A Teleworking Expert Shares Which WFH Rules to Break
Many of us are adjusting to the challenges and comforts of working from home full-time. As someone who has worked remotely for five years, I’ve noticed some counterproductive advice being circulated. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the new recommendations and guidelines, here are five work-from-home rules I invite you to break:
Re-define Your Work Space
I’ve seen several suggestions for setting up a proper home office. While I’m a big advocate for having a private, dedicated work space available, this is not an option for most people. And having a single designated home office can be complicated when that physical space is needed by another family member, for example. Instead, I recommend creating a work space ritual. This may be as simple as putting on your headphones, pouring a cup of tea, or adjusting your blue light glasses and closing distracting tabs on your computer. Ideally, this is something that signals that it’s time to transition into work mode without needing to be in a specific physical work setting.
Even if you do have access to a home office, I don’t recommend spending every working hour tethered to a desk. When I first started working from home, it was important for me to have defined “work” and “home” spaces, so I trapped myself in my office from 8am-5pm. Eventually, I realized that getting fresh air had been a normal part of my office work day before I transitioned to teleworking. Movement and environment changes are vital to creativity and health. It’s is kind of all we have right now. Walking around during a meeting or making coffee during a webinar is totally acceptable in my opinion. Just mute your line.
Forego “Dress the Part”
There is something to be said for getting dressed in the morning, and while I support brushing your hair and wearing a clean shirt for video calls, I firmly believe that comfort is key. I’ve seen numerous articles suggesting that your mind functions best in your normal work attire, but mine is most productive when I’m comfortable, so on a typical work from home day, I’ll forego button up blouses and dress pants, personally. I would recommend keeping a cardigan, button down shirt, or blazer handy, though, if this is the unfortunate type of attire that your colleagues are continuing to expect on impromptu video calls.
Do Not Host Every Meeting on Zoom (or Webex!)
In my experience, five minutes of every online meeting is spent setting up the audio and cameras and waiting for everyone to join. Sometimes meeting face to face is ideal, but you do not need to create an in-person experience for every discussion. In fact, depending on the task, you may collaborate more effectively virtually.
A lot of work from home tools are creating additional obstacles and unnecessary documentation. Do not assume that your favorite virtual tools are convenient or easy for everyone.
During an in-office meeting last year, my team was split into brainstorming groups and the five teleworkers were grouped together. We immediately opened a Google Doc and began listing ideas, re-arranging them, and annotating each other’s contributions with comments. In the time it took an in-person group to designate a note taker, we had three fully developed concepts. At the end of our 10 minute brain storm, we had twenty items ranked and grouped and ready for discussion. Because we didn’t have to negotiate roles and wait for our turn to speak, we were each able to generate more ideas and collaborate at an accelerated pace.
A lot of work from home tools are creating additional obstacles and unnecessary documentation. Do not assume that your favorite virtual tools are convenient or easy for everyone. Ask for help and be patient with colleagues who are stressed right now. We all have different learning styles and preferences and when you’re struggling to understand a new technology, not being able to meet with someone in person is frustrating. Be creative and use the tools that work best for the project at hand.
Offer, but Do Not Require Flexible Hours
While you may now have unlimited access to your company computer, calendar, and work email, you should not be available at all hours of the day. My favorite thing about my teleworking routine is the timer that separates my usual work hours from my life hours. Ideally, work should provide structure to our days right now, not completely consume them. From a mental health perspective, if flexible hours exist, they should be accommodating to the employee, not the manager. Expecting a colleague to reply to a 9pm email is not okay, especially during a pandemic. Boundaries matter.
Don’t Give Up Your Commute!
If there is one part of my in-person office experience I refuse to let go of, it’s my commute. The opportunity to listen to a podcast or play your favorite music while traveling between work and home may be an obvious thing to cut out of your current routine, but I would argue that its irreplaceable. That buffer time between work and life is essential for my mental well-being.
While you may not have a physical door to store the work stress behind, I highly recommend creating a ritual that creates a boundary between your work life and home life. We’re all stressed out right now. Finding a half hour to go for a walk, listen to music, read, or meditate will give your mind a chance to rest, re-calibrate, and de-compress. You deserve it. Your family and colleagues do, too.
Being inundated with best practices while trying to adjust to a new normal can be overwhelming. Follow your instincts and take every recommendation with a grain of salt — even mine. What work from home rules are you choosing to break?