We’re watching the world get reshaped right before our very eyes. Our practices as businesses are shifting and have been for over a decade. For those of you who have worked for companies or managed companies that have been resistant to operating in a digital or virtual environment, the shifts that we can anticipate as we look ahead may be dramatic. Pre-COVID-19, nearly one-third of Americans worked from home. Thousands of employees, particularly in the education, health, retail, and manufacturing industries, have developed flexible schedules and remote programs. However, we’ve now watched that number dramatically spike across industries as the population adheres to health and safety precautions such as social distancing and sheltering-in-place. If you or your company is new to having “work-from-home” flexibility, here are a few tips from my playbook on how to manage the process.
Expand Your Company Or Team With Virtual In Mind
As the head of a digital marketing agency, I am no stranger to working virtual. For years, our team has operated with a mix of local and out-of-area employees. For our staff who live far from the office, we developed guidelines and procedures to allow our business to flourish despite the distance. For our staff close to home, we adopted a hybrid approach years ago to give our team the flexibility to mix in-office hours for brainstorming and team meetings along with working from home. Whether you are managing a team or a growing company, our recommendation is to begin with a “virtual” approach in mind. As you onboard new hires and your existing team, develop a list of best practices to guide your team on how to be productive when not in the office. Here is the list of tried-and-true best practices that our team developed to ensure success when working from home:
1. Set Your Workspace
As tempting as it is to just work from bed, resist that idea! You’re able to get too cozy and distracted there. To be your most productive self, choose a designated place in your home where you can focus on work. If you already have a home office, you’re one step ahead. If not, we recommend spots like your dining table or, if you’re a comfortable floor-sitter, your coffee table. Make sure you have enough space for documents and technology. It may help you to feel more official if you get ready for your workday like usual, too, by dressing in more professional attire.
Building your work environment at home may also include having headphones or baby-gates handy. The people and pets in your household can be a big distraction. Using these tools are good for mentally distancing yourself from any background activity around you, as well as serving as visual cues to others in your house that you’re in business-mode.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to the cleanliness and appropriateness of the décor around you. As many of us participate in virtual meetings abound right now, you want to be sure your wall art and decorations are suitable for professional video chatting.
2. Set Your Routine
Since you don’t have to get up and go to your job like normal, it’s easy to sleep in super late and multitask work and entertainment. Business waits for no one, however, and not giving it its due attention can cause you to make important mistakes. By planning a daily routine to keep you on track, you’ll accomplish much more.
This step is particularly crucial for upper management to instill in their teams. You have a lot of employees with varying lives to work around and keep track of. So, your calendars are your new best friend more than ever. Make sure everyone’s work calendars are visible to the whole team and that you’ve established with them what the new workday looks like. Are their hours to remain static, or is there more flexibility, and what are the procedures for if they need to make adjustments? Plan diligently with your Human Resources and IT departments so that you can seamlessly coach, delegate, and answer relevant questions.
I understand that sometimes this step can be particularly challenging, though, since many students are home from school. Your kids may need your help throughout the day, especially if you have children with special needs or mental health conditions who are struggling with all this change. Creating and keeping to a routine will be helpful to everyone in your household, though. Work together as a family to structure a daily plan to facilitate harmony and productivity for all.
3. Stay Connected
Being able to actually access your files, email, coworkers, and clients is essential. Before anything else, you’ll need a reliable internet connection. If this is an issue for you at home, check with the internet providers in your area to see if they’re expanding their availability during this health crisis.
Once you’re officially wireless, you’ll need to be able to communicate seamlessly. By now, you’ve probably heard of Zoom video conference services, since most schools are using it for online lectures and lessons. We’ve used Zoom for years along with Google Hangouts to ensure we can have team meetings and instant message each other frequently for fast responses. Other popular options for staying connected to your coworkers and clients are Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Google Hangouts.
Of course, some of you may have proprietary systems that are on specific technologies. As a business owner or manager, you may need to create or expand your policies on employees taking company software or hardware home with them. Some companies already have business laptops connected to a VPN so that teams can work from home without losing access to internal programs. If you’re a monitors-only office, you may need to grant outside access or reallocate budget for your staff to use special software on their personal devices. Again, work closely with your HR and IT departments to maximize your company’s cybersecurity.
4. Stay Healthy
I don’t just mean keeping a six-foot radius from others and washing your hands a lot (but please do those, too). Self-care is so extra important right now. Life may feel uprooted, you may feel lost or discouraged, boredom and loneliness creep on easily. Take both your physical and mental health seriously. As part of your daily routine, work in time for:
Cleaning (you and your home). At first, staying in your pajamas all day can feel freeing. However, still shower, dress, and groom like usual to stave off stagnancy. Tidying your home will help maintain the physical health of your family plus just make life easier.
Fitness. Not only will exercising keep you from feeling sluggish and rest-sore, but it’ll also increase your endorphins – one of the brain’s happiness chemicals!
Creativity. Don’t restrict your productivity to just business work. Paint along with a Bob Ross video, journal for an hour, practice an instrument, knit your cat a sweater. Do something to enrich your mind!
Quality meals. A well-balanced diet is always an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Snacks may be much more available now, but remember that grocery store trips are not.
Community. Self-isolation doesn’t mean completely cutting yourself off from everyone! Stay in touch with your friends, family, and special interest groups. And, if you’re having trouble coping with being cooped up, never feel afraid to ask for help from loved ones or mental health professionals.
Relaxation. All work and no play will make anyone stir-crazy. Once your work is done for the day, watch some Netflix and chill out! Play board games, tug rope with your dog, read a book – whatever you find fun and soothing. #TreatYoSelf!
Quality sleep. At the end of your successful day working from home, time to get some good rest. Sweet dreams!
We are all navigating this health crisis together as a global society. Thankfully, working from home was already an established practice for many, so we are able to provide tips and tricks such as these to keep your businesses operating like normal. However, I want to make sure you also understand that you absolutely should take advantage of this opportunity to spend more quality time with your family. It’s okay to have a little fun! For example, I have been doing Happy Hours on Zoom every Friday with a group of friends from college. We’re all sharing the same experience right now, so why not enjoy the moment and take some time to network or get to know colleagues or clients a little better?
There’s no set date for when everything will return to normal around this pandemic. It is your responsibility as a member of society, though, to do your part in making sure things are running as efficiently and safely as possible until then. Working from home can feel like a roadblock, but I hope these practices will help keep you sailing smooth! If you need some guidance on technology and procedures to do your best remote business, please contact me.