Helpful tips and tricks for working from home.
Please note, the thing that will have the biggest impact is to consciously, actively, and continuously do the things that work for you and your team and to evaluate those things for improvement.
One of the best things you can do is create a routine. Now that you’re not commuting in some way – stopping by your favorite coffee shop or breakfast place before getting to work, you need something to replace that routine that was forced on you. You need to prime your “going to work pump” and get you in the right mindset to “be at work” and get work done. For example, my usual morning routine is
- I get up – usually around 6:00-6:30 AM
- I drink a big glass of water
- I work out
- I make a pot of coffee
- I shower
- I grab a cup of coffee and head to my “office”
- I read some news/reddit/twitter etc (maybe not so much these days)
- Now I’m ready for work, I check my running to-do list, email, Slack, and JIRA to see what the state of things are.
My day has begun and I’m ready to get going somewhere between 8 AM and 9 AM. This helps put me in the right place to be productive. I’ve found when I don’t follow a routine and jump directly into work, I’m more distractible and less focused. That said, the routine is flexible. If I don’t work out, I may read. If I don’t check out the news, I may go for a quick walk (more on walks later). What is important is it’s something that you enjoy, get used to and it puts you in the right place to WFH.
Take Regular Breaks
Sometimes marathon work sessions happen, you’re in the zone, tasks are getting knocked out one after the other, you lose track of time and the next thing you know it’s 6 PM and the day is done. Those are the exceptions rather than the rules for me. I’m not made to work a straight 8 or 9 hours a day, I’m pretty sure no one is.
So take breaks, long ones, short ones, experiment to see what works for you. For instance, on daysI’m “just not into it” I grab a small coffee cup and water container to force myself to get up more often to fill each.
I also set my work laptop to chime on the hour so I don’t lose track of the day. This helps me realize I’ve been sitting in front of the keyboard for too long and need to get up and walk around the desk for a minute or two, swap over the laundry, got outside for a bit, or go grab a cup of coffee.
You can also take virtual breaks with your team to get some social time in. Hop on zoom or a Slack call to talk about anything – it could be work, a fun question to answer, or what everyone did over the weekend – the point is to break out of what you were doing and change it up for a short time, then get back to it.
Create a Comfortable Workspace
One very important aspect of working at home is where you work. The novelty of working on the couch wears off at the first crick in your neck. Create a comfortable workspace for yourself. Get a good chair, face a window, set up a standing desk, whatever it is that will make you comfortable while you’re working. Once that’s set up, you’ve got another trigger that will help you get into the zone for working.
I even have a setup for travel working. This helps when I’m away from my normal space so I can feel comfortable and ready to go anywhere. I carry around a small Bluetooth keyboard, a wireless mouse and a laptop stand. My setup allows me to work pretty much anywhere comfortably. I look a little neurotic, but I’m also not uncomfortably hunched over my laptop at the airport or coffee shop.
Once you have your workspace, you can use it as your base. Work from other places – go to a coffee shop, work in your back yard or a park, go sit on your couch, now you have a comfortable place to return to you you feel that first pang of that crick in your neck.
Separate Personal and Work
It’s important that you are able to stop working when the work for the day is done. If your workspace is visible from where you relax at home, make an effort to transition that space from work to personal once your workday is done. This will help to keep you from constantly thinking about when you should be away from it doing your personal things.
For example, I swap out my work laptop for my personal laptop if I’m doing personal things at my normal desk. I’m also lucky enough to have plenty of room so I’m able to stay away from where I spend most of my time working and do personal computer things in another part of the house out of sight of the workspace.
If you can put your workspace behind a closed door, great, if not cover it up, disassemble it, do what you can to minimize its presence in your personal world. When you leave the office, you get to leave it, now you have to actively remove the office from your home. Trust me, it helps.
Be a Team
Get together regularly on video chats with your immediate team. This provides a sense of togetherness and comrade that goes missing when you’re not near each other every day. If it’s a regular meeting to discuss big picture items or a video call to chat while you’re all working on different tasks, it doesn’t really matter. Hang out, have fun, share gifs, and ask questions about what you’re working on, just like you would in the office.
Every few times you take a break, do so outside, even if the weather isn’t perfect. Getting out of your workspace is good, so is getting out of your home. Get some air, get away from the walls. You can also open windows or work on your patio, deck, porch for added outside time.
