Everybody on the VPO team works remotely—and that’s how it’s been for over a decade! So as you and your team get your #workfromhome bearings, we offer you our tips and tricks.
We’re a tech firm specializing in developing and customizing software solutions for construction project management teams, so you might reasonably think that for us, technology is the primary focus. But in our company, humanity and humility come first. People are our priority, and we’re all in this together.
Now more than ever, we encourage you to embody cooperation, creativity, and compassion, and to foster that culture among your team members. Everybody's work-from-home situation is different, and it makes good business sense to recognize and remember that, and to work with it rather than trying to pretend that we all have identical home lives.
Someone on your team likely has children, and they may now be responsible for juggling a baby or toddler while helping older kids access and complete schoolwork during daylight hours on weekdays—with or without having the benefit of another adult in the home who can share caregiving responsibilities. Someone on your team likely has family or friends who are far away or otherwise isolated or struggling, whom they need to check in on and visit with virtually during daylight hours on weekdays. Someone on your team likely lives alone, and could use some non-work-related chatting each day too. You'll work more efficiently, and inspire greater loyalty, by embracing the flexibility that working remotely both requires and supports.
1. Create conditions for concentration and calm.
Use shared calendars to design and passively communicate not only your daily work hours—including your time zone—but also your planned focus time on particular projects and tasks, as well as personal commitments to yourself and your dependents. This way, your team members—and anyone else you share your calendar with—will know when your office “door” is open, and when you’re requesting interruption-free time periods. Respect the calendars that your team members share with you, and remember that it might make sense for you or a co-worker to schedule some work periods outside of typical working hours—when young kids are asleep, or when another adult could be more available to engage with or supervise children.
Make a transition between home and work. Leverage the commute time you’ve gained, to prepare your body and mind for working—by doing something like exercising, solving a puzzle, cooking a nutritious meal, or playing with your kids or pets. Then make your bed, and get dressed and ready as if you were going to the office. (Hard hat optional.)
Design, and re-design, your workspace to serve your individual needs and circumstances. Do the best you can, and expect the same of your co-workers. Since you’re not already set up to work exclusively from home, you may not have a separate room available with a door and a sun-filled window and a table—as would be ideal. You may need noise-canceling headphones or a Happy Light or a lap desk instead. Be creative, and discuss your concerns and requests with both your housemates and your team members.
Work your way; work like nobody’s watching. This is your chance to whistle while you work! Play an album or podcast you love, or enjoy complete silence. Stand up while you attend a Web meeting. Bounce on an exercise ball while you analyze a problem. Mutter to yourself while you type a proposal. Now is the time to discover or re-discover how you can really succeed.
Make peace with what’s new and give your team grace. (Please note: Your team includes yourself.) It’s OK to feel uncomfortable or awkward or even fearful. You certainly aren’t the only one. Acknowledge every lesson you learn, and every new tool you master. Change is hard even under optimal circumstances—for you and for everybody else. But you’ll probably start to notice that not only are you gaining your footing quickly, but in some ways you actually prefer working remotely.
2. Craft communications carefully.
Befriend technology that’s new to you, and use it to your advantage in cooperating with your co-workers. Remember that regardless of which videoconferencing software your team is using (GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype for Business, or one of many others available), Web meetings are only part of what makes working from home, work. Are you a Microsoft Office 365 user? Investigate the various other tools that Microsoft Teams also offers you--included with your license--for chatting, calling, sharing, collaborating, internal social media-style posts with commenting, and “presence management” (displaying your current availability status), which are particularly helpful for groups working remotely.
Compose clear messages that capture and convey your intentions, directions, deadlines, priorities, and questions--because you obviously can’t just pop into your colleague’s office right now for a spontaneous huddle. And that doesn’t have to be a problem! Once or twice in your career, there may have been a moment when you sat in a meeting thinking, ‘Why are we having a meeting about this?’ Including for those of us who’ve worked from home for many years, this pandemic requires that we form new co-working styles. Getting everybody together at a certain time is not always worth the stress or interruption it would cause—again, especially if someone on your team has young children. Before you call a meeting, type out an agenda. You may discover that your agenda is easily transformed into an email message, collaborative document, or internal post, that your team members can read, consider, and respond to at a time conducive to their concentrating on it. You’ll make progress, you’ll have a searchable record of plans and decisions, and nobody will have to worry about whether or not they’re on mute.
3. Conserve bandwidth.
Stagger internet use in your household whenever possible. Maybe your up-late/sleep-late teen can do Web-based schoolwork at night. Maybe your younger child can enjoy a downloaded book on a tablet, or watch a good, old DVD, while you’re sharing your screen in a video conference.
Schedule breaks and take them. A break doesn’t have to be a rigid recurring appointment on your calendar, but there does need to be Away time to prevent burnout. And don’t try to force stillness if that’s not what helps you relax and recharge. Use this time to move, create, or offer help. Toss in a load of laundry; phone a friend while you take your dog for a walk; “join” your neighbor for a distanced porch picnic; do an art project with your partner; have a dance party with your kids. Then set a timer that your housemates can see, so they’ll always know how many minutes it’ll be until your next break.
4. Call it a day.Wrap up and come to a stopping place with your work, that your calendar reflects. Then wind down, and actually stop. Maybe check in with one co-worker each day for a “watercooler” video chat, or meet online as a group on Friday afternoons for a tea and talk. Be human beings together.
Make a transition from work time back to home time. That fancy shirt you put on at the start of your work day? Exchange it for “play clothes,” to signal to yourself and your loved ones that you’re now more available for family life. Our company was founded in the ‘80s, in Pittsburgh, PA, USA, so we’re partial to children’s-television hero Mister Rogers around here. Maybe follow his lead; don a zippered cardigan and sing yourself out of the “office!”
Use whichever suggestions work for you, and share this list freely with the members of both your team and your household. Basically, be flexible and ready to adapt, and consider each other’s needs. And whatever you do, remember to move that load of laundry to the dryer.