by Lindsey Gage
An unprecedented number of people have found themselves suddenly thrust into the new normal of working from home. Having worked exclusively from home for the last six years and having created a 100% remote team culture at Adamantine Energy, I’ve had friends and former colleagues reach out for some quick tips on how to adjust to working remotely.
Don’t get it twisted.
First things first, this is not your standard remote working. Those of us who have worked this way for years are finding ourselves needing to adjust. My previous normal included full-time childcare, a favorite nook at my local coffee shop for when I needed a change of scenery, girls’ nights and date nights for contact with other adults, and quarterly in-person meetings with my team. These are long gone for the foreseeable future.
I’m a big believer that remote and distributed teams are the future of workforce, but don’t let your current experience color your opinion. We are all working from home in the midst of a shared public health and economic crisis. Nothing about this is normal.
That preamble aside, here are some takeaways after years of trial and error to hit my remote working stride:
Set boundaries, then keep them.
- Set your work hours and stick to them. If not, you will work constantly and be on the fast train to burnout. These hours can be flexible to your work and family priorities (that’s the beauty of working from home). You may find that you need to work a couple of hours each evening after the kids have gone to bed to make your deadlines. The flip side of that is you may need to take a couple of hours in the middle of the day to build the tallest LEGO tower ever, take the pup for a walk around the block, or fit in a mid-day yoga and meditation practice to stay well. You do need to set some cues or traditions to mark the start and end of your day so that work doesn’t bleed over into your personal life. For me, that means at 5:00pm I close out of my devices for three hours of family time. Some evenings, I need to hop back on after bedtime routines are done, and some evenings I skip straight to Netflix, but those three hours are carved out regardless.
- Set ground rules with roommates and family. We’ve all seen the now infamous video of the dad on a Skype interview when his precocious daughter wanders in. Everyone is dealing with some sort of home distraction now and there is an understanding for interruptions right now, but that doesn’t mean that some basic ground rules won’t help. What has worked well for me is blocking time in the morning to spend 1-on-1 time with my son, make breakfast and help him with some of his online learning. Then I work in 45-minute blocks, taking 15-minute breaks to interact with him. I’m clear with him when he cannot interrupt (“Mommy is leading a video call for the next hour”) and providing him with quiet activities to keep him occupied (read: screens and snacks). Now if I can only get my dog to comply! The biggest cause of strife in relationships is unmet expectations, so clearly communicate with the people in your home exactly what you need and work together to make sure that everyone is getting their needs met.
Stay connected (from a distance).
So much of what makes communication in the traditional office environment fluid, is the ability to pop into someone’s office for a quick brainstorm or overhearing a conversation in the break room that gives you a bright idea on how to contribute to a project. Working from home introduces the concept of opportunity isolation. This Forbes article highlights this shortcoming of remote work, but don’t lose hope! This can be overcome, but it will take some effort on your part. Reminder: we can do hard things.
- This is not Castaway…although you may feel like talking to a volleyball from time to time. When you work remotely, you must consciously work to overcome opportunity isolation and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening with your team, and your company.
- Gather your intel squad.You aren’t in the office or in regular in-person meetings with your team and allies, but you can work to gather information virtually. Make continual check-ins with your key contacts a priority. Ask questions like “How does the world look to you?” or request a virtual brainstorm when you’re stuck on a project. Be prepared to share information to provide value in exchange.
- Do your homework. Find 3 key sources of information (in your company or industry-wide) and check them with diligence so you are informed about what is going on outside of your home office and outside of your scope of work.
- Internal-to-your company examples:
- Shareholder communications
- Workgroup meeting notes
- Company department updates and memos
- Asking to sit in on another team’s meeting to gain perspective
- External-to-your-job examples:
- Economic news sources
- Industry specific news sources
- Searching key words around your industry (set up a google alert!)
- Trade association communications and specific issue committee updates
- Applicable state agency communications
- Internal-to-your company examples:
- Come correct. When you log on for a zoom meeting, be prepared and present. Do not zone out on your phone off screen or check and reply to emails. Treat that time like you would if you were gathered in person. Bring your best self, bright ideas, and contributions to the virtual table. It will be noticed.
- Make some space for fun. One of my innate gifts is communicating with memes and GIFs. (you’ve been warned).
- You know who your people are that appreciate a funny text or email. Bring some levity with your team and don’t omit your bosses. They could use a well-timed funny or uplifting message too!
- Shine a light on your crib. Our team took turns filming our home offices MTV Cribs style to show each other the beauty (and chaos) of our home office set-ups. It was an intimate look into our day-to-day lives and helped us all to better picture each other’s working world.
- Zoom Party. First off, know your audience. What might be a riot for your working group meeting might not be appropriate for your board of directors. Use good judgement, but here are some of my favorite virtual backgrounds for your next Zoom conference. The Office Conference Room, The Simpsons Living Room, and the Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic. You are welcome.
- Slack off.If your team utilizes a messaging platform like Slack, set up a channel devoted to things that make you smile or like my favorite Podcast, The Popcast, says “Educating you on things that entertain, but do not matter.”
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
It is now more important than ever to communicate clearly, effectively, and carefully. We are on week five of self-isolation at my house and I’ll be honest, some days my nerves are frayed, and my patience is thin. Everyone is growing weary and we must be extra vigilant in how we communicate with one another.
- Watch.Your.Tone. Go the extra mile to review communications before sending. Over communicate to ensure clarity. Read through again for anything that may seem tone deaf given our current crisis. If you doubt how your message will be received, pick up the phone or hop on a video call so your intentions can be clear.
- Practice Transparency & Vulnerability. Admit when you are struggling or need help. Our team has adopted a well-being check-in at the top of every weekly agenda. We take a moment share what’s working, what isn’t, where we need support, and what’s saving our life that week (last week for me it was YouTube tutorials, melatonin gummies, and my patron saint, Brené Brown)
Give yourself some grace.
There is comfort in knowing that everyone has been rocked back on their heels in the last several weeks. Our attention is being pulled in so many different directions: Staying informed, staying healthy physically and mentally, caring for family, homeschooling, and the cherry on top – attempting to work a full-time job! Somehow perfection seems out of reach, so just let that one go. Like my dad used to tell me each morning before school, all you can do is your best.
So, what’s working for you? I’d love to hear from you and compile and share some work-from-home victories! Have you hit a wall or have other remote work questions? I’m all ears.