Best practices for a remote workforce

As a virtual workforce quickly becomes the new norm for the time being, working from home is a major adjustment for some people. Distractions around the household can inhibit our productivity if our time and efforts aren’t managed correctly. While it may seem like a balancing act, there are certain ways you can remain on schedule, focused and productive at your home office. Check out the list of best practice tips to make the most of your virtual workspace.

Practice good meeting etiquette

Much of your professional interactions will be virtual now. Get good at it.

  • Turn on the video: Video conferencing should be your default versus audio. Why? To increase your accountability and credibility.
  • Be present and pay attention: We’ve all been guilty of trying to “multitask” when on a call but doing so is disrespectful to others. Another reason to do video calls–it’s hard to hide this when people are watching.
  • If anyone is remote, everyone is remote: When on a group call and some people are in the same physical space and others are remote, encourage all to log in separately as if they were remote. It makes for a more equitable communication experience.
  • Use agendas: This may sound obvious, but it isn’t.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Working from home is rife with potential intrusions by kids, pets and extraneous noises. Minimize these as much as possible knowing that it’s virtually impossible to eliminate them. Likewise, consider the background behind you when you are on video. It used to be necessary to use green screens and physical backdrops, but many videoconferencing apps have virtual backdrops and the ability to take the background out of focus while you stay in focus. Use these tools if you have any doubt about what’s behind you.
  • Headsets: Make sure you have a good microphone and test it before your calls. That’s for the benefit of the people you are talking to. Consider good earphones for your benefit so you can hear clearly. Automatic Noise Reduction (ANR) headsets work very well and will help remove extraneous sounds from your aural field.

Identify what makes you most productive

We are all different. Some people are more productive early, and others work better at night. Knowing your own style will help you be more productive.

  • Use this knowledge to differentiate when to do deep work vs. shallow work. Deep work is high value-added work that requires your best intellectual skills e.g. planning, writing, etc. Shallow work is the necessary but less taxing work like answering emails, checking voicemail etc.

Create boundaries between work and life

  • Physical: It’s best to carve out a space that is only or at least predominantly for work. If possible, have separate work and personal computers. If that’s not possible, do your work in your workspace only.
  • Clothing: Dress like you are at work–or more accurately, dress like you didn’t just get out of bed. Get out of the pajamas and sweats especially when on video.
  • Smell: Some people find that scented candles and other odorific tools cue them into work mode.
  • Sounds: Linking certain sounds to work can help build those connections e.g. music or even white noise.
  • Time: Block off work hours as much as possible. Make a schedule and do you best to stick with it.
    • Some use a “college class schedule” model – e.g. Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-3 is reserved for...
    • Consider “backtiming” like radio stations. Identify what time you want to “come home” from work and build your schedule backwards so that can occur.

Prioritize documentation and clear communication

  • Over communicate–it’s too easy to assume everyone understood what you meant or what you are doing. Don’t assume anything.
    • Develop agendas, outlines, minutes, and summaries of meetings and share that information regularly
    • Consider virtual white boards for collaboration
    • Write real-time documentation of discussions
    • Conduct post-mortems at end of projects
  • Purpose of project
  • What worked
  • What didn’t work
  • Lessons learned
    • Build in accountability: Should never be lack of clarity about who has what responsibility for what.

Make yourself visible at work–out of sight can mean out of mind

  • Communicate with managers and team what you are working on. Remember, you don’t have the option to just walk down the hall and have a conversation with someone to clarify something.
  • Schedule meetings regularly with managers, peers and direct reports.
  • Seek feedback–ask “are you getting what you need from me” “Was what I sent what you needed”?
  • Show availability using online scheduling–most schedulers allow you to mark personal items “private” so your time can be blocked off for personal tasks.

Focus on your health

  • Find time for exercise. There is probably no single thing that is more important for your health.
  • Schedule time for socializing–difficult to do physically when quarantined but there are virtual socialization opportunities.
    • Some teams are scheduling virtual happy hours to make up for lost work socializing activities.
  • Develop a personal growth plan. This is particularly true when work from home is coupled with COVID-19 quarantine. You have to be home anyway, maybe this is a good time to learn a new skill or take a course from the many virtual training sources available.

Although working from home or in a remote setting can be a major adjustment, it’s not impossible to maintain productivity and a healthy work-life balance. Do your best to keep a schedule and stick to it. Reach out to other associates if you need help or if you just need to vent. Afterall, we’re all in this together.