can be extremely isolating, and there are some weeks when you'll realize you haven't left your home all week or interacted with another human. While we are all currently practicing social distancing and only leaving our homes for the essentials, be sure you don't completely isolate yourselves. Take advantage of the technology available to virtually interact with colleagues and friends.
- Schedule a "virtual" lunch date or happy hour with a colleague or friend.
- Make time for exercise at home and block it off in your calendar.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood or complex with your dog or just yourself.
- Listen to a podcast during the time you set aside to tidy up or tend to your home.
For those working from home for the first time, we hope this will be helpful in the coming weeks. And for company leaders, we encourage you to use this time to explore the opportunities of technology and the benefits of working remotely.