Until COVID-19 is contained, more companies are closing down their offices and sending employees to work from home. You might think of this as a chance to relax and slack off a bit. Or you can turn it into an opportunity.
We recently shared how to negotiate with your boss and turn a temporary remote work situation into a long-term one. If you want to make this an ongoing thing, you’ll have to first prove it works for you and your company. It's not about performing as well as you do at the office, but doing even better. Use these next few weeks to build trust with your employer and you can be working remotely even after the virus passes.
For those of us used to a structured office environment, here’s how to work from home for the first time, and be good at it.
Resist the beckoning whispers of your bed
You want to make this feel like your ideal work environment, not a makeshift one. Working from your bed or your couch may sound nice, but it’s not going to make you more productive. It’s going to make you want a nap. Working in a coffee shop on a laptop may seem like a novelty the first couple days. It’s going to be a pain in the ass by the end of the week.
Give yourself the tools you need to do your best work. Bring home your monitor, your Wacom tablet, whatever you normally use at work and set it all up in a corner of your house. If you can, choose a dedicated room where you won’t be distracted by your partner/roommates or the TV. Close the door and get to work.
You're working from home, not a remote island
More than anything, you have to be good at communicating if you want to be good at working from home. Your team dynamic now exists online and via phone. Without smart, intentional communication, relationships and productivity will disintegrate fast.
This doesn't mean you need to be chatting all day on Slack. Ideally, your boss would know you'll get the work done no matter when you're online, and hopefully soon, they will. It does mean you need to be available for your team when they need you – and even better, to communicate before they even know they need you.
Be proactive. Send a progress report at noon via Slack or email, letting your team know where you are with your projects. Share a few WIPS throughout the day to show your progress. If you’re going out for lunch or running an errand, let your team know beforehand and tell them when you’ll be back. You wouldn’t present your work in person without some explanation or reasoning behind it. So don’t dump it in an email or Slack message without the right details.
It's easy to make assumptions when you're on your own, and a wrong assumption can snowball fast into wasted time and a frustrated team. Overcommunicating cuts off assumptions at the quick.
Nobody is annoyed by proactive communication. They’re annoyed by coworkers they can’t reach when they need them. They're annoyed with coworkers who go off on their own and waste time making assumptions. Be a strong, proactive communicator and you've already mastered half of the remote working battle.
Beware the dangers of laundry and snacks
When you’re working from home, you’re surrounded by distracting temptations. You realize the kitchen needs to be cleaned. You really should throw in a load of laundry. You could get a head start on making dinner for once. Before you know it, it’s 6 p.m. and you’ve only logged two hours of work.
The beauty of working from home is that you can feasibly do your work and also get some chores done, take a long run or meet someone for lunch in between. But you have to manage your time and create structure around it, and you can’t leave your team hanging while you do it.
Plan your breaks strategically. Tell yourself you’ll get two hours of work done before you break to do laundry or have a snack. Aim to start your day by 9 a.m. so you can take a luxurious one-hour lunch at noon. However you structure it, stick to your plan and always give your team a heads up so they can plan around it too. This way, they’re not freaking out when you don’t respond on a deadline, and you can actually enjoy that lunch break without angry messages from your coworkers.
You're creative. Draw some lines.
It’s a funny thing. When you work from home, your family and friends tend to forget you’re still working. They see you at home on your laptop and assume you’re free to chat. They need a ride and call you to pick them up. Sometimes, you can, and that's the beauty of this set-up. But if the people in your life get too comfortable interrupting your workday, your focus and productivity will decline fast.
The best way to address this is to set boundaries from the beginning. If your partner or roommate is also at home during the day, make your headphones a sign of focus-mode. Let them know if your headphones are on, you're workin and not free to chat. Try to only check your phone on your scheduled breaks. Put yourself in a quiet room and close the door, creating the same effect as if you left for work.
And make boundaries for yourself. It’s easy to find yourself working late into the night, long past your scheduled hours, when you don’t have a full office of coworkers that empties out at 5 p.m. If you’ve been distracted all day by yourself and others, that may be necessary. But if you’re treating your remote work as a regular day, you should be able to log off like a regular day. Creating boundaries from the beginning protects you from your well-intentioned loved ones and yourself.
A patented, innovated solution we call "getting your work done."
The best way to prove yourself while working from home: By simply getting shit done. You could send a million emails over this next week or two, or keep that little green Slack light on perpetually, but it will mean nothing if you're not showing results.
You want your boss and your team to notice how well this is working during this "trial" period. Aim to do your best work, so there's no question about it. Don't just get the work done. Do it well. Overdeliver when you can. Your goal should be to surprise your boss by how productive this week was, so they're open to the idea of continuing even after COVID-19 passes.
Not everyone is good at working from home, especially at first when you’re used to office life. You can get better at it though, and if you enjoy it and prove yourself to your employer, you can make it happen long-term.
If working remotely sounds appealing but it’s never been an option for you, these next few weeks can play to your benefit. While your boss has no option but to send you home for your safety, take advantage and show them how well it can work – for you and for your company.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!