Our entire team at ITPro Today works remotely from our homes, separated by thousands of miles and three time zones. So when the stay-at-home orders rippled through our respective locales, at least one part of our day remained business as usual. But we acknowledge we were ahead of the curve – if you were to add the number of years we’ve all worked remotely we’ve got decades of experience. Since so many people are being asked to change how they work without the luxury of a lengthy adjustment period, we thought we’d share the time-tested practices that help us establish, maintain and grow business as usual while working remotely from home.
Take Control of Your Working Space
Have a dedicated workspace or workspaces. Not everyone has the luxury of having a home office. It can be tempting to work from your couch or even from your bed, but those places are associated with comfort and relaxation, not work – not to mention they don't have proper back support for a long day sitting! Set up a designated workspace separate from your places of comfort – I recommend a desk, the kitchen table or anywhere you can sit in a hard-back chair with a hard surface for your laptop and other essentials and be (largely) free from distractions. A change of scenery during the day can help reduce monotony and give you a mental boost, just make sure if you do change locations that it's somewhere that lends itself to the same amount of productivity. – Brian Holak
Ergonomics is important. Home work environments might consist of a variety of seating arrangements, most not designed with knowledge work in mind. Sitting for long stretches of time on the couch or bed with a computer on your lap can wreak havoc on your musculoskeletal system. It’s best to be seated at an actual desk and to put your desk and chair through the ergonomics paces, making tweaks as needed to chair height, monitor height and position, keyboard tray, and lighting. Your shoulders and back will thank you. – Sue Troy
Change up your workspace. While correct positioning of your desk and chair are important, occasionally moving your workspace to another room in the house can inject a little variety into your workday and give you a fresh perspective on your surroundings. Working from my dining room, which has a wall of Four Seasons sunroom windows, gives me a much better view of the outside world than my small upstairs home office does. The non-pandemic-times analog to this is to take your work to a coffeeshop every once in a while to mingle with other humans. – Sue Troy
Take Control of Your Technology
Sync your desktop and laptop: When I’m working remotely from home, I mainly work from my trusted desktop computer that’s set up exactly the way I like it. I also set up the laptop that I use for work when I’m away from the office as an exact mirror of the desktop so I always know where everything is, regardless of the computer I’m using, because I hate having to hunt for things.
Pro tip: Instead of using some sort of syncing application to do this, use a backup app to back up the home directory on your main machine to the cloud, an external hard drive, or (better yet) both. As soon as the backup is complete, restore it to your secondary machine. This serves the dual purpose of syncing your machines, while giving you a foolproof method for checking to make sure you have a good backup, so you don’t get caught with a backup that can’t be restored in an emergency. – Christine Hall
Figure out how to separate your work and personal computing. With luck, your IT department has already done a risk assessment on letting employees access company files via a cloud service and they’ve set up ways for remote workers to access files via cloud-based services. The latest OneDrive sync engine software allows you to connect your device to one personal Microsoft Account and one Office 365 account. Once connected it creates separate file structures for each account to keep everything in sync within their own ecosystems. Other cloud storage services such as Box, iCloud, and Google Drive also provide sync clients to connect your work cloud storage to your personal device.
