I’ve had the good fortune (or some would say not so good fortune) of traveling a lot in my job and not being grounded in a specific office. As such, I have been able to master the art of communicating from afar, managing projects across various states and countries, and figuring out how to self-motivate each day.
Like a lot of people, I am most effective when I have consistency in my daily routine. My strategy is to “pretend” that I am going into the office each day, even though I’m not. Being that I have two kids in school, my early mornings are dedicated to helping them get situated. Once we’ve accomplished that, my work begins.
Studies have shown that what you wear to work can set your mood/tone for the day. Since I do a lot of video calls to interview candidates and interface with colleagues, I always make sure to look presentable and be camera ready in the event that someone requests to “see” me. For the record, I have never worn pajamas on the bottom! Why? Because I was once interviewing a candidate and when her phone fell on the floor during an interview, it was obvious she was wearing jogging shorts. I decided right then and there that I never wanted to be in that predicament.
I have a full office set-up in my home, with a door, so I am not easily disturbed. On my desk are the same things I would utilize in a professional office setting – tablet, keyboard, mouse, printer, pen jar, phone, earbuds, pictures of my family, etc. The office has a window and I always let the sunlight in, but make sure to adjust the blinds during video calls so that my background and lighting look professional. And, of course, I always start my day with a fresh cup of coffee and a glass of water.
Given that no one is here to guide me, I need to guide myself. This can be hard to do, especially if working from home for the first time. Prioritization is key. At the end of the previous workday, I usually send myself a bullet point list of what I need to accomplish the next day, while it’s fresh in my mind.
After checking emails and addressing the most pressing issues, my morning priorities are typically things that require a bit more strategic thinking, because the coffee is working in overdrive! For me, this may be client calls, proposal reviews, or responding to emails that need more than just a “yes or no” response. I also like to place a call to the team members with whom I am currently working most closely, just to check in and set the agenda and expectations for the day.
My day is very much determined by what my clients/colleagues need. I like to do as many video or phone call check-ins as possible, so as to not stay too far removed from people. Human connecting is important and healthy. Communicating solely through email or IM can really distance you and create a sense of isolation. There are plenty of tools and resources available to help facilitate with conversation and collaboration.
Regardless of how busy I am, I always block 30 minutes on my calendar to remind myself to go outside.
It’s a recurring meeting invite at 12:30 PM, when most people are at lunch or just catching up after lunch. On bad weather days, I still find a way to breath in fresh air, whether through a door or window.
When it comes to video meetings, I give people plenty of notice so they can prepare. I also set and send a detailed agenda in advance. It’s helpful at the beginning of a big video session to indicate how people can respond to questions or add their own insights. Will you call on them? Would you like them to place a comment in a chat section? Or would you like people to just blurt out answers? The more organized you can be, the more you will get accomplished, and the more the team will look forward to the next video meeting.
When working from home, it’s easy to lose track of time. You need to make sure you are standing up and walking around from time-to-time, as you would in an office setting. Some watches/apps have reminders for this very reason. I highly suggest using them so you don’t fall into the habit of staying seated all day.
Some individuals may have the challenge of working at home with children or significant others present. While it is not always possible to stick to it, I find that drafting up some sort of a schedule in the morning (with the kids’ input) can be helpful. Bribery of desserts or inexpensive items from Amazon go a long way, too.
Simply said, working from home is an adjustment. But the more you can replicate an office workday in your home, the more easily you will be able to focus and complete the work that needs to be done. No one formula is perfect for everyone. Determine what works for you and stick with it.
Emily A. Neill
Senior Managing Director
Robert Half Executive Search