Recent events around COVID-19 have created an huge increase in people requesting the ability to work from home.  If you aren’t used to working from home, it can seem like a vacation at first. The opportunity to skip the stressful commute and lay on the couch with a laptop on your chest is glorious indeed. Remote work can be isolating and full of distractions, too.

The technology challenges can be just as daunting.  Each organization is going to have it’s own approach to the sort term and long term strategy for handling these challenges.  You need to consider the Internet connections, VPN’s for secure access, Remote Desktop Servers or cloud based apps along with all the organizational planning for business continuity.  To help make working from home more effective and enjoyable, here are some tips.

STICK TO A SCHEDULE:

Procrastination is an enemy of the work from home professional. If you’re working relatively on your own without anyone monitoring your hours, the trick to avoid procrastination is to be your own boss. Set your own working hours, deadlines, and breaks and stick to them like glue. If you have trouble focusing and start to feel yourself drift off into distractions, take a quick 15-minute walk outside to get your energy flowing so you can get back to work, and then setting a timer for 10-15 minute intervals with breaks in between.

DEDICATE A WORKING SPACE:

Defining separate spaces for work and play may seem silly, but it can make a big psychological difference. Ideally, it should be a place you do not use to relax, such as your bedroom or sofa, but which encourages you to work. It may involve trial and error to find out which areas of your home encourage you to get the most work done. Importantly, you must also have designated hours to work from and until. If you are working from home there is a risk you could work for much longer, but it is important to shut down at the end of the day and working additional hours may grind you down. One of the hardest parts of working from home can be establishing a routine, including non-work hours.

STAY CONNECTED.

One undeniable loss is the social, casual “water cooler” conversation that connects us to people — if you’re not used to that loss, full-time remote work can feel isolating. Use collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams video chats if you miss real-time interaction. Again, embrace video calling and webcams so you can see your colleagues.

USE TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.

Technology is what enables remote work in the first place. So make sure to take your laptop home, and don’t forget your charger. Also, take home your mouse and keyboard – anything that might make working on your laptop from home a little easier. Telecommuting simply wouldn’t be possible without the internet, but it’s made more functional and enjoyable thanks to technologies like Microsoft Teams and Office 365.

You’ll also want to make sure all your technology actually works from home. Do you need a VPN connection? Are company applications accessible from your home Wi-Fi? What are the additional security considerations for your personal device? These are all questions to ask your supervisor or IT department.

Another thing? Internet access — is yours robust enough at home or at your office to allow you to video conference? Many conferences and almost all nonessential work travel are being canceled right now, so people want to use online video conferencing, which requires a good Internet connection.

SHOOT, NOW THE KIDS ARE HOME TOO.

With school closures and concerns about putting kids in daycare, parents are faced with a challenge, especially parents who have to physically go to work because they have no remote work option. You’ll need to make a plan for education and entertainment. Stock up on books and puzzles and make use of Netflix and Disney+. Also, be flexible about how much work you might realistically be able to get done if you’re balancing child care. #WorkLifeBalance. Just not the kind you were hoping for.

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS.

It’s wise to have a discussion with your team about what can actually be accomplished from home. Develop priorities and discuss how tasks will get done. How are teams going to track projects they’re working on? How will they meet to discuss this? Will you all be connecting on MS Teams or email? Will there be standing meetings at a certain time to get everyone coordinated? This should be an ongoing conversation. Remember, going fully remote is a new experience for many companies and their workers. Be honest about what isn’t working or can’t get done in these circumstances. More overall communication is going to be necessary.

KEEP IN CONTACT WITH YOUR TEAM

When working from home it can be a lonely business, workers can easily feel ignored. But by keeping the lines of communication open with your manager, colleagues and subordinates, you can ensure this is avoided. However, this will involve some forward-planning to ensure expectations for each day are laid out, and how often contact is expected. To help tackle the isolation, it can also be advisable to video call colleagues if you are working on any shared projects.

AVOID FEELING ISOLATED

Still, even with these tools, the enforced and abrupt nature of the transition from an office to a home environment could leave some struggling to get accustomed to the change. It may sounds bizarre but you need to try to sustain a semblance of normalcy and camaraderie in unconventional ways, like virtual pizza parties or remote happy hours where people dial in and share a cocktail on Microsoft Teams or Slack.

Try to translate the typical in-office social activities to an online environment. Celebrate birthdays, give public praise for goals reached and projects completed. Make time for casual conversations and ‘water cooler’ chat.

HERE ARE SOME TOOLS WE RECOMMEND:

Collaboration and Communication:

Microsoft O365 & Teams – Microsoft Teams is a hub for teamwork in Office 365. Keep all your team’s chats, meetings, files, and apps together in one place. They are currently offering MS Teams free for 6 months.  There is some setup and training that we recommend, but it’s a great opportunity to leverage the product (https://teams.microsoft.com/)

Password Management:

LastPass  “Remembers all your passwords, so you don’t have to.” (https://www.lastpass.com)

1Password – “Remembers all [your passwords] for you. Save your passwords and log into sites with a single click.” (https://1password.com)

WE’RE HERE TO HELP. WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER!

At Next Digital, we are here to help free your organization from the burden of technology. We want you to know that we’re in your corner and as entrepreneurs, leaders, coworkers, parents, family, friends and neighbours, we understand how you feel – if you feel stuck in your business, wondering how you respond to the daily changes in the industry, what to do when projects dry up or you have to close your doors to keep people safe or have your teams work remotely – let’s talk.