How to Telecommute Successfully
We know change can be stressful, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Let us help!
Have you suddenly become a remote employee? Did you have a much different vision of what working from home was before you were thrown into deep end of the telecommuting pool? We have been a remote company for several years and have developed some best habits for our employees and would love to share with all of you.
Be honest - are you staying in your pajamas until well into the morning, or perhaps even afternoon? From a psychological perspective, wearing pajamas sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down, sleep, relax. We want to be awake, alert and focused.
Here are a few tips for your morning routine:
Wake up at the same time that you would if you were going into work.
Make your bed. This not only diminishes the temptation to get back into it, but studies show that making your bed is a keystone habit that leads to increased productivity.
Groom just as you would if you were going into work. You may not have to dress as formally as if going to the office but consider that you may be on camera now, sometimes on short notice. More importantly, if you look professional, you’re sending your brain the stimulus that you’re working.
Not all of us have the convenience of a home office. But it is still extremely important to create distinct boundaries for your workspace. Without this, it is a very slippery slope to working 7 days a week because there is no distinction between work time and off time. Bedrooms are for personal time, not work, so this is another boundary that is important to establish. If your bedroom is your only available option, create a space for work and only work in that space, not from your bed.
A separate room is ideal, but if that’s not an option, consider the following:
If possible, choose a space where household members don’t have to walk through to get somewhere else in the home.
Consider household noises – refrigerator, heater, hot water pipes. Keep in mind that these noises may interfere with your ability to hear people on the phone or cause interruptions in videoconferencing.
Consider outside noise – does the space face a busy street, an alley that might be problematic on trash pick-up days, face the noisiest neighbors on the block?
Make sure you have electrical outlets and the ability to charge your devices in your workspace.
Make sure you have adequate lighting. Working in a bright space helps you stay alert.
Internet and satellite access - make sure you’re not in a dark zone.
If you have several people in your home using internet at the same time, consider buying a Wi-Fi extender or increasing your speed with your provider. You may have to schedule internet time with other people in the house.
Most people have difficulty at first in working effectively from home. It seems like it would be so simple, until you do it. It may take you a few days or even a couple of weeks to get into a rhythm. Remember, your brain will be confused at first. You may have a very long-practiced “habit” that when you’re home, you’re off work. When you’re home, you do “home” things, like chores, relaxing, watching tv, etc. This means that at first, you must be disciplined in establishing a structure and new habits. Our brains like structure, so when working from home, you have to create that structure. Without it, you’ll find each day slips by and your productivity suffers.
The initial challenge is figuring out what works. Follow the guidelines we’re about to cover and try it for a few days. As you observe what works well, or what isn’t working at all, make adjustments and try that for a few more days. You may have to do this a few times before you strike the balance that works best for you.
Create a schedule and rigidly stick to it, at least for the first couple of weeks. This supports your brain in changing the very strong, automatic neural connections that tell you if you’re home, you’re off. Fill in every half-hour on your calendar. What time will you start your workday? Block off your tasks on the calendar. First half-hour, email. Next, return phone calls for an hour. Next, work on a report for a half hour. Include scheduled breaks on your calendar. Take a short break every 90 to 120 minutes. This allows your mind to reset and boosts productivity because it follows your natural ultradian rhythms.
With kids home from school and adults off work or also working remotely, boundaries are critical. Finding privacy and communicating boundaries can be challenging. It's hard to say, "hey, I'm still at work, leave me alone" to a significant other, but that’s what you may need to do, just perhaps in a more respectful or kind tone.
If other household members are not working, they have some trouble understanding why you’re not paying attention to them or why interrupting you is problematic. Have a conversation with any other adults in the household to discuss how you plan to do your work, what cooperation you need from them and agree on the ground rules.
You have to be firm. Share your schedule with all household members. Let others know when you have scheduled breaks so that they know when they can have your attention. If you have kids home from school, create a schedule for them that coincides with yours. Children need structure and this will not only help you get your work done, it will keep them calmer and feeling safer about what’s occurring in the world. Be sure to explain that while you want to spend all day hanging out with them, your job is important for the whole family and your clients, so you’ll need their support.