Talk to Other People About Other Things
Similar to the virtual breaks mentioned earlier. Use your breaks to talk to other people. In-person, on the phone, or video calls. Talking to others about non-work things gives your brain a chance to rest and revive itself. If you don’t have someone to talk to, read a book, listen to a podcast, or even meditate. The point is to be away from work for a bit.
Don’t Work All The Time
When your workspace is easily available, it’s very easy to work from 7 AM to 9 PM. Work hard to not do this. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it is necessary. Be conscious of your workday and find things to bookend them with. Make those bookends part of your routine.
Be Okay With Different – schedules, processes, communication styles
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is the need to talk to and get instant responses from people – learn to be okay with changing that expectation. When you’re working remotely, you don’t have the same opportunities to “be in the loop” for the real-time conversations that happen serendipitously. That’s okay and hopefully those who were in the loop communicate any interesting information and or action items that came from those conversations.
Some things you can do:
- Create those conversations for yourself during one of your breaks – hit up a teammate, see if they’re free and start up a conversation. It may lead to something, it may not – either way, that’s ok.
- Check-in with people in an asynchronous fashion – be okay with delayed responses
- Don’t assume someone knows what you’re referring to or asking about
- Understand others are in their own context, work hard to communicate your context and discover other’s context during conversations
- Share information openly – include as many people as you feel necessary, sometimes even more (depending on the communication channel)
- Work hard to provide as much related and helpful information around your communications – regardless of the communication channel
Some conversations require an immediate response. That’s okay too. The appropriate communication channels and styles need to be leveraged for these when remote.
This one is difficult. There are different communication channels and each has its own place and each can be used incorrectly. Here’s how I categorize communications:
- Requires immediate response
- Requires a response within a few hours
- Requires a response within a few days
- Is informational and does not require a response
There are also some communication tools that can be leveraged effectively for each of the categories:
- Video/Phone calls: Zoom, Slack, Google Meetings
- Instant messaging: Slack, Zoom Chat, Google Chat
- Email and/or forum applications
- Ticketing systems like JIRA
- Wikis like Confluence
Requires immediate response
This type of communication should be handled over the phone or video chat, initiated via instant message, and/or email, and with as few people as absolutely necessary to resolve the issue or come up with the next steps. These types of communications follow up calls may be necessary, but more likely should result in one or more of the other categories of communication.
Requires a response within a few hours
This can be handled in an instant message but might be better handled via email depending on the audience. Participants should be able to review and respond on their own time. Instant messages or additional emails can be used to bump specific individuals into participating in the conversations.
Requires a response within a few days
Email and forum apps are perfect for this. Any questions and their answers can be continued in the thread of emails. Be Mindful of the audience. Add people who may be interested or required if they are not included. Also, make sure to document important information and decisions in other tools (Tickets/JIRA, Wiki/Confluence, etc) and share where that documentation is in the thread. Once documented, continued conversations can happen in those places (JIRA comments or wiki edits and comments for example).
Is informational and does not require a response
This type of communication can be sent out via email to the correct audience and can exist in the email alone or some other place for documentation like a ticket or wiki.
- Comfortable, ergonomic chair
- A well-sized desk or table
- A sitting/standing desk or desk topper is a bonus
- Comfortable keyboard
- Another monitor + necessary connectors dongles
- Laptop stand or risers to put your screens at a better height
- A good set of headphones
- For video calls – noise canceling and wired are preferable. Wireless/Bluetooth headsets create a delay that can make video calls difficult.
- Wireless/Bluetooth for creating your own “space” is there are noises you can’t control
Tips for Video Calls
- Use wired headphones if you can
- Even if you’re the only one in the room
- Using the built-in mic or Bluetooth headphones create a delay that can degrade the video call and cause frustration
- Be on time or a little early to meetings
- Make sure to leave or create time between meetings – you need to take a break
- Be present and involved in the meeting, limit multi-tasking
- Turn on your camera it helps to see faces and expressions
- Mute your microphone and un-mute to talk
- Fill out your profile, specifically your name and title for whatever tool you’re using
- If you can auto-mute when you join calls
- Limit the number of people to allow for better interaction
- Allow space for others to talk and ask questions
- Identify those calls that are “presentation only” upfront
- Learn to use the collaboration available tools (shared whiteboards, break out rooms, etc)