Working from Home - a Primer
So we’ve all been asked to work from home. For those of us that don’t have a lot of experience doing this, it can seem very daunting. After all, work forms a major part of who we are - the majority of adults spend most of their waking hours at the office, and our jobs are central to our identities. Between working from home for the first time, partners, children, and pets underfoot, and the elephant in the room - the reason we’re currently all forced to work from home - it’s easy to see how this period can be riddled with anxiety and stress.
The aim of this guide is to provide you with tips on working better from home for as long as we’ll have to.
- Things to remember
- In conclusion
Things to remember
Be gentle on yourself and others
A good thing to remember is to be gentle on yourself. First of all, this is a stressful time - you might not be 100% on top of everything, and will need to make adjustments. It’s important to understand that you’ll need some time to adjust, and some working with you might need even more time than that. When faced with a disappointment, take a deep breath and remember that everyone’s adjusting to this.
Structure and habits help
When you go into the office, you’re aided by the habits of going to work - getting dressed, the commute, the change of environment, getting to your desk etc. For most of us, there are set hours - and most of us underestimate how that structure helps us manage our lives better.
Working from home has none of those obvious cues, but finding ways to build some of those into your daily WFH routine can help you be more productive and avoid burnout by reducing the feeling of your work and home lives bleeding into each other without any boundaries.
So what are some of the best rituals to maintain when working from home?
- can you designate an area of your house as your “office”, and consider to trip there your commute?
- can you resist the urge to attack work in your PJs, and instead “dress for work”?
- can you designate work hours, and not turn your work day to “as long as you’re awake”? These don’t need to be 9 am to 5 pm, but it does help if you manage to keep some consistency to them
- get some exercise in - it helps to keep your brain sharp
Dealing with distractions
This talk of structure is all well and good, but home is full of distractions. With schools closed, many of us are also dealing with children at home in addition to partners, pets, and Netflix. Let’s not forget that Facebook won’t check itself.
When it comes to partners, pets, and children, you will need to negotiate your individual situation. I’ll repeat the first point in this section - be gentle on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if your child or cat interrupts your video conference. Most of your colleagues are navigating similar situations, and are aware that you’re human.
It’s also helpful to think about working in short spurts, instead of attempting to work long periods. You can try using the Pomodoro technique - 25 minute intervals of focused work, with 5 minute breaks in between. You can then use longer breaks to be with your loved ones, or catch up on Instagram.
Communicating and Collaborating
One thing working from home has going for it is that there are far fewer meetings. One thing working from home has going against it is that there are far fewer meetings.
Video meetings and conference calls are great, but sometimes lack the full experience of being in the same room - especially because we miss out on a lot of non-verbal communication. However, that challenge presents an opportunity in increasing the fidelity of other forms of communication.
It’s important to note that remote work tends to be more asynchronous that working from the same office i.e. people are frequently not available at the same time. This difference means that people and organisations that work remotely need to be really good at communicating information to people that aren’t in front of them (physically or virtually).
In the absence of the collaboration that often occurs in physical spaces, writing plays a large part in great communication. Writing a great note or memo is a fantastic way to communicate your thinking to your colleagues. It also has the added benefit of clarifying your own thinking to you. So in this period, make it a habit to write more detailed notes about the work you’re doing, and how you’re going about it. You’ll find that your colleagues will feel more connected to the work you’re doing.
Some notes on managing remote teams
One of the biggest challenges with managing remote teams is the trust problem. Managers often ask “how do I know they’re working when I can’t see them?” The short answer is that you can’t, but you can extend trust to them, and track their outputs. Most people respond well to being treated with respect and the chance for autonomy.
The second piece is that leadership communication is essential at this time. Some experts on remote work recommend that, unlike what tends to occur in physical offices, written memos with instructions precede meetings. A detailed memo serves as a fantastic reference point for instructions - in a way that video meetings do not always deliver.
Speaking of video meetings…
You have a pretty decent suite of tools for remote work as is. Microsoft Teams is a very solid piece of communication software - and is a great way for people to stay on top of day-to-day communication.
Many people struggle with a great video call setup - and end up struggling with the way they look on video. A few tips that might help:
- it’s a good idea to raise your laptop so that the webcam is at eye level (if you’re working from a laptop). If you don’t have a laptop mount, a stack of books can do
- try to have the light shining on your face, as opposed to behind you. You can use a table lamp as your extra light source, or if your house is home to an influencer, a ring light.
- headphones can be great in reducing the echo on video calls
Some speculate remote is the future of work. Regardless of whether you agree or not, you should consider working from home as a great opportunity. Given time, you might find that you will do some of your best work from the corner of your dining table.
As usual, the entire Code for Canada team is happy to speak with you on this or any other related topics. Our contact details are at the end of this post.
- Notion’s Remote Work Wiki
- My two most important work-from-home tips by Sameer Vasta (ODS)
- Tandem’s Guide to Going Remote
- I Spent a Year in Space, and I Have Tips on Isolation to Share