How to Work Remotelyby Susan Nemetz, March 2020
I write this on the day the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Like you, I am concerned for my family, friends, colleagues, and our country, let alone the world economy. Today’s e-conversation is focused on working remotely and how to succeed if that work approach is new to you.
Since its founding in late 2003, and other than when we are meeting directly with clients or working embedded on their site, everyone on The NemetzGroup team has worked remotely. This full-time remote working experience has helped us to understand the ups and downs (mostly ups) of how best to contribute professionally under these conditions.
Not surprisingly, there are now many good online resources to help guide remote workers. We found this one from the co-founder of FYI to be particularly on point and similar to our guidance. The authors pulled their insights from this report.
One thing we can say for sure: Working remotely every day is not the same as the once in a while of staying home to greet the cable guy. It’s the difference between vacationing in a foreign country and living there. The surroundings in both cases may be the same, but thriving over the longer term requires additional tools and a different mindset.
Here are some of the things we have learned and put in place at The NemetzGroup:
- We use video (Zoom) for almost all of our calls and nudge our clients to do the same. We have made it acceptable to show up to internal calls in workout gear and no make-up (ok, I rarely do that). Remember to use your mute button appropriately but be careful trusting it. Avoid bringing your camera-assisted computer into anyplace you do not want the team to see.
- We agree that during meetings, people are present and focused. This is more likely to occur on a Zoom meeting because when someone multitasks, everyone can see it.
- We over-communicate, to keep people in the loop on projects and workflow. We use email and text primarily, some use Slack.
- We recognize that when you work remotely, you are often more productive. Absent commuting, hallway chats, meeting transit, etc., 14-hour days are more the exception.
- We check-in on a personal level at the start of meetings/calls, to make sure that the “whole” life isn’t lost in the remote experience.
- We use shared files and have a clear naming convention so that people can find what they are looking for and advance the work. This is important for both version control and to accommodate a wide range of working hours.
- We let people know when we are “out of the office” or “away from our desk.” This is important since when off-site, others can’t see if you are in a meeting or not in your office.
- We invest in quality Wi-Fi, good monitors, and comfortable chairs.
- We are aware that “screen time and the blue light of devices” rises considerably when working remotely. We encourage the team to spend time away from their electronics during the work day.
- We take care of ourselves. We understand the benefits of getting up, walking around, going outside, drinking water, calling our parents, picking up kids from soccer, etc. These are among the benefits of working remotely but also are essential to avoid the feeling of isolation.
We are all going through a transition as this crisis unfolds, one filled with many changes and uncertainties. Expect to feel uneasy and even disoriented at times, and do your best to show compassion for others as they are also doing their best to adapt.
More Suggestions from the Team
We thought it might make sense to continue this conversation directly with people on our team who have the most experience. We asked them a variety of questions (using a Smartsheet Form) on the topic. A snapshot of their insights:
Make priority and to-do lists at the beginning of each day. Pre-schedule calls to avoid multiple calls/callbacks to reach an individual. Focus on a single project at a time, whenever possible. Schedule periodic email checks but don’t react to every email distraction immediately; triage emails using the notification feature on the phone.
You have to shower and brush your teeth at some point.
I don’t answer the house phone when I’m “at work.” I tell my family not to call me during work hours. I hire a dog sitter to walk my dogs during the day. In essence, when I go to the 3rd-floor office, I’m not “home.”
Call if an email chain requires more than two responses for clarity.
Regarding boundaries with kids who may also be home, I share my schedule and leave time for them to come in and ask questions. When my kids were younger, I coordinated with neighbors to “share care,” so on days when I may have a “lighter” workload, I could offer time blocks to watch kids. Reciprocity goes a long way.
Get to know your kids’ friends and their parents, and organize. Most of the parents appreciate a well-coordinated carpool (in excel with coordinated calendar invites) and other coordinated “playdates” to support everyone having a little time away with the kids.
Honestly, the ability to get quality work done in large quantities is one of the best things about working from home. So many times, when you are in an office environment, it is difficult to focus as sometimes, “whack a mole” mentality surfaces, and priorities become shuffled. You are physically out of the environment that perpetuates some of the chaos, so you can buckle down on work you need to get done.
During “working hours,” I primarily stay in my office, which is my productivity zone. I try to keep a to-do list of other items that I might think of during the day (groceries to buy, errands to run, things to do, etc.) so I can easily jot it down and not get distracted from work.
I also like to use various Spotify playlists to have some background noise, which I find helps keep me focused.
My kids have been made aware from a very young age that when I’m in my office, I’m not really here unless there is a real emergency. We have built a routine that the first moment the kids are home from school, and I’m not on the phone, I come downstairs for a couple of minutes to say hello and ask a few questions about their day, and talk about the plan for later in the day when I’m done with work.
One of the highlights is having the flexibility to go to special events in my children’s lives (plays, music concerts, sporting events) that I may not be able to do in an office setting.
The lack of interpersonal contact (other than through phone or video) can be challenging, so it is important to build some contact into your day at the gym, school, etc., if you can. People can also mistakenly assume that your work is not as important as someone who works out of the house.
I’ve always loved structure, but working remotely has taught me how important it is to not only be structured and organized, but also to be a little flexible too. Things change, and I’ve learned to roll with it.
Be upfront about the need to work. Or carve out a certain amount of time per day to interact with family and neighbors – and then stick to it. It’s all about boundaries.
There are days when it’s the end of the day, and I only have 500 steps on my watch. I have to make an effort to walk and get outside, or I can easily become a hermit. Also, the kitchen is always right around the corner so I have to make sure I have plenty of healthy snacks.
One of the great things about working from home is the ability to make home-cooked meals that take time to cook. It is easy to allocate a few minutes on an afternoon break for dinner prep.
Lack of interaction with colleagues and clients is the worst aspect of working at home. There are days that I do not talk to a single person during business hours if I am not on calls.
I make plans with my friends in advance, and most of them know that I have a full schedule at home. It is important to set boundaries.
I do my best to schedule work blocks a week ahead on my calendar to focus on specific projects to avoid jumping in and out of projects as much as possible.
Plan your days and weeks ahead. Schedule your work time, and carve out time to go for a walk, get some exercise, run an errand, take a break.
I try to give myself time in the morning to have my coffee and organize my task list before I check email (and add to the task list). I make sure to walk half an hour every day to get the heart rate up and to also stay physically and mentally well. I have a standing desk so that I’m not sitting with my legs crossed every day. I basically try to keep good habits.
Prepare a big salad to have on hand. It’s easy to grab nuts or a chunk of protein, but hard to get in the vegetables.
Sometimes I work into the wee hours of the night when other demands take up a part of my day, which can be a challenge. I can’t fit into “real clothes” anymore because I live in elastic waistbands and comfy clothes.
We know this is a challenging time, and working in this way across our entire industry is going to require compassion, flexibility, and open conversation. Let’s make sure we check in with one another and see how it is going.
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