If cloud sync is not an option, then I recommend creating a separate storage structure for your work files on your hard drive or an external storage device. If you have a USB flash drive, you can use it for your work files to keep them separated from your personal files. Once it is time to return to work, you can carry the flash drive in and either upload the files yourself or get assistance from IT support to get them back on your work device in the office. – Richard Hay
Keep a “tech dopp kit” stocked at all times. Although I have a dedicated corner for working in my house, I like to take advantage of being able to work at libraries, in coffee shops in other cities, or in press rooms during tech shows – so portable tech is a must. I’ve got a cord organizer kit in which I keep the following: an extra power adapter, an extra-long charging cable for my tablet or phone, a spare power brick, converters in case I need to attach my computer to an ethernet cable, extra earbuds, a multiport USB charger, sticky notes and a spare pen, and a microfiber cloth for keeping screens clean. Being able to have this on hand is great for both traveling and for setting up to work someplace other than my usual space. – Lisa Schmeiser
Take Control of Colalboration
Embrace video calls. Turning what’s normally a phone call into a video meeting can go a long way toward combating the sense of isolation that comes from working remotely from home, whether in the midst of a pandemic or not. This activity has seen exponential growth in social circles in recent weeks, driven by Zoom-hosted virtual happy hours. In the work world, many team members have resisted. But typically, it just takes a few people willing to turn on their webcams to transform an audio-only team into a video-centric one. – Sue Troy
Figure out how to communicate effectively with others. At ITPro Today, we manage to stay in fairly constant communication during a set of working hours that spans several time zones, in part because we’ve figured out – as a team – who is best reached via collaborative workspaces like Microsoft Teams, who is best reached via email, and who is most comfortable with a quick phone call. I realize that for some people, juggling multiple communication modes might seem like a nightmare. But the thing is, knowing how to communicate with someone makes us all more likely to communicate with them regularly – and keeping that virtuous feedback loop going means that we all work together more efficiently and productively. Focus less on trying to get everyone on one communications technology and focus more on finding the regular communication habits that build and improve the flow of information between team members. – Lisa Schmeiser
Monitor the time in multiple work zones. This is especially useful if you collaborate with a lot of people in different places. Check the default clock app for your operating system. It is highly likely there is an option to add multiple clocks to the display based on different time zones. A quick hover over the date and time will show you the other clocks you have set up for display with a quick glance. – Richard Hay
Write down the contact information for your company’s tech support team – and keep it someplace other than your computer. In an office, you can always walk over to a colleague and ask for the IT support desk’s number, or even ask them to file a ticket for you if your computer is on the fritz. When you’re a remote worker, it’s not that easy. Having all the contact information for your IT help desk someplace where you can easily access it no matter what happens to your tech is a great idea. You’ll thank yourself when you’re in a hotel room three time zones away from the guy who always fixes the flubs and you’ve got to let him know you need his help again. – Lisa Schmeiser
Adopt Some Structured Habits
Dress like you're going to work. Although I have nothing against working in sweats and loungewear (I enjoy comfort as well!) sometimes it helps to separate your dedicated "home" and sleep attire from your work. It can be hard not to subconsciously associate being in your pajamas with a relaxing and lazy day at home. When that happens, your productivity can suffer. Try putting on a pair of your go-to work pants (or any pants for that matter!). Maybe dress in your favorite blouse or collared shirt – any clothes that you associate with your regular workdays. Once you become a pro at working remotely from home you can transition back into those comfy sweats. – Brian Holak
Set up beginning- and end-of-the-workday routines to help transition to and from work. In the morning, I have a routine to ease me into work – put on a playlist of music I listen to only when working, check my to-do list and finish my breakfast pot of coffee. That cues my brain to shift into work mode. In the evening, before I log off, I clean up my computer’s desktop, write out the next day’s to-do list on a post-it (which is then slapped on to my laptop screen), then power down and put my work computer aside until the next day. That provides the transition that a commute normally provides and keeps me from doing “just one more thing” at 10 p.m. when I should be unwinding. – Lisa Schmeiser
Consider replicating your commute if it’ll help you get into work mode. Since we are not commuting any longer, getting from our bedrooms to the home office is a very short trip. Maybe step outside and take in the sky, weather, nature, etc. for 10 minutes or so with your first coffee of the day. Do you listen to a podcast on your commute? Queue that up and listen once you are ready for work, before you head into your home office. –Richard Hay
Take a break or two. Working at home blends your work and personal lives more than you're used to. This can cause you to unintentionally work more – and for longer – without a real, full-detached break. It's important for your productivity and mental health to take small breaks during the day away from your screen. This can be a lunch break, an exercise routine, a walk around the neighborhood, a chat with a family member or friend, or just a two-minute breather. According to time management and motivation guru Daniel Pink, it's better if these breaks are active, social, outside (if possible) and – perhaps most importantly – fully detached from your work. That means no checking emails on your phone during your break. Pink suggests scheduling short breaks into your day as you would schedule meetings. – Brian Holak
Remember that working remotely from home during Covid-19 is much different than remote working in more normal times: I suspect I’m not the only remote worker who’s discovered that working from home during stay-at-home edicts is a much different experience than normal remote working for a variety of reasons. If you’re having a little trouble focusing on your work, that’s totally understandable, and doesn’t necessarily mean that remote working isn’t for you. The entire world has been temporarily turned upside down and creeping worry and boredom are sure to take a toll.
There are a couple of things you can do, however. One thing I’ve learned to do is to completely stay away from Covid-19 news until after my workday has ended. – Christine Hall