So, you're working from home …
For a while.
You've probably worked remotely before, and you're thinking, "I've got this!"
Odds are, you're mistaken. You don't have this. That's OK; this is an opportunity to learn new skills.
You can think of working from home much like someone moving into an entirely new environment. Your patterns of work might be optimized for working in an office, and they might not quite fit at home. You can think of this post as moving you from accommodating yourself to including yourself — reducing the friction that misspends your energy just to exist.
Now it's time to adapt. You need to adapt, your workday needs to adapt, and your environment needs to be adapted. So what can you do? Below is some advice — take it in the spirit of unsolicited advice on self-improvement. Some of these things will work for you; some of them won't. Many of these ideas work for me or people near me; they might or might not work for you. Give them a try, and be willing to learn and adapt.
Maybe you've been getting by with sitting on the couch or on the floor in the corner of your bedroom. Those might be all the choices you have, but you should consider some changes:
- Use an external monitor. One of the biggest productivity gains comes from useful screen real estate, so finding a way to get more is incredibly helpful to you. Paired with an external keyboard and mouse, you're also on your way to better ergonomics.
- Use a desk and a chair. Sitting on a couch for a long period is probably not healthy in a lot of ways. Can you fit in a sit/stand desk? Maybe you do need a different ergonomic choice, but make it deliberately.
- If you can dedicate a workspace, that's ideal. If you can't, consider a space that you can set up at the start of the workday, then tear it back down in the evening — so you have clearly delineated boundaries of when you're "in the office" instead of just chilling.
- Even if you can't dedicate a workspace, make a conscious effort to not take a meal (be it lunch, dinner, etc.) from where you are working. If you have a dedicated workspace, leave it and go to your kitchen, another room, or, if possible, outside for your meal. This should be time to mentally recharge as much as physically recharge. If you don't have a dedicated space, still take the time to close your laptop and do something that is not work. Your brain (and your similarly stressed co-workers) will thank you.
- Do you have a headset with a microphone to take meetings with? Gaming headsets can be an affordable and high-quality solution, or possibly Bluetooth earbuds. Anything is an improvement over just using your laptop's speakers. But also think about how your ears might feel after multiple hours using a device you're not familiar with. Maybe change between earbuds and a headset … or even just take a long break from videoconferencing.
- Wired Ethernet makes an enormous difference for videoconferencing — and for many of our other tools. Even if the cable has to get unplugged when you roll up your desk at the end of the day, this can be worth the trouble.
There's a good chance you're sharing your space with other people — a partner, some children, maybe roommates. Their needs will matter, too, and it's better for you to plan ahead with your schedules so that no one is disappointed.
- Do you have to homeschool small children? What does your plan look like for that, and how are you trading it off with your partner?
- Do you need to add daily household meetings to identify any issues?
You might be really excited about not having to waste time getting to the office because you can just hit work running. But take a moment to think about what you also do during your commute. Are you thinking about your schedule for the day? Working on a hard problem? Thinking about your kids? That's valuable mental time, which you should consider how to keep in your day so that you can gracefully transition between parts of your life.
- Can you go for a walk around the block (or further)?
- Can you set aside quiet time at the start and end of your day, before you dive into email?
- Make sure you take time for lunch. This might make a good time to check in with your colleagues in your co-working space or take quiet time for yourself. You might want to think about planning for those lunches to make sure you're making healthy choices rather than just grabbing whatever is available.
- Make a hard break. "Bye, kids, I'm headed to work!" can be a really powerful boundary to set.
Meeting culture is very location-centric, especially when that location is your headquarters. Some of that is a product of enterprise tools (many video solutions makes it hard to see more than a few participants at once, and the slight added latency over the Internet interacts with the human desire to jump in as the next speaker), some is a product of our organizations (meetings where 80% of the attendees are physically in one place), and some is a product of habit (sitting in a circle, which then excludes the video participants). This is an opportunity to work on more-inclusive meeting structures.
- Consider nonverbal cues for meeting participants to use to call for attention. If everyone is visible, that can be a raised hand; if that's not the case, then a chat backchannel can help.
- Work more on pauses between speakers. There is rarely a need to jump in instantly, and that's often seen as a behavior that is exclusionary anyway, so this is a good opportunity to evaluate it. Past three people, a moderator helps enormously — perhaps defaulting to whomever called the meeting or wrote the agenda.
- Consider working off a shared document with an agenda and notes so that some information flows can be faster-than-verbal. This might rely on everyone having more screen real estate.
- Think about the lighting. You should be able to clearly see your face, which generally means lights and windows should be in front of you, not behind you. It's always possible to learn from one call and revise or improve for the next one.
- Thirty-minute blocks are not fundamental to the universe. You can meet for 5 minutes or 15 — and jumping from chat to a video call for 5 minutes can unlock great work for you or your colleagues.
- As a last resort, disabling video can improve audio distortions, jitter, and latency in meetings.
Your Physical Wellness
When working from home, it can be really easy to fall into a rut with no physical activity. Perhaps you roll out of bed, grab a quick bite, and hop on a call. For a day, that's only a little bad, but that's a bad long-term pattern. Schedule your exercise time.
- Maybe take that long walk at the start of your day or after lunch.
- If you're fortunate enough to have a treadmill or stationary cycle in your house, maybe you take a walking meeting with a colleague.
- Look at how you can keep your body from stiffening from a lack of movement or poor ergonomics. Take stretch breaks. Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look out at something at least 20 feet away to prevent eyestrain. Consider how to incorporate physical wellness into your everyday routine.
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Your Emotional Wellness
Odds are you get some value out of occasionally talking to other human beings. Find ways to take care of your need for connection, even while you're practicing social distancing.
- Schedule open office hours. Open up a video chat and let colleagues join in. Maybe it's just a "hallway chat" that people can drop in for. Perhaps you have a tea-time theme and let people use tea as a conversation starter.
- Connect with people that you usually sit near but don't have meetings with. Check in with them.
- Think about what errands you run and how you can incorporate a little more social interaction into them.
- We're all saving on commute time. A work-social event, such as a knitting group or a distributed board game (for example, Words With Friends), may even be helpful and appropriate during your day.
Recognize that your colleagues are working through the same challenges that you are, and you can help them by both experimenting and by setting examples.
- Consider checking in and out at the start and end of your day. Especially if you're a manager, you'll be tempted to squeeze in some extra time out of the afternoon commute; but even if you tell your staff that they're done, they won't really believe it if you don't show them that you're done. They can't see you walk out of the office, so you have to tell them you are.
- Recognize that your colleagues may have to make different choices than you do. Maybe they're taking a few hours in the middle of the day to interact with their family. Maybe they're making food for more people. Perhaps they create a hard stop at 5 p.m. Honor their choices — and do so visibly — so they know you're supporting them.
- Remember that you're now a guest in your colleagues' homes — things you say might be overheard by their spouse or children, so be a more-gentle human.
I'd like to thank the helpful Akamai humans who contributed to the content here.
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