The spread and concern over COVID-19 has dramatically altered every aspect of our lives. From the global cancellation of major sporting events to runs on meat and paper goods at the supermarket, there is no part of our daily lives that has been untouched by this pandemic. For many companies, the requirement for social distancing has introduced or increased the need for telework and remote collaboration across the organization. Even as we see restrictions loosen in many places, there will be long-term ramifications for our area and the country as a whole.
As a consultant, balancing on-site and virtual support has been part of my daily life for years (not just for me but also for our roster of consultants). For those of you new to the long-term remote work experience, here are my four most important tips for continuing to be productive and engaged while working at home.
Tip 1: Find a Dedicated Space (Preferably with a Door). Much like working in an office, having a dedicated workspace is critical to success when working remotely. It helps establish your work time mindset and minimize distractions. It also establishes boundaries for the rest of your family.
A room with a door is preferable to allow you to close yourself off from the outside world. For example, a friend of mine has taken over his daughter’s room during the workday while he is being required to work from home. However, if you do not have that option, make sure you figure out a way to establish your own working space. Perhaps it is the lesser-used dining room table or a temporary folding table and chair in the corner of your bedroom.
Set up your workspace to maximize your efficiency and capabilities. Make sure you have all the supplies you need (pens, paper, solicitations, etc.) within close distance. Have headphones handy for both your computer and phone – they can be useful for conference calls and to listen to music to drown out background noise. Use paper copies of your solicitations, schedules, and outline so you can easily refer to documents.
One of the advantages of working remotely, however, is some added flexibility. So, if there is a day where the beautiful spring weather is screaming out for you to take that laptop outside, take advantage of it! Just make sure you continue to focus on your work.
Finally, most of us are having to now balance multiple adults working remotely with the additional challenge of children being home. It is important to balance our needs with those of our partners and kids. In our house, we have a stoplight chart hanging next to where my children do their schooling. This allows both of my children to know which parent is available to answer questions at any one time.
Tip 2: Keep a Routine and Schedule. One of the hardest shifts to make when working remotely is defining the line between professional and personal time. I have found it is even harder when you work from home the vast majority of the time. When you have all day and night to get your work done, it’s easy to play one more round of FIFA on the XBox or watch one more episode of that show you’re binge-watching. However, to be successful you need to establish a routine and schedule for your day. Get yourself showered and dressed in the morning – you do not need to get dressed in business attire, but the act of getting ready for the day can be an important milestone in your mental preparation. Build in both personal and professional commitments. Develop your comprehensive to do list (with both work and home items) each evening and then confirm it the next morning. Make sure you account for your key meetings, deadlines, and milestones in your schedule. Finally, accept that you will need to take breaks – you will need to replace those walks to the water cooler or discussions about last night’s game with something to keep your mind sharp.
Even in this digital age, I use a paper planner for setting up my schedule. I also try to keep to a basic routine. While I no longer have my time at the gym or dropping off the kids at school, I still use specific benchmarks (like making the bed) to transition into my work time. I recognize and build in the need for some time away from the laptop, whether that be for lunch, switching laundry, or walking the dog.
As I mentioned earlier, many of us have our children home from school for an extended period of time. This adds another layer of difficulty to working from home. Look to schedule in free time for you and them at the same time – it should minimize the disruptions from your children and give you a short, much-needed break.
Tip 3: Explore the Tools Best for Your Team and Situation. We all know that technology has made it easier for us to work remotely. While I still believe in-person sessions are the best for collaboration and solution development, it’s simply not possible now given the guidance from most companies and Government agencies. Therefore, you need to make sure your team has the right tools in place to be successful. There are two things you should focus on:
Collaboration. How can your team share files and work collaboratively on documents? Services like SharePoint, Google Drive, Dropbox, and other options can help your team work together successfully. In addition, look for virtual whiteboard solutions (for example, Google Jamboard) to allow your team to continue to collaborate and brainstorm effectively.
Communication. You need to establish ways for your team to communicate on bids or general proposal information. This includes conference calls but also less formal ways to chat. Instant messaging and texting are great options for quick check-ins with your team. You can also use tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams to promote conversations and engagement.
Your firm probably has some or all of these options. Make sure everyone knows how to use them, and find out ways to expand them across your individual bid teams. This may require some outside-the-box thinking if you are working with consultants and partners. Be patient and come up with solutions together.
Tip 4: Stay Connected! Working from home can seem isolating and lonely. You miss out on the day-to-day interactions with your co-workers (the exact reason most firms are removing people from the office environment today). You need to make an effort to maintain those relationships. Use email, text, WhatsApp, and other tools to send quick notes and connect. Feel free to occasionally talk about non-work items, just like you would in the office. Make sure you feel like you are still part of your team, not just a lone actor.
These are incredibly uncertain times around the world. The long-term impact of changes and events today will ripple through our professional and personal lives for years to come. Maintaining a positive, focused outlook can help us minimize the short-term impact to our bids, our teams, and our clients and provides a needed distraction from the rest of the world. Most importantly, keep safe.