By Tina Bates, CAE
Chances are, many of you have been working from home (WFH) for weeks now. As the VSCPA’s vice president, innovation, I’ve been working remotely from Charleston, S.C., for nearly six years. So while many of my colleagues have had to navigate the “new WFH normal,” I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. Even if you’ve got this WFH thing down, here are few guidelines I rely on.
You may be at home, but that doesn’t mean communication stops. In recent studies of remote workers, the No. 1 challenge by far is always communication. Videoconference or pick up the phone first. Don’t solely rely on chat apps and email to communicate with each other. It’s harder to read body language, have water cooler talks or pop in for quick conversations when you are remote. Need touch base with your boss, your staff or a teammate? Do it via videoconference so you can “see” each other and attempt to create that in-person touch. The same goes for any difficult conversations you may need to have with coworkers.
Get your home office somewhat workable.
If you’re still dangling your laptop off your kitchen island or contorting your body on an uncomfortable barstool, for goodness’ sake do your body a favor. Set yourself up for success by finding a dedicated space in your home free of distractions for your office and workstation. A room with low/no traffic and lower noise level is ideal, but even a small desk in the corner of a bedroom could do the trick. Get a good, supportive chair. And try to stick to your normal schedule. Wake up at the same time as normal, eat lunch at the same time every day. Consistency is key.
Make yourself accessible and visible (At least from the waist up.)
All this means is, be responsive and use video as much as possible. You may be WFH but you haven’t disappeared into a black hole. Wear your sweatpants if you want to. But make sure you’re responding timely to your coworkers and set expectations for when you’re available or not. Even entering a profile picture into your video conferencing software makes others feel your presence. And reach out to coworkers just to say hello!
Set boundaries, whatever those look like for you.
You may LOVE to have the dog snuggled at your feet. Or you may want to kick him out of the office due to incessant whining. Whatever you need to do to be productive, set your boundaries and stick to them. Pay attention to what you need to do to separate work and life. Track your time and make sure you’re not overworking.
As in, get up and away of your desk and take mental breaks. Without distractions of co-workers talking to you outside your cube about Tiger King (well except for your kids bugging you at home!), you may find yourself sitting for hours at a time without any mental pause. Maybe set a timer on your computer or smart watch to get up for a break every 50 minutes. Whatever you need to do to give your mind and body a break, make it happen.
Just shut those social media windows.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is such a thing as losing focus! If you can’t stay away from social media, get it away from you. Keep the Facebook and LinkedIn window closed. Set a 10-minute window during the workday to check Instagram. Don’t allow yourself to get amped up watching the COVID-19 infection tracker. Download an app that blocks problematic websites. Whatever you decide to do will be based on your own needs. But be honest with yourself, identify distractions and make a plan to manage them.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
There’s no shame in reaching out to colleagues to help you if your technology isn’t functioning or you’re just struggling to adapt. If this is your first time WFH, give yourself a bit of grace and understand that there is a learning curve. Notice a dip in your productivity? Becoming anxious? Caring for a sick relative or stuck at home with young children? Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Keep lines of communication open with your employer.
Be patient and kind — with coworkers but yourself, too.
There are all different levels of remote workers, from veterans to newbies. Everyone is navigating new technologies, new work habits, varied productivity and widely differing stress levels. Be patient, supportive, forgiving and honest with each other. We're all in this together!
Who knows how long this “new normal” will last, but remote working is likely here to stay. Take these tips to heart and you’ll be a pro in no time. Feel free to reach out if I can help you and/or your organization. Also, check out our Center for Innovation and Coronavirus Resource page on vscpa.com for lots of additional remote work resources.
Tina Bates, CAE, is the VSCPA vice president, innovation. She oversees the VSCPA Center for Innovation, membership and communications teams. Email her here.