Meet Herbie. He is my 44-pound coworker who adds white noise to the background of my remote work day. The sounds of Herbie snoring, shuffling across my hardwood floor, snorting, and the occasional (and startling) watchdog barks are constant. And even as I grumble a few not-so-ladylike comments under my breath when he disturbs a call or meeting, he’s my partner and I know I’d be lost without him.
Working remote is not something new to us here at Newton Talent; we’ve been a remote workforce since our inception. In fact, providing companies recruiting solutions delivered by professionals who are working off-site is one of the many compelling aspects of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO).
What is new about this experience for our team members is that their remote environment has changed. Schools and day cares are closed and partners or spouses are now working from home. They, too, have had to adjust as these additional “coworkers” became added to the mix.
Learning to lead from home
When I joined Newton Talent 5 years ago, I knew about the remote working culture, and while it sounded inviting, I really didn’t know what to expect. Let’s face it, I had worked in an office at the same company for 34 years. It had always been my conviction that those who worked remotely couldn’t possibly work as hard; that they likely spent their time doing all the miscellaneous things that I reserved for the weekend—like doing laundry, running errands, doing their banking—rather than being productive.
Boy, was I wrong.
But where did I get those silly notions? I probably developed it over time, hearing it from my fellow baby boomers or clients who couldn’t fathom that their workforce could ever work remotely. “Boomers” like me have been firmly in charge for the past few decades, and as a rule they have been willing to operate by a well-understood set of expectations for the way work “works.”
But guess what? Remote working “works,” too.
Leaders need to first trust that everyone working remotely (both past remote workers and those transitioning to remote working during this time) wants to be productive. You hired responsible individuals. For now, it may take a little adjustment for them to “get their bearings” around working in their new environments, but just remember that remote workers can be as productive as they were in an office setting.
Leaders can take comfort in the fact that there are many companies like Newton Talent that have successfully operated with a remote workforce for years. They make great resources! For example, Zapier, the workflow automation company, has a remote workforce of 300+ employees that span the globe. Zapier shared their Ultimate Guide to Remote Work to help other companies manage and strengthen their teams that may be making the transition.
How to set yourself (and your team)
up for success
in the first 30 days
If you are new to remote working—whether it’s a full-time or flex-time arrangement—and are trying to grapple with the best way to do it, let me give you some personal advice: first, adjust your personal benchmarks for success.
For over 30 years, I had thrived on the daily drive-bys from coworkers, and was energized when I was juggling my phone, my email, Skype meetings and, most importantly, all the work that piled up on my desk. In some ways it defined me and I wore it like a badge of honor.
Once I realized there are other ways to measure my own productivity, it took me about 30 days to settle into working from home and find how much more productive and how I could have better communications with team members as a result of not being so hurried.
Here are some tips that can help you do the same.
1. Take a few moments for yourself
Working from home can be a big transition and it can bring about whole range of feelings. You might describe yourself as feeling lonely, isolated, stressed, frustrated, anxious, unmotivated, or — on the other hand — relieved, relaxed, energized, or productive. It's all OK and normal.
Allow yourself to take normal breaks and schedule them. I recommend two breaks in the morning and two in the afternoon along with a lunch break. Set a reminder on your calendar, use your smartwatch to remind you to get up and stretch every hour or so. Walk around your home while talking a call with your team. Move to a separate area — away from your email — to eat lunch for 30 minutes.
Breaking up the day and moving your body enables you to refresh and can increase your productivity when you return to your desk. When the weather is nice, eat lunch and go for a short walk around the neighborhood.
2. Find ways to turn it off
As I mentioned earlier, I was one of those who thought work couldn’t possibly get done from home. If you are one of those leaders and/or managers who hold that same mindset, I want to tell you that, in my experience the opposite is true — people tend to work more from home because it's harder to "turn work off”.
I work from home and I definitely log more hours working here because my laptop is always on, my phone has my email, and I am always connected. I find that I answer emails and take calls (and so do my team) long after I ever did in an office setting. It’s a habit I have tried hard to overcome and need to work on still.
It took time to understand why it’s important to try to keep a schedule similar to what you did in your physical office. If you had the routine of shutting down at a specific time, try to maintain that schedule. Of course, there will always be times that you’ll need to extend your day, but learning to “turn it off” will keep you from burning out and actually make you more productive in the long run.
3. Set boundaries so you can handle calls confidently
Talk to family members, children or roommates about the hours you are working from home and the ground rules during those hours. Assume that anything that can interrupt you will interrupt you — like a UPS delivery during a client call or a dog barking in the background of a team/client video chat.
Remember Herbie? Interruptions happen.
By being as proactive as you can to avoid the inevitable interruptions, you can make the most of your time. For example, put a sign on your office door when holding a conference call, or keep a log when delivery drivers may arrive so you can schedule calls around them.
One of our team members created a schedule for her school-age children. Not only does the schedule keep them on track physically and academically, but it allows her to know when she is least likely to be interrupted during a call.
Remember, you can always keep yourself on mute during a call if there is a chance background noise will be a distraction. Herbie snores and shuffles, and while those have become “white noise” to me, I often use mute when he is particularly noisy.
4. Create the right workspace
Being comfortable when working for home is so important. Make sure you have the right equipment, a clean work surface—whether a desk or kitchen table— a hands-free headset or earbuds for long calls and, most importantly, a comfortable chair. I went through every type of chair imaginable until I found one that gave my back some relief. I learned the hard way that sitting in a wooden chair was wrecking my back.
5. Take time to get ready for your day
There are those who enjoy the freedom of working in their pajamas or yoga pants, but for most of us, that gets old quickly. If you’ll commit to keeping your same “preparing for work” regimen in the first 30 days at home, you thank yourself later. Getting up and showering, putting on makeup, fixing my hair and dressing for my day makes me feel just as “ready to seize the day” as I was when I was going into the office all of those years back.
Lastly, but most importantly…
6. Stay connected
Once I started working remotely, it became clear to me that I was more of a people-person than I first realized. I found the silence of working alone deafening and craved meaningful communication with my team.
Now we not only have one-on-ones, but meetings large and small that allow us to share what’s on our plate, the challenges we face, and the bright spots in our lives. We use a number of meeting apps, but the game-changer was when we began to use a mobile app called Band (https://about.band.us/)
We use Band as our own social networking site. It allows us to share and celebrate—internally—news about our families, pictures of our pets, videos of our kids, and even things we find funny with our teammates, so we feel closer and more connected. This month, to keep ourselves active and healthy, we’re hosting a “Walk About” on Band. Over 80% of our team committed to a month-long challenge and are now posting step counts, encouraging each other’s progress, and sharing pictures and videos they take on their walks each day. It has made us much closer as a team.
Leaders and Managers, find out what kind of communications channel your team members use most readily. Do they prefer text or Teams IM? Email or a phone call? Remember, just because you can’t reach them on the communication channel you use frequently, don’t assume they aren’t working. Set some general policies on the frequency you want to check in with them, your expectations if you want them checking their chats and emails with regularity. Just understand that everyone’s circumstances are unique and may require more flexibility.
Remember, working in a home environment is likely new to them, too, especially now with children and partners or spouses at home as well. Everyone is juggling their own circumstances. Be patient, ask questions, and continue to communicate and, together, you’ll find ways to cope and retain productivity in this new environment.