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As offices and campuses nationwide empty out in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even workers fortunate enough to have their jobs and income streams secure face challenging adjustments. In 2017-18, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that nearly 30 percent of Americans were equipped to work from home (WFH) if necessary, with workers in the information, financial, and professional services sectors in the best position to flip the switch. For folks in these and other WFH-friendly industries, remote work is now less a perk and more a civic duty.
Impira is one of many companies to shutter its offices and instate a WFH policy for all employees. We are lucky to be a team that can operate virtually without much of a hitch, and remote workers already comprise a significant portion of our headcount. Given what we’ve learned about WFH over the past few months, and the past week in particular, we thought we’d share some strategies we’ve developed for smoothing the transition into remote work.
1. Preserve the work versus home distinction and make your environment work for you
Do whatever you need to do to feel like you’re still at work. Whether this means dressing for success, eating the same snacks, or putting cardboard cutouts of your colleagues on either side of you, carve out a workspace within your living space and don’t let the two collapse into one another. Subtle tweaks to the lighting, your seating position, or your makeshift desk arrangement can work wonders for persuading yourself that you are not, in fact, sitting next to your dishwasher.
If you’re in a smaller space, you may not have the luxury of a separate dedicated work area. The boundaries between work and life may take the form of a ritual instead. Mr. Rogers’ version of this was a simple change from blazer and leather shoes into a cardigan and sneakers upon entering his home at the end of the day. Get creative, and make this ritual your own! In my own transition, I found booting up for the day easy enough, but what was missing was a shut-down ritual at home to replace the act of packing up and leaving the office. Now, I begin my evening by signing off with my team, getting out of the house to walk the dog, and returning home to light a candle before making dinner. It’s simple, but it signals to my mind and brain that work is done for the day.
2. Establish clear boundaries with cohabitants
With WFH policies expanding quickly, it’s possible that you are now working alongside (or around) a roommate, partner, or other family members at home. It might be feeling a little crowded, so it’s critical to over-communicate around your work space, schedule, and how the household should run. Do we wait until we sign off to take care of all the dishes, or do we wash them as we go about the day? What time do you have meetings requiring you to talk, or use video that takes wifi bandwidth? Negotiate these things in advance to avoid any resentment bubbling up.
If possible, designate a dedicated and fully functional workspace for each working member of the household. Develop a system of visual cues to communicate when you are focused or available. For some, that could be an open or closed door. In the absence of a door, a more elaborate system like color-coded post-its on your monitor can substitute.
3. Find ways to connect human-to-human
In our #general and #team Slack channels, we’re hosting impromptu ‘coffee breaks’ for folks to hop on for 15 minutes or so and socialize. It’s not a perfect replication of the organic interactions that take place in the office, but it’s a great way to break up the day and enjoy some human interaction. We’ve also implemented a tool called Donut which will pair any willing employees to meet for donuts, lunch or coffee. We’re leveraging their Slack integration with our videoconferencing platforms to run these pairings virtually, but plan to keep it going when we return to our offices.
With the flexibility of working from home, you can choose when to take breaks, and how to spend them. Put that time to good use by checking up on family and friends! Your personal communities need you as much as your professional ones.
4. Make the most of your collaboration software
As we transitioned to being a fully remote team last week, it was harder to use visual cues (like headphones on/off and folks leaving the office) to know when people were focused or available. Shared calendars, Slack, and work management software have thus far proved indispensable in subbing in for these in-person cues. As a team, we’ve made a conscious effort to communicate our availability via our calendars and Slack, and ‘sign off’ with our teams at the end of the day. We have also made a habit of checking each other’s calendars more proactively so as not to impinge on chunks of time dedicated to focused work.
5. Be kind
In uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to exercise patience, compassion, and consideration in our personal and professional lives. Assume good intent with others as we work over text-based communication channels like email and Slack. If you notice that a colleague’s tone feels different, use it as a chance to check in on how they’re doing, rather than assuming personal conflict or tension. Err on the side of seeing opportunities for connection instead of perceptions of disconnection. Stress or loneliness may be impacting that colleague, and just as you would in a health or personal crisis, make a point to check-in and show that you care.
Be kind to yourself as well. For those who see WFH as an opportunity to exercise more autonomy over your work schedule, get creative with it. Develop a new workout, learn a new recipe, or take up a new hobby. If you’re tired, power nap. If you want to meditate, do so without worrying about a colleague barging in on you.