Three years ago, I worked in an office. I managed a small team that also worked in the office, and we sat within 50 feet of each other. Today, I work from home. I again manage a small team, but this one is both remote and globally distributed. The shift from office to home office – as well as local to distributed team – has brought its share of challenges, but also some great benefits. As more workers are making the shift to a home office, I decided to share some personal insights and recommendations for making the shift easier to manage.
Working from home, as many people have recently discovered, has its ups and downs. But there are some distinct advantages for those with the discipline – and tools – to take advantage of this opportunity. Personally, I love the freedom of a 5-second commute. It means I can sleep in a little later, walk the dog a little farther, or spend a few more minutes relaxing at breakfast before I start my day. Simply eliminating the commute-related stress makes me more productive and allows me to focus better during the day. And if I do get stressed, I can take a break and walk the dog. Working from home also helps eliminate the in-office distractions – such as the extra loud talker two doors down, the office gossip who just has to share “the latest news,” and the constant hum of background noise – that can easily derail my day.
The primary challenge of working remotely comes in communicating and collaborating with my team, particularly since our time zones are nearly half a day apart. Before I joined the company, the team had already worked out adjusted hours, so we have an overlap of 2-3 working hours every day. That helps tremendously with coordination of tasks, as does using a task management tool such as ClickUp. (The only real problem I have is that I’m a night owl, so being “on the clock” by 7AM requires caffeine, and lots of it!)
ConnectALL has also made an investment in collaboration technology such as Slack, which makes it easy to start up a quick chat or live call with a colleague. In fact, it’s as easy as chatting with your cubicle neighbor in the office, with the added benefit of being able to decline a call if necessary. You can’t do that when someone is sitting 5 feet away talking your ear off! And as an added bonus, you won’t be distracted by the loud conference call happening two offices down.
We also use a tool called Sococo, which provides a virtual office layout. Everyone logged in is represented by an icon, and you can move around to the room or office of your choice. (The icons remind me of the Weepuls that were so popular in the 80s.) You can easily see where everyone is, if they’re available, and even if they’re talking with someone else. That way, you’ll be less likely to interrupt someone in the middle of another call. Need the whole team on a call? Gather them in a conference room! Sococo allows you to quickly start up an audio or video call with everyone in the room, as well as share your screen. Tools such as Slack and Sococo make it easy to feel connected with the team, even when you’re not sharing physical space.
I could go on at length about types of collaboration tools and other benefits of working at home, but they’ve been covered ad nauseam in many other blogs and articles. Instead, I’ll wrap up with a few recommendations for those making the shift to a home office:
- Set a daily work schedule and stick to it as much as possible. It’s easy to let work hours bleed into your personal time when you work from home, but don’t fall into that trap. You need your off time too, and that includes a lunch break.
- Don’t let “home activities” distract you. During working hours, you should be working; not doing the laundry, watching TV or cleaning the house. It’s easy to get distracted at home, so you have to cultivate discipline to avoid distractions.
- Backgrounds matter for video calls! If at all possible, make sure you have a nice (or at least neat) background if you’ll be on video calls often. Or take advantage of a virtual background if necessary. Just try to set up the virtual background in advance so you don’t derail a meeting (like I accidentally did once) by changing it in the middle of the call.
- Appearance matters for video calls too. No one expects you to be in a three-piece suit while working from home, but it’s best not to look like you just rolled out of bed, either. Brush your hair, make sure your pajamas don’t show, and hide the stash of junk food on your desk.
- Use clocks to your advantage. If you’re working with people in other time zones, get a clock and set it to their time zone. If you need multiple clocks, get fancy and make them an art display. You don’t want to be that coworker who calls a colleague in the middle of their night because you forgot the time difference.
- Control what you can and try not to stress about the rest. If you’ve got a dog, it will interrupt a meeting at least once by barking at the neighbors. Do your best to minimize disruptions but accept that they will happen. Most people are understanding, especially these days.
- Set up your office for comfort and usability. If you’re comfortable working from a bean bag chair, go for it. But for most people, a dedicated workspace is best, with a functional table/desk and a comfortable chair. Invest in a good chair, trust me!
- Find good technology and use it. There’s a host of good technology available for remote workers and distributed teams. Do your research, find what works best for your situation, and make the investment. It’ll pay off in terms of productivity, and help you stay more connected.
Is working from home right for you? Only you can make that decision. But hopefully my recommendations will help make the shift easier to manage.
And if you’re co-working from home with a spouse/partner or other family member, Soumya shares some good tips for doing so in her recent blog.
Director of Demand Generation at ConnectALL, responsible for overseeing and developing ConnectALL’s integrated marketing communications program. For more than 20 years, I’ve focused on marketing high-tech products in startups, from ideation to launch and beyond. In my role at ConnectALL, I manage a wide array of initiatives and communication channels, from brand and corporate messaging to social media, web marketing programs, and much more.