The COVID-19 epidemic has brought many changes to businesses, one being a sudden shift to remote work for many employees. During the past few days, like many others, I have been trying to find a way to get my job done from my living room. How do people do it, I asked myself while looking for a pen. By the way, why do I have so many dried up pens? And what’s with the dust – not now! You are working, Giada!
So I turned to the experts. One fourth of the LS Retail employees work remotely the whole year round, and they are not just lounging at home pretending to be busy (neither do I, of course…). These are people who actually get stuff done. They show up at meetings in time and well prepared. They meet project deadlines. They plan, execute, and work as a team from their home office. I needed to know their secret!
Here are their tips on how to work remotely.
1. Get dressed
Remember your childhood dream of working in your pajamas? (Ok, my childhood dream). Turns out it’s not the smartest idea. “Get into the right mindset from the start: you must behave as if it were a working day at the office,” says Peter Vach, Partner Experience Manager, who works from his home office in Stockholm, Sweden.
Joerg Schmikale, Lead Consultant located in Germany (but often working from temporary offices in ferries across Europe), agrees: “It’s important to try to keep a 'normal' workday flow. You should dress up as you would to go to the office, or to meet a client. And when you turn on your computer, treat it as if you had arrived at the office: now it’s working time.”
2. Have a space dedicated to work only
Setting up your computer at the kitchen table might be ok for an urgent call, but it’s not a good long-term setup. “Have a place in your home that’s just for working,” says Lucia Muench, who collaborates with multiple team in Sales and Business Development from her home office in Germany. “There are no distractions at my work station, and once I am done for the day, I pack away everything work related. This makes it easier to unplug.”
Anna Manning, who works in Partner Operations from her home office in Virginia, USA, agrees.
“When I need a coffee or take time for lunch, I leave my computer. I do not sit at my desk while I am taking a break, and at the end of the day I sign off and do not use my workspace for anything else.” There’s a scientific basis for this. “Our brains are wired to associate certain activities with certain places (for example, you might have a particular café you go to when you need to power through a task, or remember a certain desk at your university library where you were the most efficient), so the trick is to create a space in your home that has work connotations. Once you have created that space, it’s easier to “unplug” everywhere else,” Anna explains.
What if you don’t have space for a home office? “Pick a specific spot in your home,” Anna advises. “For example, use the same place at a dining table everyday rather than setting up on a tray that can move from place to place. If possible, try not to have that be in a place where you normally sleep or relax to maintain the mindset of going to work.”
3. Gear up
What’s the ideal home office setup? According to the LS Retail remote working team, 5 elements are absolutely necessary:
- A comfy chair.
- A spacious desk (ideally, with adjustable height).
- A good internet connection. “Make sure you have very fast broadband, and don’t get any “outage,” says Peter. This is especially relevant advice now that the kids are stuck at home, streaming and uploading videos most of the time.
- Headphones. Noise cancelling ones are ideal, although they do have some drawbacks. “I once locked my cat in the room during an online meeting,” tells Martin Kleindl, Product Director, who works out of his remote office in Austria. “The cat ended up meowing for 10 minutes, but because I was wearing a noise cancelling headset, I heard nothing. The other meeting participants found it hilarious.”
- Meeting software – on multiple devices. “Make sure that you have the app you are using for the call (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, etc.) on your phone as well as on your computer,” recommends Anna. “This way, if you experience technical issues you can quickly call back in using mobile networks.”
4. Build a routine (and don’t forget breaks)
The LS Retail remote agrees that routine is key to productivity. “It helps me to stick to a routine, for example starting and ending the day at the same time, with regular breaks planned at specific hours,” says Lucia. Katja Deticek, Solution Sales Executive, agrees. “It’s a good idea to plan out your day in advance, or at least section it by hours. My day is usually structured in three three-hour sections. In between, I take breaks, and use that time for private activities”.
Setting a routine is easy – sticking to it is the hard part. “You must practice some discipline, and try to stick to office hours like you’re used to at the office,” advises Adalbjorg Karlsdottir, who works in Support from her home in Germany. But then, even she admits that’s easier said than done. “I usually work 8-16, but if I couldn’t finish a task, I sometimes work at night, when the house is quiet.” Build a routine – but don’t beat yourself up if you fall off track sometimes.
