Working Remotely: Working Smarter before your First Cup of Coffee

Working remotely is the new normal
Before 2020 over 4.7 million Americans were already working from home, and this data was on the rise from previous years. After COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, a global survey conducted by Gartner, Inc. found that 88% of the business organizations all over the world mandated or encouraged all their employees to work from home as the virus started to spread at exponential rates. Even for seasoned remote workers, balancing new additional responsibilities such as distance learning youngsters, and a co-working spouse who share the workspace can cause waves to overall productivity and sanity! Most likely, you can relate to this.

Start Overcommunicating
Some days you may feel like your home office is more like a circus act, and you are taking the ringleader’s role.   It is a balancing act, and the most effective first step is communication with both teams – your family and your work team.

Effectively working from home doesn’t just happen. There are some critical planning and set-up required to be the most successful. Here are a few essential things to consider:

  • Take inventory at home: Know the expectations on the home front.  Are there times you will need to meet with a teacher online with one of your distance learners? Who is in charge of lunch?  Does someone need a ride to practice? Who is making coffee? What times of the day are everyone’s meetings where they cannot be interrupted?  Consider making a color-coded calendar for all family members and discuss daily over breakfast.  Knowing when it is ok to ask questions, interrupt, or enter another family member’s workspace is essential to everyone’s sanity and productivity.  Communicating and planning out these details are incredibly critical to everyone’s personal and professional success.
  • Communicate with managers: Once you have set some ground rules at home, you are ready to communicate with your teammates and managers. If possible, schedule a weekly meeting with your manager to discuss the week ahead.  Discuss projects, deadlines, and include key times that you may not be in the best space for conversation.
  • Collaboration with teammates: Staying connected is essential to your mental health and productivity; however, you will need to set boundaries to be a quintessential producer. When possible, schedule meetings on a reoccurring basis for check-ins and project updates.  Social work connections are also crucial yet should be kept separate from work meetings.  Consider scheduling additional weekly social calls where the expectation is connection.  Clear agendas for each type of call will make the most of everyone’s time and keep everyone on track and focused during calls designed to cover KPI and project goals.

Perception or misconception is reality
When working remotely, it is imperative that you own your job duties and can speak to your progress at any given time. When entire teams work remotely, everyone’s role depends on others’ ability to meet deadlines and perform at a high level while managing their own time and goals. Your communication and work product will be at the core of perception.  Some critical components of how your team views you may include the following:

  • Availability: Scheduling meetings will help streamline your day; however, you may need to communicate with specific teammates outside of your scheduled calls. This communication includes phone calls, emails, conference calls, and any work connectivity apps you may use.  Make sure that if you are set to available on these platforms – you genuinely are.  If you check your email at scheduled times throughout that day, advise your team of your typical response time.
  • Visibility: Choose your background wisely. If you intend to hold virtual meetings, the background you choose should be visually pleasing to your viewers. You don’t want to be talking with coworkers or clients with laundry or any evidence of your household dismay in plain sight.  We all have it, but we don’t need to showcase it.  Your background should be professional and a representation of your role and personality!  Regardless of your office location, it would be best if you always appeared professional.
  • Online activity: What and when you post on social media affect your social footprint and may affect your relationship with your team. Put your personal phone away during scheduled working hours, or set your apps to silent.  Check-in on social media before or after work or at scheduled times throughout the day.  Your performance will thank you.
  • Know your bandwidth: Regularly discuss successes and challenges with your teammates. If you are at risk of not meeting a deadline, always ask for help before it’s too late and could harm your team performance. In other words, don’t drop the ball and never tell anyone.

Setting boundaries and managing distractions: 
Working from home seems liberating at first, and can continue to feel that way with the proper boundaries.  Failing to set your boundaries and allowing yourself to be available 24/7 can hurt your productivity, your performance and lead to burnout. Consider starting with these vital elements to your workday.

  • Start and stop times: If you were working in the corporate office, you most likely wouldn’t be checking your email after hours or “checking in” with your team before your morning shower. Implementing start and stop times are critical elements to a successful day, and the first step in setting boundaries. Adhere to your schedule. Consider having an alarm set for 15 min before start and stop times.  Then shut the door and walk away.  Everything will be waiting for you in the morning, and your sanity and productivity will thank you.
  • Take regularly scheduled breaks: Give your performance a boost! Breaks have been shown to have a positive relationship between well-being and productivity. Use this time to check social media, cross a personal task off of your list, or get some fresh air by taking a walk.
  • Make meals a priority: Just like scheduling important meetings, schedule your mealtimes. Revitalize your body and mind and then attack the afternoon with a fresh perspective.
  • Distractions: Try to eliminate anything that may harm your ability to concentrate. While you may not be able to stop the activity, i.e., the neighbor’s lawnmower or road construction nearby, you can change the way you let it affect you.  If you can’t concentrate, consider changing your location. Co-working facilities, coffee shops, even a local hotel may not only eliminate the distraction, but the change of scenery may boost your productivity!
  • Enjoy your free time: Several studies have shown that taking time away from work has health benefits.  People who take vacations have lower stress, better physical and psychological health, and more motivation to achieve goals.

Finding your balance:  Achieving a good work-life balance while working remote can be challenging. If your work circumstance has changed, redefine what balance looks like now.  Balance is different for each individual and can change daily. Your unique balance is based upon your priorities.  Evaluate each day.  Discover what is working well and stick to it!  Please don’t give up something that you value because you don’t have time for it.  Consider evaluating your time and making time for the activities and people that you love.


April Eskelson is the Director of Instructional Design at Jacaruso Enterprises, Inc. They provide a remote hotel sales service and eLearning to over 800 hotels in the US, Canada, Mexico and Latin America.

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