Make a two-sided sign – one to signify to others that you’re working, the other to let others know it’s okay to approach you. This is a great activity in the first week to have your kids work on. Have them draw a picture that indicates “quiet,” and another one that shows it’s okay to be noisy. If you have a private space, hang the sign on the door or door handle. If you’re working in a shared space, like the kitchen, hang it on the wall or place in a stand on the table.
Speaking of household chores
With more people at home for more time, our homes are going to get messier.
Create a chart of household assignments. Everyone needs assignments, including the children if you have any. This will not only help your family feel more unified, but it gives children the feeling that they are helping and that they have some control.
Explain to children that because of what is happening, everyone needs to pitch in. Make them feel they’re an important part of the program. Be sure to praise them for their good work. Let go of any perfectionistic expectations – they’re not going to do it as well as you do, but that’s so unimportant – let it go.
Quiet chores are an excellent activity for the kids while you’re working. They can fold laundry, wipe down countertops, put away toys.
During non-working hours or during your breaks, you can also make chores a fun activity. For 15 minutes, everyone has to work on their task standing only on one foot or while dancing to music, for example. Get creative.
Don't forget that not only are YOU new to telecommuting, but so are your supervisors most likely. Being patient with them at this time is crucial to a successful partnership. Supervisors need to clarify expectations of staff, be specific, provide deadlines, follow up on missed deadlines, and be in clear communication with staff and readily available for questions/concerns. If you have special circumstances, you should discuss with your supervisor as soon as possible. This can include schedule allowances for those with very young children or babies; lack of internet access; lack of equipment.
Clear communication is key to successfully managing remote relationships and work.
If you are struggling with being productive from home, ask for assistance.
The BEST Part
Telecommuting can be fun. Be grateful for every morning and evening that you’re at home instead of sitting in traffic. Enjoy the extra time you may have with family members. Once you’re following your schedule and working effectively, you’ll discover that you get a lot more work done than you did in the office. You might end up with extra free time! Plus you’re gaining an extra 5 to 10 hours a week by not having to drive to work. See the positive in the situation. What can you do with all of the time you’re saving in commuting? Spending more time with the family or yourself.
Sleep in a little later, get more exercise, meditate, read.
These are quite extraordinary times and we need to remember to be kind to ourselves and patient with others. Working from home can be very enjoyable, but not unless you start out disciplined to solidify an effective structure. It’s very important that you remain self-aware. Depending on how long this situation lasts, spending day-after-day by yourself can be extremely isolating. This can lead to depression, so it’s important that you take action if you begin to feel sad or lethargic or if you notice that your motivation is dropping.
Under normal circumstances, I suggest that you get out of the house and around other people, but since that may not be possible, we’ll have to get creative. Take a walk or multiple short walks each day. Getting outside, even for brief periods is very helpful. Playing music, calling a friend or relative and chat for a few minutes, turning on the television tuned into a talk show, or a regular show or movie that you’ve already seen...these can all help boost your mood if you're starting to feel down or lonely.
More on Kids
If you have very young children at home, the ideal suggestion would be to have someone help you. If that’s not possible, you’ll need to prepare yourself for longer workdays. If there is another adult in the household, schedule set times for each of you to have uninterrupted work time while the other cares for the kids. Switch roles on a regular schedule so that both of you can address your work needs and your family’s needs.
Children need to move, so include physical activities in their schedules. Kids will find it fun to exercise with you and you need to move, too, so this might be a good use of work breaks.
Use your lunch break to eat with family members. This provides them with needed attention, it gives you a break from thinking about work and studies show that eating together strengthens children’s ability to do well in their studies.
This event may be the tipping point regarding remote work. Many companies have been resistant to shifting to telecommuting, but this event is going to provide a massive “test,” which if successful, means many more companies may switch to this format permanently. It saves time, which increases productivity; it saves money in the form of time, parking and real estate; and it reduces pollution by reducing cars on the road.
While there are many benefits to telecommuting, it is a major change in our way of life and we’ll need to share experiences and concerns. This will help us develop best practices for productivity while considering important self-care practices to ensure our well-being.
Most importantly, keep in mind that while none of us knows what daily life will look like in a few months, we do know that we have each other. We know it will pass. As anxiety or frustration arises along the way, take deep breaths, focus on your loved ones and take care of yourself. We can and will get through this together. Be patient. Be mindful.