5. Set clear rules within your household
With the whole family at home, it can be hard to stay focused. Which is why, my colleagues advise, you must set rules. “For your family members, and especially for children, it's sometimes difficult to understand when it's ok to disturb and when it’s not. Which is why we have applied some rules at our place,” says Martin. “When I have meetings, I close the door to my room. If it’s an important meeting, like a demo, I lock it. When I’m not in a meeting but I am doing important work, and need to get into the "flow", I put up a sign that means “Do not disturb” on my table. I use a small flag on a flagpole, but you can use anything. The idea is that everybody can see that I don't want to be disturbed, but I’m still available for something important. If you use this kind of sign, don't forget to remove it when you are available again! Otherwise your family will quickly learn to ignore it.”
6. Create team rituals
How do you maintain a strong team spirit when all the team members working remotely? Apparently, routines are once again the answer. “We have established a morning routine where I say ‘good morning’ to most of my team members,” says Lucia. “We also ping each other to have virtual coffees, and for regular chats.”
Planned social moments are an effective way for groups to bond. “I suggest creating some social rituals with your colleagues, like a "catch up coffee" for instance,” says Katja. “It’s important to have some interaction with your colleagues that is not purely work-related. It encourages interpersonal relations and increases the sense of belonging to the group.”
Not all group activities have to be synchronous. “The LS Retail Support team has been working from different locations for some time,” says Adalbjorg. “We have a chat group on Microsoft Teams that we use to post anything from jokes to questions related to work. It helps us feel like we are working together as a team. And of course, we can always call each other whenever needed.”
7. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone
Although text and emails are fast and convenient, chatting is more personal – and that can make a difference when working far apart. “If you are used to meeting colleagues at the office, it might be challenging to be alone at home the whole day,” says Urdur Anna Bjornsdottir, Senior Consultant, located in Germany. “If you have a question, have a quick call with your colleagues instead of sending a message. When writing we tend to go straight to the point, but during a phone call we get a better chance at showing our personalities, and connecting with others. Something as simple as a call can help keep the team united.”
Anna agrees. “If you are used to chatting with colleagues every day, it can be emotionally draining to feel so isolated. Try booking a recurring fifteen minute “coffee break” with someone you would normally socialize with during the workday. And if you have a quick question, try using the phone rather than sending an email. I often find that when I call about a question, more things come up that need to be discussed anyway.”
8. …or to be on camera
I had been wondering for years what kind of person does on-camera meeting. Turns out it’s people working from their home office. “Use the camera, at least once in a while,” Urdur tells me. “It helps you connect better with your work colleagues and clients. It also helps you quickly get the feeling of the atmosphere – are people bored? Excited? Concerned? Even a short “coffee machine chat” in the morning is more fun on-camera. It helps replicate the office environment.”
9. Stay healthy
Staying hydrated and active can do wonders for productivity. “I like to make sure that I leave the house at least once during the day,” says Urdur. “If you can’t take a walk in the morning before you get to work, at least go out to get some fresh air during your lunch break. Even a walk around the block – or on the balcony – can help.”
Even if you can’t go out, you should still stay active. There are plenty of YouTube pilates videos to choose from, and it can make a difference for your energy levels. “I find that the less active I am, the less motivated I am to work during the day,” Anna says. “Try to find some time to exercise every day. I also advise stacking books or boxes below your computer, so you can work standing for a while. Your body is probably used to breaking up the day by walking between meeting rooms or to the canteen and back. This will help.”
And don’t forget to hydrate: “I always have a glass of water or a cup of tea on my desk. It also forces you to take regular breaks, which is great for the body,” says Lucia.
10. Look on the bright side
Changing habits is hard. Even if you didn’t particularly look forward to going to the office, you might still find the sudden transition to working from home difficult. One way to cope is to see the positive side. Lucia has plenty of advice to share: “You gain the time you’d have spent commuting to the office. You can drink and eat whatever you have at home (so stock up on healthy, nutritious food!). You can take a break to exercise during the day, if you feel like it. You can arrange your day the way it works best for you. For instance, I am often very productive during the early morning hours – and then I reward myself with a second breakfast at a French bakery close to my house.”
While it’s hard to adapt to change, the simple fact of being able to work from home means we are among the lucky few who have a job that keeps our days, and minds, occupied. We have the tools to do what we do best, and while we stay safe, we can prepare for brighter days ahead. In the meanwhile, perhaps we’ll learn to be more disciplined, and finally get over our fear of on-camera meetings.