The key word in working from home (WFH) is “working.” Builders, consultants, and PR folks share tips for creating a productive space and routine for working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic
Chances are that working from home or managing your workforce remotely during a global pandemic wasn’t in any plan you filed away for emergencies. You’re not alone. It wasn’t for most companies.
When I founded NewGround during the last recession, I wanted to build my company using a remote workforce. This plan enabled me to hire the most talented people no matter where they lived, and I didn’t want to spend money on office space that could be better used to investment in talent and new technology.
The key word in working from home (WFH) is “working,” not watching TV, reading books, baking bread, and lounging in PJs. You and your team need discipline and motivation along with some new skills to make working remotely a success.
John Burns Real Estate Consulting was ahead of the game when it came to WFH workers. “John doesn’t like the word ‘remote,’ so we already had a ‘connected team member’ initiative in place and moved 100% to our homes in less than a day once COVID-19 required us to shelter from home,” said Kenneth S. Perlman, Principal | Consulting, at John Burns. “We’re certain that one result of this pandemic will be more working from home, and we wonder how many people currently hate their home work space.”
The virus has forced millions of people to WFH, and many are in spaces that aren’t set up for success. WFH isn’t an easy or seamless journey.
“If you enjoy live performances, chances are you love the social energy, atmosphere, and emotion the event provides,” said Rick Fletcher, divisional builder sales manager, Loan Depot. “The same is true for conducting business. Whether you’re in a leadership, operations, or sales role, our message, when delivered live and in person, has the ‘secret sauce’ to be compelling and influential in ways that are difficult to replicate in a virtual world. I’m challenged with how we can convey our message with the same impact.”
Will working from home be the new normal for everyone? For now it will, but at some point, offices will open again. Until then, here are some tips to help you manage your and your team’s time, stay on track, keep working, and stay healthy.
Remote workers should take advantage of technology, but don’t let it rule you
The first thing about working from home is you need a routine. Technology will help guide you. Ensure your team is following a routine and using the same technologies. NewGround relies on:
- GoToMeeting for teleconferencing and video conferencing
- Slack for immediate communication
- Google Docs for creative collaboration.
- Dropbox acts as our central server
- Basecamp for project management.
We also have weekly virtual meetings (like you would in the office in person) to check in on projects and ask if anyone needs help.
“What works for me right now is embracing the chaos,” said Alaina Money-Garman, founder and CEO, Garman Homes and Fresh Paint by Garman Homes. “Yes, I’m looking off camera on Zoom calls and trying to use mental telepathy to tell my kids to be quiet and get off the Wi-Fi. I’m also doing my best to pay attention, keep a good attitude, and emote as much as possible while on camera. Zoom calls and meetings require extra engagement. I nod a lot, I use my hands, I lean in ... anything to enhance the experience and increase the level of connection.”
Set ground rules with family members when working from home
When you have a houseful of family and pets, communicate with your loved ones about what your workday entails and their need to respect that. Whether it’s a video/phone conference or just much needed quiet time, communicate what times are off-limits. For conference calls, designate a quiet space for yourself, and be mindful of barking dog triggers, basically, anything that’s going to prompt the doorbell to ring. Not everyone in your home will be working, and you need to clearly communicate that you are.
“It’s not just working from home,” says Money-Garman, “it’s working from home with obstacles like homeschooling and procuring food, while also acknowledging unrealistic expectations like being productive all of the time. Pace yourself and, every once in a while, give yourself a break and pat yourself on the back.”
Carve out your own space for working at home
Sounds like a no-brainer but you and your remote staff will work better if you have a dedicated and comfortable spot to work, preferably separate from other members of the household. If possible, try to find a space with natural light. Sunshine is good for the soul. Also, buy some plants. They make the air healthier and bring life to your space.
“Some homeowners prefer a generic office at the front of the home with doors for privacy, while others embrace space and quiet wherever they can,” Perlman says. “With two working professionals at home, my wife and I are heavily utilizing our at-home office space, but are challenged to find two quiet spaces when we both need to be on the phone. With two younger boys, the concept of at-home school spaces is equally important and is closely aligned with home office space needs. Priorities include quiet environments with dedicated work spaces and a strong Internet connection.”
Develop a routine. This is very important. Only spend time in your workspace during work hours. You and your team need to create a work/life balance. Create a daily schedule similar to what you did when you worked outside the home.
“Focus on what you need to do, figure out the best time of day for your own productivity, and get to it,” says Teri Slavik-Tsuyuki, founder and principal of TST Ink, a community development and marketing consultancy. “Take a break and work around it, and when the day is over, turn the light off and live your life. You need to create space between your work and personal life more than ever.”
Remember, get up and get ready to start your day at your usual work start time, take normal breaks, eat your lunch at your regular time and outside of your office/desk area.
Find the right space and mindset for work
Try and set up a space that is just for work at your home but don’t become attached to it. Sure, occasionally take a call outside on a sunny day but have a place you can call your office. You have to avoid little mental setbacks because it takes an incredible amount of will and self-discipline to successfully work from home. “The one thing that has remained true for me always is mindset and focus,” Slavik-Tsuyuki says. “If you get that right, you can truly work from anywhere—and I have had many occasions where I have worked from an airport gate, approving content or discussing strategy.”
Conquer your remote-work challenges
As Fletcher says, “the greater challenge lies in overcoming the initial sense of isolation that working remotely presents. Can we recreate that on a mobile device or monitor? I know the answer is yes, and we must. Our message will be conveyed, the result achieved. Being good communicators now has new meaning.”
Indeed, it does and yes, working from home does have many challenges. Many reading this will be struggling. It takes discipline and some experience. Communicate with your staff, set boundaries, and learn from one another. You’ve got this. We’ve all got this. For more tips on working from home, visit the NewGround blog.