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5 Steps – March 18, 2020

5 Tips for Working From Home

Illustration: Getty Images

Hawaii Business Magazine’s “Careerist” columnist also offers bonus tips for Hawai‘i’s working parents

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, millions of Americans are joining the 5% of the workforce that’s already working from home. On the silver-lining side, it’s an opportunity for many companies to move past their fears of having a remote workforce, and for the U.S. overall to figure out (granted, under tremendous pressure) what kind of infrastructure is needed to support virtual workplaces.

There can be negatives to working from home: feelings of isolation, lack of focus, technical challenges. And I fully acknowledge that many jobs simply can’t be done remotely.

But for those Hawai‘i workers who can toil from home, the biggest benefit will be not having to commute. Car insurance comparison site Insurify says the average one-way commute in Hawai‘i is 28.7 minutes. If you have that “average” commute, that’s five hours a week back in your life. This time will help buffer some other demands being placed on you, such as learning how to collaborate remotely or juggling the needs of kids.

I’ve been working from home for seven years, and assure you, there are many benefits. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.  

1. Connect with your supervisor regularly.

If you are not already doing weekly or biweekly one-on-ones with your supervisor or your direct reports, start now. Set recurring times to touch base, whether it’s by videoconferencing or phone. Keep a running list of things to discuss during this one-on-one – get answers to questions, affirm priorities, share successes or pain points – and save on endless emails or pings the rest of the time. And hey, budget a time to talk story at the beginning of the call to have some human connection.

2. Embrace your chronotype.

Depending on the nature of your job, working from home may allow you to finally work with, not against, your chronotype (the body’s natural circadian rhythms). I’m a morning person who can’t string a sentence together past 4 p.m. So, I get up early, bang out a bunch of work and quit late afternoon. Night owls can do the opposite. Get the bulk of your work done during the time of day you are most energized. Also, don’t feel guilty if you take a 10-minute power nap. You’ll be surprised how much cognition improves after a quick rest.

3. Use creative boundaries.

Many of us do not have the luxury of a home office with a door, and if you share space with others, you may need to come up with signals, so they know when you are not to be disturbed. But have fun with it! Aspiring fiction writers wear plastic Viking helmets during National Novel Writing Month.

When my kids were little, I had a cheesy “Taking Care of Business” sign I’d hang on the doorknob during calls. It was at my kids’ eyeball height and I trained them to know that if that black sign was on the door, do not bug Mommy unless you are bleeding or something is on fire.

Even if you live alone, you’ll still need boundaries. Designate a place where your work will live, so that you can put it away or walk away from it at the end of the day. 

4. Audio or Video Meeting?

How many times have I thought a meeting was audio-only, only to discover at the last minute that oh, shoots, I need to shove the stack of laundry off a chair and throw on some lip gloss because it’s video? Several times. Double-check meeting invites, so you’ll be prepared to have a tidy, professional appearance when video is happening.

5. The Virtual Coffee

Even when working from home, you’ll still need to vent, laugh and find out the company gossip. Set up time to talk remotely in advance, just as if you were going to meet at Starbucks. I have work buddies I’ve never even met in person.

Special for All You Parents Out There

If you have small children, it’s much harder to work from home. It just is. But here are a few ideas:

  1. Time trade with your partner. Every hour have one parent “on duty,” to play, home-school, prep lunch, etc. while the other focuses on work. Then switch. No, you will not get as much done as you want to, but you will at least get something done and it’s equitable.
  2. I once heard a parenting expert say you need to “feed the meter” with kids. The idea is, put some time upfront doing what they want to do, then move on to what you need to do.
  3. Don’t feel bad if kids need extra screen time while you do something important, like join a remote meeting. As soon as you’re done, you can get back to being more accessible and get them going on a craft project or take them outside.
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