As we swirl with the latest COVID-19 news and working from home becomes the new normal, it can be tempting to let your professional hair down and trade business casual for really casual. Colleagues and customers understand that nothing is business as usual, but putting a few time-tested remote work concepts in place will help you manage productivity and enhance your professional presence in this strange new world.
Professionalism may be more important than ever.
Although working from home is a new reality for many forced into isolation by the global pandemic, many seasoned folks who have worked that way for years have advice on how to do it well.
Harvard Business School Professor, Tsedal Neeley, Ph.D., has helped companies manage disperse teams for twenty years and recently shared advice in a Q&A with Harvard Business Review subscribers on the most effective ways to do it. Drawing from her advice and many others, consider these ideas to make the most of remote work arrangements while we strive together to protect the health of our communities.
Carve out a workspace. Go ahead and move furniture, take over a bedroom, or commandeer the dining room table. Even a walk-in closet could be repurposed in a pinch. If you can find a small corner of your home to set up a make-shift desk and get a little privacy and quiet, it will go a long way.
“Don’t underestimate the basics like having pens, laptop, paper, a consistent work surface, a chair and charging outlets available in one place so you don’t spend half your day shuffling from one spot to another or trying to find things others may have moved,” suggests Stacia Hufnagel, CPA, who has worked as an accounting consultant from her home base of Atlanta for more than five years.
Look the part. Of course, sweatpants are a possibility — but not a great choice. Work-from-home veterans are the first to say, frankly, you need to shower and dress to feel like the competent professional you are. Of course, maintaining a professional appearance is also critical for video meetings with colleagues and customers.
In addition to your appearance for video calls, consider the room. Choose a simple background without too much light. Place your laptop at a comfortable height on a steady surface so you don’t make participants seasick with constant movement.
Stay connected. This is the time to over-communicate up, down and across the organization. Quickly share company updates with your team to decrease any sense of isolation and being out of the loop. Update your boss on progress and share ideas on how to support the business through this challenge. Check in with colleagues as you continue to support one another’s departments.
Prioritize connecting on a personal level too. You know how everyone chats about the weather, their kids and Netflix as you wait for folks to gather for in-person meetings? Make that happen virtually. Go around the ‘table’ and see how everyone is doing. Consider eating lunch together or scheduling a group video coffee break where you can share water cooler conversation.
Find something you can control. You might have to go pretty granular, but find something in your work life where you can exercise direct control and tune into that to lessen the sense of powerlessness. Maybe you can’t meet with customers in person or even fully supply their needs, but you can call to touch base and let them know how you’re working on their behalf. You can’t welcome people into your restaurants today, but are there creative ways to nourish people and help them and the company?
At the very least, exercise control over individual choices such as workspace clutter, dress, eating and a regular routine of self-care that includes sleep, working out, social connection (at a distance) and meditation.
Trust people. When people work remotely, there is less opportunity to manage process but still plenty of opportunity to monitor outcomes. Focus on deliverables and trust employees to meet them in a way that makes sense now. Harvard’s Professor Neeley emphasizes, “This is an era and a time in which we have to heed Ernest Hemingway’s advice,” she says: ‘The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.’”
And because we all need a little levity right now . . .
Lighthearted wisdom from the (remote) trenches
“If you opt to stay in sweats for the day, have a sweater or jacket nearby to throw on for video calls. You can go from relaxed to professional very quickly,” says Anne Bentley, Realtor.
“I’ve noticed working from home that my honey-do list has increased tenfold. I'll probably be putting the Christmas tree up next week,” says Paul Orsak, Director of Information Systems, Expeditors.
“Make a schedule but build in time to throw in a load of laundry or go for a walk —those are the advantages of working from home. Plus, if you don’t get something done that afternoon, you can always pick it up again in the evening,” says Amy Bobb, Assistant Editor, PA State Association of Township Supervisors.
“The hardest thing about working from home is not having a co-worker to blame for my mistakes,” jokes Rebecca Martin, The Herndon Group.