My most productive days are the days I work from home. I get up, get ready, grab my coffee, and sit down at my desk just seconds later to start my day.
But it wasn’t always like that.
For first-timers, working from home can make it hard to get your bearings. It’s an abrupt shift, pushing you away from co-workers and forcing you to manage time, distractions, and boundaries in a new way. With companies turning to work from home as a precautionary measure, many people are finding themselves working from home for the first time.
In my workplace, we’ve built a work from home culture from the start in order to enable employees to flourish in their personal lives. “I started Alter Agents because I had seen parents, particularly moms, punished for having to choose between family and work. I wanted to create a place where personal lives were as respected and protected as the work you do,” Founder and CEO Rebecca Brooks explains. “In our business, our schedules are beholden to client demands and deadlines. But I am adamant that it not come at the expense of our employees’ health and morale.”
Since we’re a market research firm, I conducted an informal online focus group with some of my co-workers. Here are a few of their best practices to make sure that whether they’re in the office or working from home, the work process and office culture remain consistent.
1. Embrace Technology
We all know it: video chat is awkward. Unfortunately, it’s time to get over it. Video chat is an invaluable tool for ensuring that sharing and collaboration continue while the team is physically separate. Depending on your vendors, video chat tools may already be built into your communications platforms like Slack and Skype.
“I maintain open lines of communication through Slack all throughout the working day, both at a personal one to one level, and at a team level. We use screen shares to show each other what we are talking about and to collaborate. And while it was hard at first, even for a Millennial, using the webcam on the computer is incredibly useful – it lets everyone see that you are still working alongside the team, and allows for a more personal connection,” says Xavier Alvarez, a Director who works remotely full-time.
Alvarez continues “the traditional cons of working from home – lack of communication, siloing of personnel, etc. – are 100% overcome by technological improvements.”
2. Find the Right Tools
Different tools can serve different purposes as part of your impromptu communications suite. There are countless free and affordable platforms to help you with scheduling, document sharing, and communication. If you’re used to a lot of direct communication in the office, these tools can help to replace many of these functions.
Managing Director Eddie Francis adds “a scheduled Google hangout does the trick if we know we’re going to have to talk through a difficult problem with members both inside and outside the organization where understanding body language will be important. For something small, it could mean text messaging if you expect the conversation to be a quick back and forth lasting 1-2 minutes.”
3. Stay Connected, Formally and Informally
This may seem obvious, but working from home creates distance between employees. When you’re in an office, it’s easy to build and maintain collegiality through casual conversations, lunches, and office events. That informal team-building work is an important part of keeping a business functioning smoothly and maintaining office cohesion. When those organic opportunities disappear, it’s important to find replacements.
Don’t be afraid to schedule time for both formal meetings and more informal opportunities to touch base. “Team chemistry is a huge component to business success and it all starts with communication, whether that is in the office or at home,” explains Francis. “Shifting our communication styles and channels quickly and efficiently keeps our interactions less formal and more focused on maintaining that chemistry.”
4. Get Ready for Your Day
Treat your workday like a workday. “Keep your morning routine. Don’t let it turn into a slow burn just because you aren’t commuting, because it’ll subconsciously make you think it’s a lazy Saturday morning instead of a Tuesday with business to accomplish,” says Senior Research Analyst Clayton Southerly, who at a previous job worked nights from home for 2 years.
Alvarez advises “even though it sounds silly, I also get ready for work each morning and dress for work. While it’s super easy to just go sweatpants (or no pants) that intertwines work and personal life far too much for my comfort.”
5. Make a Work Space
It’s important to designate a space for work away from where you typically relax. “Do not work from your bed!” says Southerly. “Get up and move to a place in your home that is not a place of rest. The place you sleep or veg out to Netflix should stay that place, not the one where you need to focus.”
Southerly suggests a desk or a kitchen/dining room table. If you live somewhere small or share space with others, carving out space may be hard. If that’s the case, find small ways to alter your space that help you separate work time from personal time. Even shifting in small ways can help you structure your time when you’re working from home.
6. Set Boundaries
The transition to working from home can make it easy for boundaries between your work and personal life to break down. For Alvarez, this was initially a problem. “When I first went full time remote, there was a massive scope creep of my working hours,” he says. “My wife leaves for her office at 7, so I would just start working then. But then she would get home, and I would still be working. This had implications not only for my stress levels but for me and my wife’s relationship. So I scaled it back and set more traditional working hours.”
Setting boundaries around your availability to your co-workers is also important. “I’ve set email and slack to mute notifications after a certain time as well, so I won’t be tempted to go back and keep working – but I’ve let the team know that they can always reach out and text me if they need to” notes Alvarez.
7. Take Advantage of Your Time
Working from home has plenty of downsides, but there are upsides as well. Notably, you have no commute and you’re in your own space. Take advantage of both. “Since you are not commuting or otherwise spending time in an office, take advantage of self-care! Do a facemask (not during a video call), use a lunch break to clean a kitchen counter or other items that keep you feeling productive and fresh,” says Southerly.
“I do laundry, clean counters, and vacuum when I need a break” adds Alvarez.
If you or your team are now working from home for the first time, we hope these tips will help ease the transition. If you’re worried about managing your team from afar or just managing your own time, know that your worries are common, something we’ve all had to deal with if we work from home, whether for a week or permanently. With a little planning and the right tools, you can ensure that the transition is seamless, and perhaps decide to make your workplace a little more flexible on a permanent basis.