WFH: How to work from home/ remotely and keep your sanity: My 12 winning tips
Updated: Aug 26, 2020
"Remote work became a standard. When you hire people, you must give them the option to work from home, otherwise - you are not a competative employer". This sentence was said to me by a client sometime a million years ago - at the beginning of March 2020. Back then, when the world was normal, #WFH (work from home) was considered to be a benefit that employers gave their employees, a symbol of flexibility and modernity - part of employer branding, if you wish.
Back then, I was also doing some consulting to several projects focused on digital nomads: a somewhat new status that emerged due to the nature of the internet, allowing us to perform many tasks and complete many projects remotely, without being present in a traditional office. This, of course, brought innovation, along with questions of belonging and community - changing the way we think, work and create.
And then, #Coronavirus came, giving us all a taste of our own medicine: #WFH. #Remotely. All meetings are done via video-chat. Creating complete freedom on the one hand - together with the feeling of being imprisoned, lonely and out of structure on the other hand.
The truth is, many people find remote work, schedule planning and self-management to be very challanging - especially if they are used to working in a team, together with several other people - or if they are used to be micro-managed or to micro-manage their team. The truth is, that WFH sets many challanges to micro-management, which might effect both productivity and teamwork as well as the general atmosphere and morals among your team.
Now, it is also clear that even though the lock-down will become more liberal in the next couple of weeks, Coronavirus is here to stay. We will not be able to return to our normal lives so quickly. We will probably have to continue with social distancing for quite some time. Most probably, not as many people will be allowed to be present at the office as back then before the crisis, and we can assume that WFH will stay with us for quite some time. So, we have to learn how to live with it.
For me, working remotely is a second nature. As an independent, self-employed consultant, I am used to managing my own schedule and to be able to use my time as productively as possible, since I usually have so many things to do. I am also used to creating teamwork remotely, as I am usually not physically present in the offices of my clients. Therefore, I am happy to share from my experience, hoping that it will help others to work more effectively, and stay mentally healthy throughout this time.
(My office - conference corner, where the sun comes in in the early afternoon)
So, here we go, those are my winning tips:
1. Set your boundries, maintain your routine: The easiest thing to do in this weird time is to go "complete freedom": wake up whenever, sleep whenever, work on the weekends, drink some wine, beer or cocktails at 14:00... This whole thing sounds like fun, but it is not very healthy in the long run, especially if we are looking into getting back to normality soon. My recommendation will be to maintain a normal routine: waking up at the same time as you would have if you were to go to the office, working the same hours. Similarly, do not get tempted into working on the weekends. Those are still here for resting and gathering your strenth for another week of hard work.
2. Get dressed: As part of the complete freedom coming with staying at home and working from home, many people stay in their pijamas, rationalizing it with "nobody sees me anyways and I do not have to leave the house anyways so why bother?" The truth is, that your apperance is very important to your well-being. We do not dress nicely for other people - but for ourselves. So, I suggest getting up early and dressing up nicely, as you would if you were to go to the office, it will give you a complete different feeling.
3. Set up a work-corner at your home: A place for you, where you have your work-stuff, maybe some nice pictures, flowers, candles, souvenirs,etc. and where you feel comfortable to work. Preferabely a desk and a comfortable chair. It does not mean that you always have to be there, you can also change your sitting, for example, to the balcony when the weather is nice. But still, having a work-corner can help you structure your day, get things done and go through this time without having to let go of your sanity.
4. Set a rule, drinks (only) after work: And preferabely not every day. I observe people around me (virtually, of course), and see that many of them are drinking every day. Some drinking is also done during work hours. I totally get it, but think it is a slippery way to go. We do not want to receive alcoholism as a gift from Corona. Not even if you are drinking corona beer (bad joke!). Just be aware of your drinking habits. Maybe make a rule not to drink during work hours, maybe you can drink only 2-3 times a week. Maybe not more than 1 glass of wine each time. Whatever works for you. Just keep it in the back of your mind that we do not want to add to our addictions and that alcohol can be harmless - but can also be very dangerous.
5. Manage your video-chats: Video-chats are great, as they allow us to stay connected. Howrver, they can also be very tiring: apart from connection problems that might arise (our home internet connections are not cut out for this!), big chunks of human communication is non-verbal, which is left out of video-chats. So, we all need to contribute to the success of those chats. My absolute winning tip is to try to not overload your schedule with meetings and video chats. Try to find your balance-boundry, meaning: the absolute end of your capacity to use this medium. It is different for each and every one of us. For me, this threshold is 3 hours per day, for example. I know after years of practice. Be aware of yourselves, try to found your own boundry.
6. Be effective on your video chats: Additionally, I would suggest to not go on video-chat for longer than 45 minutes. One hour (or a bit more) can work if you are used to work with the other participants. The reason for that is that it is difficult for most people to maintain their attention and concentrate for longer than 50 minutes - especially if we load the challanges of video-chat to it. So, we do not have as much time as we think. Therefore, ideally, every meeting will have an agenda, in order to assist it being as efficient as possible. Remember: the purpose of those meetings is to create orientation and get some progress on the stuff you are working on. Too much will create confusion and not orientation - which is opposite from our goal.
7. Team-Meetins are important video-chats: As this is the place for updates and teamwork. Effective teams need to work together, and team meetings are the way to get there. I would suggest to hold them weekly. They could also have some fun activities from time to time, such as (for example) a yoga class, some DIY tutorial or something else that gives a feeling of together-ness. For those video-chats, make sure to have your video camera on, as you want to both be seen and see others.
8. And such is your communication with your team members: Create daily, duo-daily or weekly updates, using video-chats, phone calls (yep, those exist as well!) or emails, whatever works for you. Those help to both create a feeling of structure within the team and to do better project management and tracking. It is not always intuitive for us to use this tool for followup, especially if we are used to being together all day long, but it can be a game changer in our current situation.
9. Manage your tasks: Checklists are your friends :) Try to create detailed checklists with realistic goals for every day. Do not overdo it, we do not want to lose our motivation or go around with a feeling of not getting anything done. Some practice will get you the right amount of tasks per day.
10. Work out: Moving is important for our physical and mental well-being. Maybe you like to jog, run or cycle outside, which our government allows us to do. Maybe you prefer doing yoga or pilates or something like that, for which you can use some great apps, for example.
11. Eat healthy: Even if you haven´t done it so far, now is the time to start. As we are always at home, we can consume home made food throughout the entire week. Explore your kitchen and your local vegetables and fruit selection. Create yummy, healthy food throughout the week that will give you the energy needed for your other activities (such as work, but not only).
12. Hang out with your friends, virtually: This time has not only disadvantages. Due to social distancing, everyone is meeting their friends online. Meet not only your friends from Germany but also your friends who live all over the world, hang out regularly, support each other, and be there for others, when they need you. Having a strong support network can help you go over this weird time easier and healthier.
Those are my tips, which have helped me through many years of self-employment and independent project work. What are yours? I would love to hear from other people´s experience!