With all the recent actions taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, companies around the world have implemented remote work procedures in an effort to enhance the safety of workers while maintaining productivity essential to business success. Over the past two years, I have worked from home, while also traveling to work in my firm, Lambert & Co’s Grand Rapids office twice a month or so. This helped me establish a better connection with my colleagues, though in many instances, I had to make a much more concerted effort to be a part of the team. Given my experience, I thought I might share some tips to be more effective while working remotely.
First, there are the personal details that you might not think are important. After all, if we are working from our living room, can’t we just lounge in our pajamas all day? In my experience, I find I work best when I treat my day just like any other workday, I set my alarm, shower and get dressed, just like I would if I was going to the office. Of course, my office has a more relaxed dress code, so if you are used to business attire, you might tone down to something more business casual. Just keep in mind that with video conferences, your colleagues will be able to see you, and you’ll want to be presentable. As for getting going in the morning, follow your normal routine, and if you normally have an hour commute each way, you just won the work at home lottery! You’ll now have an extra two hours a day for yourself, either to sleep an hour later or spend more time with your family in the evening; though, consider starting work earlier, knowing that you might have interruptions working from home that you wouldn’t have in the office.
I also suggest that you control your work environment. This might mean working from a home office that you have already set up or selecting a specific area of your home that will serve as your workspace. I have a home office already, but that’s where I do most of my personal computer work, like checking e-mail, preparing for the class I teach, and working with non-profits. It tends to be a mess, so I’d rather not have a video call with piles of books in the background! My choice is a small kitchen high top that I have set up, so it mimics a standing desk since it sits a little higher, and the background is more subdued for video meetings. This also allows me a somewhat clear delineation of my work and personal spaces. Given you will now be working from where you live, be mindful of the potential distractions that a spouse, kids or pets can have on your work. This may mean setting up in a room with a door that can be closed when you don’t want to be disturbed; however, it is important to remember also to enjoy having your family around you while you work too. A final note on your environment – leave it occasionally! Even in quarantine times, I’ve found that taking a 20-30 minute walk at lunch really helps to clear my head and provides at least some activity and fresh air while maintaining my six-foot social distance perimeter. If you live in a city where you can’t go outside, consider an indoor walk on the treadmill or ride on the stationary bike. This serves as a clear break like you’d normally get at lunch.
Finally, you will leverage the best of technology to be effective in your new remote workspace. The new technology has made a huge difference in my remote work habits over just the past two months. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been real game changers when it comes to remote work. Lambert recently implemented Teams to connect remotely, and we now use the chat feature to completely replace Slack in our office. But Teams offers a lot more, as we can now start a video call just like we would walk down the hall to someone’s office. Having the ability to see the person you are talking to has great impact on your connectedness to your colleagues. Teams offers the ability to connect hundreds or thousands of people through remote meetings (we held our staff meeting via Teams and engaged offices in Grand Rapids, Detroit, New York, Phoenix and Buffalo, in addition to the few of us that regularly work remotely. Teams is also fully integrated into Outlook, so you can more easily schedule a Teams meeting right from your Outlook calendar. Finally, Teams makes is easy to remain social with your colleagues as well – I just scheduled a virtual happy hour where we can all share a snack and favorite beverage from each of our remote spaces.
Zoom is another great tool that I’ve used for teaching a class at IU South Bend. For teaching, Zoom offers a lot of additional tools, like a virtual whiteboard, waiting rooms for my virtual office hours, and easy integration within the IU academic systems. Both Teams and Zoom allow you to share your screens, which is helpful in collaborative projects. Ultimately, the greater collaboration, combined with being able to see your colleagues when you work together, has made my remote work experience much better and my working relationship with my professional team much closer.
We are in a very interesting time, and it’s up to each of us to make the most of it with the tools we have. So far, it seems many companies have been pleasantly surprised at the continued high levels of productivity of their people working remotely. Who knows, this may have permanent impacts on how we all work in the future.