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Embracing the unique opportunity to learn “Work from Home” skill

Thanks to Coronavirus outbreak, we, like many of you, are home bound for the foreseeable future. I figure many professionals will be working from home for an extended period for the first time in their careers and I wanted to share my experience. Over the last four years, I have been mostly Work from Home (WFH). Through this blog, I share my learnings that may be of use to some of you and invite more companies to look at extending their WFH policies to support the requirements of modern workplace!

Having worked in an office set up for 15 years, my WFH experience started with fun during the first few weeks (independence!) to being very lonely after a few months (office sickness anyone?). At one point I even questioned if I was being productive, but now I am a self-certified AWESOME worker from home. I love the flexibility WFH offers and find that my overall effectiveness has gone up. Based on my personal experience, I am sharing a few tips that may help professionals looking to make this transition:

Ambience Matters – Prepare your working space and make yourself comfortable

It took me a while to figure out that WFH for an extended period required a dedicated “working space”. While the visuals of sitting on your “couch” and working through the day may appear appealing, it will not work for long. It is incredible how equipped our workspaces at work are, and so at a minimum:

Set up a secluded room/area with a comfortable chair and desk (standing desk is even better). Working from a couch/ bed is a “no-no” as it compromises both health and productivity!

  • Get required gadgets/essentials and arrange them like on your office desk. For me, my office organizer, lap desk, keyboard/mouse, headphone, printer, and other essentials such as various chargers and a globe make me feel at office!
  • Set time every day to clean up/organize your desk. Remember, this area (along with your laptop/phone) is where you may be having most of the germs.

Establish Your Routine – Find a pattern that works for you to avoid working long hours

It is very easy to get carried away while working from home – you may end up working double the hours or you may get consumed in a homely matter way beyond you want. The trick is to develop a routine with a defined start, break, and close time – start with something and adjust as needed.

  • Pretend as if you are going to the office and complete your morning routine. Starting your day in the pajamas may be very comforting, but you will end up being miserable by end of the day.
  • Closing on a set time is something very difficult for knowledge workers. I follow a rule – do not carry the laptop charger outside the office area and leave the office area at a set time every day. It works most of the times and enables me to time box my work hours!
  • Take scheduled breaks to do daily chores as well as meeting your family. A 30-45 min lunch break and a couple of 15-minute breaks during office time is standard. The best way to do this is to set reminders or block your calendar!

Set Expectations – Your family and peers will appreciate you

Working from home is not to be mistaken for working for home. Nor should you mistake your family to be working for you. Remember, you are a tenant during the workday. It is best to set the expectations:

  • Agree with your family on what they can and cannot do at certain times. You cannot expect 100% silence zone for all of your office hours. I have an agreement with my family to avoid domestic work that causes noise and to avoid conversations (with me) during two pockets of 3 hours each when most of my client and team calls happen. If there are calls outside of those pockets, I can only request.
  • A huge advantage of WFH is the flexible work timing. Whatever schedule works for you, communicate with your teams and clients and work out a mutually agreeable chunk of available common/collaboration time. If you have to step out during that block to attend an unscheduled domestic matter, keep them in the loop as you would at work!
  • Integrate your work and life creatively. Do some joint activity with your family (they are your colleagues for next few weeks). Help your parents with some domestic work, help your kid with his/her homework and give your partner some space.

Learn Virtual Collaboration – Find ways to reduce the distance between you and your teams

It can be very isolating and frustrating to be working alone. Therefore, it is very important to use latest tools that work in your organization to collaborate and socialize.

  • At my organization, we use our internal international bridge for phone calls, Microsoft Teams and Webex for screen share and video calls and the Office 365 suite for collaboration.
  • While WFH do not assume other team members know or understand what you are working on. Send out directions/instructions over phone and follow it up with emails/texts. At the start, over communication does not hurt!
  • Set aside some time for socializing in a week. Set calls with your friends to know what is happening elsewhere. Yammer, team chats and an intranet are great ways to socialize. Office gossips keep you alive.

Invest in Technology – Avoid unnecessary frustration for you or your team members

The biggest difference when WFH is the frequent meeting requests for phone/video calls you are required to take up. Few things that have helped me:

  • Invest in a good headset (preferably wireless and noise cancelling). This is necessary if you think you will be on call for more than a couple of hours every day. It is going to make your life so much easier. For example, I often meet my daily “move goal” during my morning calls where most of the time I am only a listener!
  • Revisit your internet connection plans – you need high-speed connectivity to use the modern collaboration tools. Otherwise, you will lose a lot of productive time leading to longer hours.
  • Learn the etiquettes of virtual meetings. Simple things such as announcing entry/departure, learning to mute/unmute when you are not talking/talking go a long way in maintaining team productivity and momentum. Remember, your colleague cannot see you (unless you are using video conferencing, which works great!), so learn to receive and give voice cues in-lieu of visual ones.

Integrate Work and Life – Take advantage of your flexibility

WFH offers unique opportunities to integrate work and life. May be you are stuck solving a problem – take a break and recharge; or, perhaps you never got an opportunity to interact with your kids during the day, now is your chance! Here are a few things that helped me:

  • Pending local situation, set time to go out at least once out of your home, for a walk or whatever pleases you
  • Give yourself projects for your free time during office hours and beyond that – it could be self-training, reading a book, investing additional time in your hobby, organize/clean up your wardrobe, or learn some new recipes!
  • Exercise, keep control on your taste buds, and do not turn your kitchen into a 24-hour pantry!
  • Take rest, do not binge watch latest favorite series, rather catch up on your lost sleep

As I reflect back, I realize it is an important art/skill in our professional career to be able to collaborate without being collocated, being productive without being monitored! Moving forward, if a company does not offer flexible WFH options, they are likely to lose the talent acquisition and retention game. While most companies associate this need from the millennials, I anticipate this becoming an expectation from all generations given the “forced” WFH experience due to the COVID-19 circumstances. Over the next few weeks, I hope most of us engage in a self-learning course in self-discipline and managing oneself to successfully WFH!

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