More and more of us are working from home either by choice or due to the current pandemic. We have some tips for those of you new to remote work or managing an at-home workforce.
Tips for Remote Workers
Ensure you have current technology. If you expect to be working remotely for a while, you’ll want to make sure that you have the tools you need to do your work efficiently. The essentials include:
- A good laptop.
- A smartphone.
- Fast, secure, reliable internet.
- A printer/scanner.
- These are particularly helpful if you are in a Zoom or Skype meeting with more than one person. Wearing headphones will eliminate the echo effect caused by audio delays and voices bouncing back and forth from speakers to microphones.
Create a dedicated workspace. If you live with others, it is particularly important that you have a quiet space where you can concentrate on your work. But even if you live alone, it’s best to have an area designated for working that is separate from your living space. Working from home can make it difficult to “turn off” from work and you can start to feel as if you’re not able to relax and separate leisure and family time from working hours. If you can carve out a room or work area, it helps you keep a mental barrier between work and non-work life.
Protect your workspace from interruption. There are some issues you may not be able to control, such as road construction outside your window, or unwanted petitioners knocking at your door, but there are steps you can take to limit distractions. Put a note on your office door saying “Do Not Disturb” when you are in the middle of a meeting, put on some white noise to drown out the neighborhood kids playing, and remove non-work temptations from your office space. Try not to combine your office with a home gym, workshop, game room or sleeping area, as these items will cause your mind to wander to other chores you need to accomplish or other activities you’d rather be doing.
Create a routine. As a corollary to having a workspace apart from your living space, adhering to a regular schedule of working hours with pre-determined starting and quitting times will help you to maintain a healthy work/life balance as a remote employee or freelancer. Give yourself regular breaks with time limits the same as you would if you were working in a traditional office setting.
Increase communication with your employer and coworkers. Since you are not in a physical office with your coworkers, communication is even more key than ever before. No one can drop by your desk or office to check out what you’re working on and get your input on projects and issues. Get in the habit of providing daily updates to your employer and coworkers about the status of whatever you’re working on and anything you need from them.
Stage your video conferencing backdrop. One of the most-used online tools of at-home workers is video conferencing. If you are a remote employee or freelancer, you will almost undoubtedly be expected to participate in a video conference call at some point. Be sure that what your employer, client or coworkers see behind you isn’t distracting or unprofessional. Yes, there are features on products like Zoom to create a virtual background, but we don’t recommend it for several reasons. One, a fake beach scene or forest doesn’t look very professional and causes your meeting partners to wonder what you’re hiding. Two, it isn’t 100% reliable and could disappear mid-meeting. And three, it may use too much bandwidth and cause connectivity issues. Instead, try to place your computer in a way that the backdrop is either a blank wall, or shows an environment that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to have seen. Lighting should also be in front of you, illuminating your face rather than being behind, directly above or to your side.
Managing Remote Workers
Be willing to assist with necessary technology. If you are asking staff to work remotely due to a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, do not expect them to have all the needed electronics and software or the skills to use them. If they are contractors and freelancers, then they will most likely be equipped already with what they need for working remotely. But employees new to such an arrangement may need technical and financial assistance to get set up to work from home. Be prepared to reimburse employees for software and tools that they may have to purchase.
Establish expectations. How many times a day do you want your employees to report in and share updates? Who should they be reporting to? How should documents be shared? Set up a protocol and a routine and stick with it. It might be a great idea to start using an online time tracking software and ask your employees to clock in and out. This allows them to record their tasks so that you can see when everyone is working and what they are working on.
Establish a communication protocol. When managing a remote workforce, ensuring that communication happens regularly and effectively is particularly important. Let your team know if you want to hear from them via email, text, phone, video conferencing or some other online tool like Slack or an internal web chat system. Establish what hours you will be available and set clear ground rules for when you expect to be able to reach them as well. Schedule regular check-ins. Whether you use a video conferencing tool like Zoom or Skype or you simply do a daily or weekly phone call, set up a routine for when you will touch base.
Focus on results rather micro-managing schedules. Many employers worry about remote employees wasting time and “goofing off” as soon as they are out of the sightlines of their employers. If you try to spy on them or spend time worrying about keeping staff off the internet and wasting time, you will mostly just drive yourself and your employees crazy. Instead, set goals for tasks that you want them to accomplish and time frames to complete those tasks, and as long as the work is getting done in a timely manner, let the rest go.