20 Helpful Tips If You're a Newbie Working from Home in the Era of COVID-19
by Avantix Learning Team | April 1, 2020
As people around the world adjust to working and living in the unprecedented era of Coronavirus (COVID-19), a new group of workers are transitioning to working from home. Unlike remote workers who have chosen to work from home, this new group of remote workers have moved from a traditional office to a new work environment with little to no preparation. This sudden, unexpected change presents a host of new challenges. Employees must adjust to meeting, chatting and collaborating exclusively online.
Some of these workers are also dealing with a partner working from home as well as children and pets.
1. Set up your physical workspace
Anyone who works from home will deal with different issues relating to their physical workspace. If you have enough room, try to have a separate room as your workspace with a door that you can close (to keep house mates, family members and pets separate during conference calls and other productive work times). Choose a location with good ventilation and adequate lighting (ideally with exposure to natural light).
This space should include a desk and a good-quality office chair. An adjustable desk that converts to a standing desk is a great option but a box on top of a desk or table will work as an alternative. Try to keep the desk clean and minimize clutter. Transition between sitting and standing as often as possible.
It's also important that your equipment, files and other materials are stored in a safe location and won't be disturbed.
2. Set up your virtual workspace
Many organizations will have a virtual workspace in place (such as Microsoft Teams). However, some remote workers will need to start from scratch and learn to use virtual tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts or Adobe Connect. All of these tools require an internet connection. The most reliable connection is a wired network connection (if possible). If you are using a wireless connection, consider your distance from the router and barriers that can affect your connection quality.
Set standards and expectations if you are sharing your space
If you're working at home and a partner, roommate(s) or other family member(s) are also at home, take the time to set standards and expectations. For example, if you have a separate workspace with a door, put a Do Not Disturb sign on the door or communicate to others that when the door is closed, you are not available. Let them know your working hours so they know when you should not be disturbed. They can still text you as they would if you were at the office.
If you aren't able to create a separate workspace, you may have to work at a kitchen table with others in close proximity. In this case, invest in a set of good quality ear phones (preferable over the ear). Again, communicate when you have an important call and everyone needs to vacate the space.
3. Don't forget about security
You can use many apps and sites with a standard internet connection. However, to securely access internal resources and work with confidential data, you may need to connect though a company VPN (Virtual Private Network) or remote desktop. There are also vendors that can provide a VPN service such as NordVPN. Security software including McAfee or Norton Utilities can also help keep your data safe and secure.
5. Keep your phone charged and ready
It's a good idea to keep your phone charged and install apps you need on your phone in the event that the local internet is experiencing high usage or your power goes out. Keep your laptop charged as well.
6. Use video as much as possible
Using video with a webcam can help make meetings more inclusive and engaging. Most laptops have good quality webcams but you can buy a separate video camera if you'd like. With video, it helps to see facial expressions and body language to increase connection and understanding.
Microsoft Teams and some other apps will allow you to blur or change your background to help minimize distractions and protect your privacy.
Video can be an issue if there is limited bandwidth so consider turning your camera off if the connection is poor.
7. Dress and groom for work
Since you're going to be on video, dress and groom for work. You don't need to go overboard (a suit and tie is not normally required) but it's better not join video calls in your pajamas.
8. Position your face and body for video
Framing is important when you're using video. Position yourself so that your eyes are 2/3 way up the screen and your full face and part of your upper body is visible. This allows others to read your expressions and body language.
9. Communicate often
Make it a habit to connect frequently with your colleagues and stakeholders. Regular meetings are essential for remote workers. Try virtual "huddles" or quick meetings. Schedule a short call as an alternative to a quick in-person chat.
Watch out for virtual call overload. If you are scheduling several conference calls or meetings back-to-back, ensure there is a 5 to 15 minute break in between these meetings.
10. Promptly return emails, calls and voice mails
If you are working from home, people often expect fast response times. Although this may seem unfair, a client or colleague may expect a quick response as they assume you are at home and sitting in front of your laptop. If someone is being too pushy when it comes to quick responses, have a conversation about expectations and working times.
