You often hear the catch phrase of our new normal, or when are we going to get back to normal, or what IS normal? I'm lucky to work in an industry where working from home is not only manageable but also generally pretty efficient. There are three things that make working from home effective for me:
So, what do these three items really entail?
At our 'normal' workplace, many of us have spent years figuring out what works best for us. Some of us have a team of specialists that ensure our desk setup is just right, that there is good lighting (maybe even natural light if we are lucky) and that we have all the tools to do our job: new technology, well-equipmented meeting rooms and a bottomless coffee machine.
How many of you have an equally well thought out setup at home? It took me a long while to figure this out (too long if you ask my wife).
(1) Good tools
HARDWARE I sit at a computer for most of my 'task' time. For that I made sure I had a sharp, bright external monitor to help my tired eyes not squint at my wee laptop screen. One of my clients showed me the virtues of mechanical (gaming) keyboards; it is amazing how much easier it is to type when the keys actually respond to the touch. Anyone else thought they might go blind trying to peck out texts on their phone with fat thumbs? I use my iPad setup to respond to the many text messages I get in a day; I can quickly respond without losing my place in my real workspace.
When you are away from your office (or customers), the tools you have access to will play a big role in getting things done in a timely fashion. First things first, do you have access to 'productivity tools' like Microsoft Office? If you are like many people, the companies you work for subscribe to Office 365 (or just Microsoft 365 now). Not everyone realizes that the company license for your work account allows each user to install the software on up to five computers. There is no point learning an entire set of new skills, or just getting by with some basic web tools if you don't have to.
Remote access to your office computer is also key for many users. Some of our business-critical tools only work at the shop, or the files are hidden away on local file servers. During these challenging COVID-19 times, many vendors are providing their remote tools free of charge to help people get to work safely sheltered at home. Teamviewer, JumpDesktop and many others are easy to use and for at least the next while, are free. If your company has an IT team, ask them which ones work best for your situation.
You will likely need to embrace Zoom, Webex or Teams meeting. I learned early on that no one really needs to see my face on camera but it really isn't that bad. Face-to-face meetings, done virtually, can add to the dynamics of a discussion. The 7-38-55 rule of communications says that more than half of the message isn't in the words (7%) or tone (38%) but rather in body language (55%). Learning to embrace the video conference will allow you to be more effective when you realize that all the same good practices you use in person are equally important for Zoom-type meetings.
(2) Dedicated space
We all need a place to ourselves, especially when we have a busy home with kids (or dogs, cats or hamsters) underfoot. If you have a home office, spare room or even a big closet, claim that space! There is an old adage that fences make good neighbours, and a door follows that same logic. If you can't isolate yourself from the chaos, a good pair of sound cancelling headphones can work wonders. I use a set of Apple AirPod Pros. They work to deaden the many noises of our house, allowing me to answer calls in a semblance of quiet and in a pinch I can put on my favourite tunes if things really get loud outside of my workspace. Another advantage of a dedicated space is we can walk away from it when work time is over. Most of us are happy to be out the door at the end of our workday, and we need a real break to be able to step away from one role, business person, and into the next of mom or dad, teacher, referee, dog-walker, housekeeper or cook. Closing the door on work helps us transition.
(3) No apologies
How many times have you taken a work call lately and heard some very unbusinesslike sounds on the call? Dogs barking, kids crying (or parents even), TVs or music players are a common thing to hear. On the weekend or evenings, we wouldn't even notice if those happened when calling family or friends. No apologies means those sounds are normal for a home, even comforting, and shouldn't be something you need to say sorry for. We do try to minimize such noises but life happens. For many of my calls, a little levity is a welcome distraction.
Our current normal for many of us is to work from home. By doing some straightforward things, we can be more efficient, happy and get away from work more quickly. If you are one of those lucky few who are good at this, share some of your tips with friends and family. Ask for help and give it if you can.
If you are like me, your customers and family will thank you for streamlining your work processes. You may even find out that many aspects of this new way of doing things might even be better than how things worked before.