Working From Home: Part 2
April 8, 2020 | Written by Frank Mastrobuono
In part 1 of the Jam Our in Your Jammies series, we covered some of the tools we utilize to collaborate as a remote team. While tools help us work more effectively, there is an equally, if not more important part of the equation: the human element.
This is the softer, but secretly more critical side of things; all the tools in the world won’t help you be more productive if you aren’t building your day upon a solid understanding of human nature and individual wellness. The world may have suddenly forced us to adapt to remote work, but in the quest for adaptation, we’ve stumbled upon a revelation: the constructs of our professional lives lack any real consideration of the human element by any modern standards. In all of this craziness, we have a tremendous opportunity to evolve the traditional societal notion of what it means to be a “professional.”
Here at PlanIT Geo™, we’ve been a remote company since inception. As such, we’ve gotten used to this human element of working from home. From our perspective, here’s a few guidelines to live by in your work from home life:
THE PEOPLE SIDE
The Golden Rule: people are human beings. period. the end.
We’re all human, it’s true. Your co-workers aren’t robots (yet). That means people have lives and families outside of the sterilized office environment you are used to seeing each other in every day. It can be easy to forget this when the only interaction you have with someone is in a consistent environment. If you’re video conferencing like most of us are, you’re going to have a literal window into your co-workers and clients’ lives, and they’re going to have the same for you. People don’t always share their personal situation at work, so be mindful to respect what you see.
Because people are human beings, they have other people in their lives.
Those of us familiar with remote work know that even if your home workspace is fortified like Fort Knox, at times that won’t stop even your toddler from barging in mid-conference calls. It is such an absolute truth of life that it even happened live on the BBC. It happens. It’s going to happen again. Be cool with it, no matter what side of the camera you’re on. You might even get to know your co-workers kids, significant others, and even pets. We share photos of cute fluffballs on the internet all day, why not do it over video conferences too?
Know thyself, and to thine own self be true
When you’re working from home, it’s all you. Your space. Your time. Your decisions. Also, your distractions. Know yourself. Do you thrive on a 15-minute guitar jam every now and then? Indulge, and maybe even structure it in. If you just go clean that bookshelf over there, will you come to in three hours realizing you’ve just spent your work-day re-organizing your storage closet? Structure your time.
If you’re introverted and do your best work in isolation, then remote work may be just for you. Extroverts, on the other hand, might work better by talking out a problem before formulating a plan of attack. In that case, know yourself, and schedule time to do exactly that over video conference with a trusted coworker.
Adjusting to working from home can indeed pose a challenge to those of us that have never done so before. Knowing yourself and your innate habits can help you transition by informing how to structure your time and surroundings to best mesh with your personality. Once you get in your flow, you’ll start to realize all the benefits working from home has to offer.
Outside of getting used to this “new normal,” if you haven’t worked from home it can be hard to get everything set up and started. We suggest considering these items while deciding where to place your new workspace and how to manage it.
THE APPLICATION SIDE
Construct Your Work Environment
Video conference background
Pick a spot in your home, zen out, and open up a video conference by yourself. See what it looks like on a full screen. Make the space visible to viewers by moving things around or repositioning yourself. Figure out the best lighting for the camera at that particular spot in the house. Some platforms allow you to set a virtual background, where you can take any photo and have it appear behind you, so you can convince your co-workers that you really do have an exquisite mahogany bookshelf filled with fine leather-bound editions of your own personal literary treasures.
Consider also any audio background. Do you live on a noisy street? You probably want to know where that mute button is so others on the call can easily hear everyone. Sometimes it can be nice to open a window for some fresh air, or others are in your house making noise. Just make sure to mute yourself when not speaking for everyone’s convenience.
Your work environment is also as much about your video conference background as it is about the environment in which you feel most productive. Most experts will recommend having a separate physical workspace in which you are able to do, and leave, your work. Aside from your background, what’s your workspace like for you as a human being? Are you comfortable? Do you want to spend 8 hours in this space? What will it take to get you there?
For many of us, this may not even be an option. If you don’t have the ability to create dedicated office space, that’s totally fine, and doesn’t have to be a hindrance to your work. If the one free space you have is with your laptop on the kitchen table,consider packing up your work items at the end of the day and clearing the space off for its intended domestic use. If you have a separate device for work, turn it off or silence it. If you don’t, consider snoozing notifications on work-related apps.
Keep hours like you’re still at the office
You may also want to set some controls on when and how you do work. Set normal working hours and stick to them. Resist the temptation to check your work email on your phone outside of them. Let those you live with know your working hours and ask them to respect them, meaning they shouldn’t interrupt you if you’re in your workspace unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you have a particularly noisy pet, maybe you want to make them comfortable in another room while you do your work.
Be intentional with time
We’re not sharing the same physical space when we’re working remotely, so there’s no opportunity for the perchance “hey, you did a really great job on that presentation yesterday” interactions that foster and develop the human element of a workplace. With remote work, those conversations, and all conversations must be structured. Many teams choose to implement a daily “stand-up” type meeting, so-named because in a traditional office environment, all participants stand for the duration to keep attention and emphasize the intention of the meeting: a short (no more than 20-30 minute) conversation just to say hello, catch up on everything going on, and maybe even just socialize for a bit. This is also a great opportunity for that “great presentation yesterday” comment that otherwise would just fall in place at the water-cooler. If this is the only meeting you have all day, it can do wonders for your sanity and keep you grounded in what’s actually going on with your organization and those around you.
There is some nuance to knowing “where” to hold a particular conversation. Need to ask a coworker a quick and general question about marketing that everyone could benefit from seeing? Put it in the marketing channel on your team messaging app and have a short exchange there. Is this a more in-depth, nuanced issue l requiring intense strategic discussion? Time for a video conference. If that’s the case, structure the conversation. Create a calendar appointment, set a time, include the relevant information to access the video conference, outline a basic agenda and send it to everyone who is participating.
Also schedule personal time.
BREAKS ARE OKAY, I PROMISE. You are a human being. You need them. It’s biological. If you don’t take them, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Routines and rituals are also a way to separate your workspace with other aspects of your life. If you like having a commute because it gives you time to think before you jump into things, schedule time in the morning to just sit and think before anything else. Many notable thinkers throughout history maintained the habit of going for walks every day. There’s actually plenty of research on how this type of “passive thinking” allows our brains to make connections they wouldn’t otherwise. For everyone’s benefit, schedule this type of time.
Micromanagement doesn’t work
If you don’t think you micromanage your employees, think again. The best managers hire talent they can trust to do their job without supervision, but also that are not afraid to ask for help. Encourage this mentality among your employees, and if you haven’t already, incorporate that into your hiring strategy. This is also a time to take risks. To step outside of our normal confines of thinking and operation. Our daily lives have changed drastically, very rapidly, and we’ll do better for ourselves if we adapt faster. Harness the power of the collective intellect of your organization by empowering employees to express their ideas for moving the ball forward, and giving them the support and space to produce results.
Frank Mastrobuono the author of the Jam Out in Your Jammies Series will be hosting a webinar
Working Remote, Tips and Tracks on Adapting to the “New Normal”
Thursday, April 9 at 12pm MT
Guest speakers include Lance Davisson, Raghav B., and Evan Sims. In this one hour webinar, attendees will learn how our team collaborates remotely on complex projects, hear from industry peers on how they’ve adapted to current logistic restrictions, and bring ideas to help us all find innovative ways to continue through this changing time.