Our Chief Outbounder George Wentworth works from home every day.
Not just from his home, but at the homes of our hosts and potential hosts. George knows a thing or two about how to make working from home work for him, and below you'll read his tips about how to make working from home work for you (as long as you’re not a brain surgeon or airline pilot...).
For those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to do our jobs from the comfort of our homes or someone else's homes, it can be a welcome change of routine and, if done properly, it can even improve productivity.
Here are George's top 5 tips for working remotely:
Leaving your bed, changing out of your pajamas, and going through some version of your normal morning routine can help you to reset your mind to focus on work by establishing separation between your personal and professional life, even as both take place at home. This doesn't mean putting on a suit and heading to the office but rather leaving your house or apartment to take a short walk before opening your laptop for the day. This is because your morning commute is more than just a way to get you from point A to point B; it is also a way to get your mind ready for work. Doing this before and after you start working for the day creates a natural transition into and out of work, which is very important for separating the personal from the professional. Since most of us are now working remotely, and untethered from our offices, we can work from anywhere. I like staying at short-term rentals and building fun faux commutes whenever possible. Depending on where I am staying, I might enjoy a commute along the lake or the beach, or a hike through the woods on the mountain top to get into work mode. If the weather is nice, I sometimes wake up earlier and make it into a longer, fun "commute" to take advantage of the situation. By the time I am in front of my laptop ready to work, I have already had a fun early morning experience. With winter approaching, I am looking forward to adding snowshoeing or skiing to my early morning "commute" schedule.
With videoconferences becoming the new norm, and virtually the only way to have a more meaningful interaction with your colleagues and clients, you should make sure you have a proper setup to show yourself in the best possible light. Yes, it really all begins with adequate lighting.
The good news is that you don't have to break the bank when it comes to lighting, as there are many affordable options that work great for video conferencing. Ideally, the light you pick will have temperature control, so you can switch from warm to cool modes (yellow to blue) to adjust and work with the natural light in the room. Choose either desk lamps or pedestal lamps with flexible necks so you can adjust them just behind your computer's camera. A pro tip is to elevate your computer for video calls, so that the camera is about an inch above your head, pointing towards your eye level. If there are any windows in the room, they should be either in front or on the sides of your computer, never behind you or you risk showing up as only a dark silhouette.
Try to set up your work space in an area in your home where you have minimal interior and exterior noise, which can be challenging for those of us with young children at home or for those who live near noisy streets. Headphones or earbuds will ensure you sound great and can hear everyone else on the video meetings, while reducing background noise.
When first setting up the space, do a test call with a friend, family member or close work colleague so you have time to troubleshoot any issues you encounter. Some people are not comfortable with video chats, so this Beta testing will also help in making you more comfortable (or at least less uncomfortable) in front of the camera.
Make sure your boss and your team know when you are going to be available, and when you will not be. It is very important to manage expectations, which will help reduce stress for you and your co-workers. Just because you are working from home doesn't mean that non-emergency email sent at 8 PM on Wednesday or 2 PM on a Saturday will be responded to within 20 minutes. Just because someone else is choosing to work doesn't mean you are expected to do the same. Working from home is not the same as being "on call" unless that is something that is inherent to your job description. This is a rare circumstance where it's better to over communicate so you can set boundaries.
When you are available, you should be clear on how you can be reached, including what channels you are active on. This way, you can manage your schedule and responses accordingly. Let your boss know what you are working on, the estimated amount of time it will take to deliver a finished product, and how you are managing and scheduling your tasks and meetings. Talk to your work colleagues and check in with people from your team. If you have any direct reports, ask them how they are managing their new work-from-home norm, if there are any challenges they are trying to overcome, and if there are any adjustments that might be necessary to ensure everyone remains engaged and productive. Remember, if you work directly with clients, they might be trying to adjust and overcome the same challenges that you have.
And most importantly, if you don't live alone, it's important to communicate with whomever you live with how important it is to respect your work environment and schedule. Just because you might be working from home, it doesn't mean you are available to them during work hours. This tip is easier said than done. Just ask my cats.
Part of going to the office every day is interacting with your colleagues, from conversations and brainstorming ideas during lunch or an afternoon coffee break, to relaxing and getting to know your co-workers over after-work drinks. Just because you are not physically in the office with your team doesn't mean you have to miss out on this important social aspect of working. Some companies have begun to implement virtual get togethers. If yours has not yet, you can take initiative and have a virtual happy hour with some of your colleagues. Maybe you can exchange cocktail recipes and share tips on how you have optimized your work-from-home routine.
You can also think outside the box and have fun with our new normal. I have taken some of my colleagues on virtual hiking trips; as long as I have reception, I will video call a work buddy and brainstorm while getting some much needed exercise and sharing the experience with someone else. If I am working remote and alone, I will also "share a meal" virtually now-and-then with someone from my work team.
With everyone working remotely, you don't need to restrict this approach to just your existing team and colleagues. Network with people from a different department or a connection in a different company. I have had many lunch meetings, coffee breaks, and after-work cocktails with managers, directors, and CEOs without the restrictions of having to be physically at the same place at the same time. The ability, familiarization, and normalization of remote work and video conferencing has opened up these opportunities. Take full advantage of it.
The Germans have a word for the end of the work day: feierabend. The French value their à table lunch time, often taking 1 or 2 hours to enjoy a meal, never at their desk, and to socialize while doing so. Both cultures have remarkably efficient work forces with high levels of productivity. We can certainly incorporate these concepts into our remote-work routines and have built-in breaks during the day to avoid fatigue and help disconnect from work once our workday is over. This is especially important when the office and home share the same physical space. If you are not living alone, maybe at lunch time you can step away from your desk and have lunch with your spouse, or help your child with a school assignment, or take the dog for a walk. If you are working from a short-term rental, you might want to go for a walk, bring a sandwich to eat at the park, get some fresh air, or enjoy a relaxing bike ride along the coast. If you have a lot of calls and video meetings throughout the day, try to schedule 15-minute buffers between meetings, when you can unwind, enjoy a cup of tea, take notes or chat with a colleague, before your next meeting.
And when the work day is over, be German and feierabend! This is when the relaxing part of the day begins. If I am at my place in the city, this is when I will go for a nice long bike ride along the river, watching the city lights reflect off the water and feel the cooling salty breeze. If I am working from a remote location, I will take this time to do a late afternoon hike, a brisk jog by the beach, or hit a few local stores for a little arts-and-crafts browsing. Maybe this is when you grab a beer with your significant other, or when you go play with your children outside. Whatever you do, just make sure you disconnect and relax.