While some of you are veteran remote workers, working from home, especially on a regular basis, might be new for others. The following are some best practices to help guide you through it.
Know your goals
You can quickly work yourself to nowhere by working on the wrong things. That’s why a goal-first approach is essential. This keeps everyone aligned and focused on what matters. It also gives you the clarity you need to start each day with a purpose. For example, a work from home best practice is to start each day by reviewing what you have done on previous days and list the three things you want to get done today.
Own your schedule
High performance teams do not work from 9-5. But the onus is still on you to stay in touch with your team. They need to trust that you are working on the right projects and not getting distracted throughout the day.
Before you sign off to help kids with schoolwork, have an honest conversation with your boss. Put your key goals for achievement on the table. Then, design a schedule that allows you to contribute in a way that suits you and keeps you on track to complete your to-dos. This gives you a sense of ownership and keeps your colleagues informed.
Organize your workspace
When you work in an office there are clear boundaries between work and home. When you work from home regularly, there is the freedom to work from your bed in pajamas. While this sounds like a luxury, this is a slippery slope.
A cluttered workspace and appearance send strong signals to those whom you communicate with. Colleagues notice piles of laundry and un-brushed hair on video calls. These can distract from tasks at hand by shifting your colleagues’ focus. And they can raise questions about how organized or committed you are.
A work from home best practice is having a designated workspace in your home. Whether this is a desk next to your kitchen or a whole home office does not matter so much. It is more important to have a specific space where you work and hold meetings. This helps you associate work with a unique spot. It also keeps the rest of your home free to live in — and becomes a signal of reliability for your team to count on.
Engage your colleagues
Set aside strategic times each day for email, meetings, projects, etc. This keeps your focus on the task at hand rather than constantly veering off course. Keep your calendar up to date and available to your colleagues. This lets them know what is on your plate and so they can plan their asks of you accordingly. It also allows you to hold yourself accountable. Last but not least, real-time work sessions using Microsoft Teams to keep teams engaged and cut down on miscommunication.
Promptly return emails, calls, and voicemails
Keep in mind that people tend to be more aware of time when working remotely. Fair or not, a colleague might find a four-hour response time to an email much too delayed when he or she is picturing you sitting at your desk at home all day. If a teammate is being too pushy when it comes to replies, have a direct conversation about expectations and timelines.
Limit Your Distractions
Working from home can bring a unique set of distractions. For example, dogs start barking when the mailman visits. The lack of separation between work and home makes it hard to control certain circumstances. Still, you should be mindful of your own concentration and those of your colleagues when you are in a meeting.
If you hold daily or weekly real-time work sessions with your team and/or boss, these sessions are crucial for collaboration, and any distractions will hinder productivity.
Try to work in a specific space with a door that limits loud noises. If there is noise beyond your control, take the initiative to mute yourself if you are on a conference call. And keep pets, partners, children, etc. out of your workspace.
Resolve Your Conflicts
Remote work does not remove the need for hard conversations. The opposite is often true — not everyone is built to work remotely, and some learn this the hard way on the job. Tough conversations will undoubtedly occur, so finding the right medium for them is a must.
There is no substitute for face-to-face video meetings. Anything less disrespects your work, your colleagues, and the issue at hand. Review employees’ calendars to see when they are free. Then, ask them via email or chat if they have time to jump on a video call at a specific time.
Prepare for this meeting as you would for an in-person discussion. Deliver difficult messages as quickly as possible and have next steps clearly outlined. Offer opportunities for your colleagues to speak and share their perspectives. If they have additional questions, let them know that you are happy to schedule a separate meeting at a time that works best for everyone.
This is a best practice for communication in general, but it’s even more important when you are working remotely. If you question whether your colleague will want to know something, share it.
Pay attention to ergonomics
Use the most comfortable chair you can with back support. Also consider investing in a hands-free headset. At the very least, pop in your earbuds for long phone calls. Don’t learn the hard way that sitting in a kitchen chair balancing a landline phone between your chin and shoulder is not a sustainable situation.
Take scheduled breaks
Try setting an alarm to get up and stretch every hour or so. Move to a separate area — away from your email — to eat lunch for 30 minutes. Breaking up the day and moving your body enables you to refresh and can increase your productivity when you return to your work.
While working remotely full-time is different than working in the office, remote work tools like Microsoft Teams make it more similar to the office environment than you might imagine. The biggest transition is often becoming familiar with your remote work tools. Click here for a quick tutorial on how to get started with Microsoft Teams.