How to be an effective work from home employee: 10 Tips!

It seems like it was just yesterday that we were at work with friends, co-workers, and the long talker that would trap folks for what seemed like hours to tell a random story about their weekend. Suddenly the world has changed and all of that is gone as millions of us have suddenly found ourselves forced to work from home. 

For those of us at home, our role now is to maximize the time to be the best possible worker we can while also balancing whatever may also be going on in the house as we deal with stir-crazy children, barking dogs and the reality of spending 100% of hour time with our family. 

It will come as a surprise to many to learn that the transition to working from home can be difficult. First, there is the design of the job itself. Your company may not have previously used tools like Zoom, Webex, Skype and others to connect workers with each other. Fortunately, these can be learned quickly if you have a tech leader that can help others to adapt. 

Next is the work at home transition for the individual employee that may have never had this opportunity before. The worker that is disciplined and structured at the office most likely will be this way as well at home and as a result will adapt quickly. The undisciplined and poorly focused person is going to struggle more and will need to have a solid plan for every workday and in some cases for every hour. 

I have been a remote worker in the past and now am that way again. Here are a few tips that I think will help.

Set up a dedicated space


Already have a home office space? Lucky you! If this is not something that you have already then make the most of a card table, kitchen table, or some other space that you can declare to everyone in the house, “this is where I work now”. Make sure you have plenty of room with good natural light and strong access to your internet connection. This is a great time to try using a stand-up desk and if you do not have that option be sure and get a quality chair since the one you have now may not be designed for long term sitting. 

Remove possible distractions


It can be easy to drift away from work and lose time to the constant stream of news that is blasting from the TV, the movie the children are watching or your various social media outlets. If these are a possible issue, turn them off and be sure your workspace is not near the temptation. There is no need to cut yourself completely off, just be reasonable with the amount of time. Have trouble staying away from the phone, use digital wellbeing, and other similar tools to set limits to your social media accounts.


Establish clear boundaries and rules with others at home


Working from home now is different than the old remote worker normal. Many employers before had clear rules for work from home employees including what to do about barking dogs, kids at home, and distractions. These rules will return but in this temporary world hopefully, most are providing some understanding and flexibility.
At the same time, it will benefit you and the others at home to have clear communication to understand when you are working and when you are available. A good thing here is to transfer much of the same discipline you are using over to the children as they “work” as well on chores and learning activities. If your work area has a door, consider posting a schedule so your new co-workers can be aware of important times when you will be in meetings and do not want to be interrupted. 

Take a shower

At first working from home can seem like a terrific form of a staycation with sweatpants, comfy shirt and lack of hygiene requirements. Even Ferris Bueller took a shower on his day off. The wake-up routine of getting ready for work combined with some decent casual clothes will help with the mental transition into work mode by providing a clear transition from not at work to at work.Those ratty sweatpants are a message to your mind that you are not at work and instead have moved to casual mode. Plus, with the extensive use of conferencing through cameras, it is still important to be mindful of your personal branding to demonstrate your level of professionalism. 


Create goals and checklists


It is always important to have a plan and to know when your todos have moved over to done. Without some set goals for the day, it can be too easy to lose focus, let the day slip by, and then by the end have no idea what was accomplished. Let your checklist help to bring a smile as you reflect back on your accomplishments at the end of another day of work. 

This is best to do at the end of each day and then again at the start of the next next. When you reach your stopping point, reflect on what you accomplished and then sketch out some goals for the next day. The following morning, it is time to tweak the plan with a few clear goals for the day.These goals should involve more than just work productivity as you will want to… 


Move!

On average, I would walk at least two miles during the normal course of the day. The restroom was well down the hall and so was the breakroom with coffee and people for a quick personal chat. At home, things are more compact and it can be way too easy to get into work mode and have very little physical change. 

Our minds are wired to work best in chunks. At least once an hour it is a good idea to do a quick walk around the house just to clear the head. Watch the health too as it can be very tempting to snack throughout the day due to easier food access. You will regret the bag of chips when it comes time to slip on the work clothes and you find you have expanded. 


Take a break


Yes a real break, this means at lunch to step away from the desk and do something very different. You could go for a nice walk around the block, spend some time interacting with your new co-workers (kids, dog, cat), or just do anything that is not work-related. 

Understand, it is okay to step away from the computer. Trust is especially important for WFH teams and your team will know the work is getting done even if you are away from your desk. If you are on a more structured team as far as requirements, make sure your lunchtimes and break times are clearly communicated with the team and manager. That will leave you with no guilt feelings or worry when away. 


Continue to collaborate


With the tech we have access to, there is no reason at all to work alone in a silo. Stay in touch with peers on your team with daily check-in calls, frequent e-mails or IM chat groups. This includes people from the fringes of your work circle as well. Out of sight can be out of mind and so this is a good time to reach out to experts in areas of the organization that may be able to provide you with insight or assistance. 


Stay social


Thousands of years of norms have wired us to live in tribes. It is not natural to be alone all the time and complete social isolation can have a negative impact on mental health. For your work tribe, take time to have non-work talks and sharing during a meeting. Consider a virtual webcam happy hour where work talk is banned and all the time is spent being personal.

What a great time to actually build deeper personal connections with your working peers and experts in your profession. Many teams are going deeper with each other with virtual team happy hours and other fun ways to get personal. Every day now is a bring your kid, cat, dog, fish to the workday. Keep these happy hours as a work-free zone and use them to build personal connections with each other. 

If using a webcam, keep in mind that not everyone may have the same level of workspace. This means not being judgemental of what you may see as you peak into the home of another. With that said, it is a good idea to test your camera view in advance to ensure what will show up behind you is work appropriate. Some video conferencing applications like Zoom and Teams allow you to modify backgrounds. If that is a concern, give it a try.

Plan a hard stop


If non-exempt, do not forget the rules regarding hourly work continue to apply. This means work should occur during the scheduled times and any work outside the agreed-upon boundaries should result in compensation. Just be sure and follow the guidelines you have been provided or ask for them if you do not have any. Most employers will ask for advance permission to work outside of expected hours just as they did before the move to working from home. 

For the exempt employee, stopping can be a difficult challenge since work is now always just a few steps away. The temptation to never stop can be strong for work from home employees especially if other teammates seem to always be online. As a team, this is a good opportunity to ensure it is understood that work is not intended to be 24X7. This is not the time to get into every day and every hour work habits as it is not healthy for you or for your family. 

Working from home can be a wonderful experience if treated with a positive attitude and strong discipline. You can get through this and may even find yourself thriving in many unexpected ways.

These are just a few tips based upon my work from home experiences. What about you? What are some of your top tips that you would share with others? 


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