11. Resolve issues quickly with a phone call
Email, text, IM, Slack and other written methods of communication are prone to misunderstandings. If you sense this is happening, be quick to pick up the phone to resolve issues.
12. Follow best practices during online meetings
It's important to be present and respectful during online meetings so limit multitasking. If you turn on your video, you can show that you are paying attention and focus on the person or people on your call.
Pause to allow others to speak. Be aware of someone who may be trying to speak and invite them to share their thoughts. It's important that there is time and opportunity for everyone to be heard.
Some meeting attendees may have technical difficulties so check chat often for comments relating to issues with audio or video.
13. Create an environment that fosters idea generation and iteration
Think about how you can encourage and share ideas. Meetings don't always need a rigid agenda. Schedule brainstorming sessions. Set up a watercooler chat. As ideas emerge, iterate so you and your team can constantly improve and adapt those ideas.
14. Share your schedule and make everyone aware of your availability
Setting healthy boundaries, managing interruptions and being clear about when you are available is important when you are working from home. Communicate your working hours to clients and colleagues. Set expectations with your team and those you live with about your availability during the day.
15. Control your inbox and messaging
With everybody working from home, you will likely see an increase in text messages, chat messages and email. Use settings available in your apps to customize notifications and prioritize conversations.
It can be difficult to stop work when you are working from home so be sure to set boundaries and end your workday at an appropriate time.
Many apps let you manage notifications, set status messages and indicate when you are busy on your calendar.
16. Prioritize self-care
Self-care is a key priority if you are working from home. We all need to focus on our health,
wellness and mindset.
It's crucial to schedule breaks to regroup and energize. Use your calendar to schedule meals so you receive reminders when it's time to eat (this will help prevent excessive snacking). Plan meals to encourage healthy eating habits.
Block time on your calendar for exercise and fresh air too or just time to transition to a stand-up desk or step away from your workspace.
Access support options, caregiver benefits and leave, if needed.
17. Prioritize relationships
Make time to connect or re-connect with your friends and family. Take advantage of Zoom or other free virtual tools to set up video calls. Personal social connections are important to well-being. Consider joining on-line communities to meet new people with similar interests.
18. Control your access to news
As we all deal with reality of COVID-19, it's important to stay informed but also to control your access to the news. The news can diminish the joy of accomplishing tasks and can impact your ability to get your work done. During this period, remote workers need to continue to work.
Don't start or end the day watching the news. Try to isolate yourself from the news during working time as well. Limit access to social media and turn off news notifications. Allocate a specific time of day when you will access the news and limit that time. This strategy will give you a sense of control and prevent you from being bombarded with negativity most of the day.
Re-evaluate where you are getting the news. Social media is generally not the best way to access the news. If you rely on Facebook and Instagram, an algorithm is deciding what news you will see. Find trusted news sources and subscribe to them. Consider using Twitter with reliable, trusted sources. The goal is to avoid getting news that is conflicting, erroneous and sensationalized.
It's important where you get your information from and how you consume it. Find sources you trust, rely on them and don't become obsessed with the news. You still need to be able to focus on your relationships and your job.
19. Don't be too hard on yourself
It's not easy to start working from home. You may feel stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, lonely, isolated and unmotivated at times. In response to the changes in our lives due to the Coronavirus, many people are grieving – grieving for their previous way of life and for a potential future that has now changed. These feelings are common. It takes time to adjust to a big transition so don't be too hard on yourself.
20. Take time to reflect on how you are feeling
It's important to be mindful of how you are feeling. Take advantage of resources to help you take care of yourself both mentally and physically. Consider using a meditation app or watch meditation videos on YouTube. Access wellness resources and benefits offered by your organization.
Don't forget to check in with others who may be experiencing similar feelings.
For remote workers who are new to working from home, following these tips should help ease the transition.
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