Recently, the shift to “everybody working from home” has left some folks scrambling. I realized I had pre-written a Google Doc about working from home that I’ve shared with people over the years, and that I could adapt it into a shareable post, to see if it helps!
Office & Technology Setup
- If you’re planning to be on video a lot, orient your desk so the webcam points towards a simple, clean, attractive background. If you’re working a bedroom, flip your desk so your back is to the wall, not the bed. Be attentive to the decor and setting.
- Invest in some key pieces of equipment:
- An external monitor, if you don’t already have one. Helps with posture, and also gives you something to put your webcam on. (What webcam?)
- A better webcam, one that is external, like this. Keep it at eye-level, not pointing up at your face from under your chin
- Consider some additional lighting. I ended up getting a set of studio softbox lights (the kind used in video shoots), because, look, if I’m a lead facilitator on a multi-person, multi-hour video call, multiple times a week, this is a video shoot. Participants need to see me well-lit.
- If you can’t get lights, consider:
- Using natural light to your advantage by having your desk parallel to a window. (Your camera should never point at a window. That leaves you backlit, so people can’t see your face.)
- Settings: I use a Mac app called Webcam Settings, that lets me control camera brightness, zoom, depth of field.
- Starting using web-based tools as your default. Get a collaborative, cloud-based suite for you and your teammates right away. I recommend the G-Suite by Google, or at least just using Google Drive yourself.
- If you’re going to be working from home for a while, consider a few more upgrades:
- Call your internet service provider and seeing what options are available for upgrading the speed of your local internet connection. If a fibre connection is available, upgrade!
- Consider upgrading your home wifi equipment, too. The Google Wifi Mesh Network creates stable connectivity for homes.
- Yes, a standing desk is something you should have, and a good, proper office chair.
Etiquette & Courtesy
- If you share the home with family members, consider sharing your work calendar with them so they can see when you will be on meetings and calls. This will help you be respectful and aware of each other’s rhythms.
- When on video calls, always, always, always use headphones with a microphone. Never, ever, ever use the default built-in computer microphone and speaker.
- Always mute when you’re not speaking.
- Meet your colleagues’ and clients’ expectations for availability via email and tools like Slack, and make it clear how and when you can be reached. For me, I have Slack notifications on my phone (during work hours), but have email notifications removed from all devices. My calendar is shared and up-to-date with meetings, and chunks blocked off when I’m unavailable.
- Consider making yourself unavailable strategically. For example, I block off Tuesday mornings so I can take care of the kids while my partner does a fitness class, then I shift those hours into the evening. What might you creatively reclaim in order to give joy to yourself or your household?
- I try to give myself 10 minutes of quiet time before the day starts. It’s just me, alone. It’s not time for email checking or web browsing. It’s silent, and it’s reflective. It’s journalling, and reading.
- I try to do the same as the day wraps up, a short period of reflection (though this frequently gets skipped, as I’m moving rapidly to go help with the family).
- Mid-day, I go for a walk, at least 20 minutes. Time outside, moving, vastly improves my energy and mood. (Though often, I’m choosing to spend time making lunch for the family.)
- Beginning to pay attention to your own energy preferences will help you see when you have energy boosts, and energy drops. Working from home is no longer about time management, it’s energy management. The moment you find yourself zoning out or reading the news, just leave your desk. Better to clean the house than have your time wasted on non-productive screen time.
- Never, ever, ever, multi-task on a video-call. The wilful choice to zone out secretly insults your meeting participants, cheapens your work day, removes your reason from being in the meeting — and gives you a zoned-out, clueless face that everybody can see right through. Worse, though, it eats your soul. You’re better than that. You have a voice, a mind, and a contribution to make. Listen well, and contribute well.
- I have a Chrome extension called “Block Sites” that lets me block sites I find unproductive and distracting. Sometimes I’ll block all news and social media, sometimes I’ll re-allow, depending on my focus.
- I have regular digital one-on-ones schedules with my closest colleagues, recurring weekly. These half-hour or hour-long connects are largely agenda free, or a small list gets generated just before the meeting. The primary objective is to connect with each other.
- These sessions, which I sometimes take as phone-call walks for an hour, are incredibly valuable. They shape my understanding of the company’s health, help me connect personally with people, help explore new ideas, and come back tenfold in terms of company engagement.
- Remember: as a remote worker, a one-on-one creates the possibility for a rich, deep connection that office environments often can’t give you. On a regular call, you have each other’s undivided attention. Nobody is eavesdropping. Remotely, you can achieve a candor and intimacy that is truly safe, which is a key ingredient for high-performing teams.
I realize many of these suggestions are only made possible with some resources and realities that are a product of privilege. Investing in new tools and equipment takes money and time, and isn’t necessarily possible during a quick shift to working from home unexpectedly. The freedom to focus on work tasks, especially during a crisis, with kids and family heavily in the picture, is not accounted for here. Even a luxury like separate office, with a door that shuts, is often not a reality. Some of the suggestions are more idealistic and long-term, and aren’t meant to be seen as quick-fixes.
I’ve been working from home for 7 years now. Over those years, we left the city, moved to a rural setting, built a house, and my wife’s parents now live in our basement suite. We raise chickens, and have four kids! Ask me anything, and I’ll update this post with the answers.