Working from Home Is Not The Same When Everyone Is
Working from home, for most of us, used to be a rare gem of a day. You could get away with dressing a little bit more casually and usually, you worked from home only on the days when there were no meetings. No one was preparing for a pandemic. No one could have predicted this type of workforce change was going to be forced upon us. Nevertheless, we are here. In this post, I want to address all of the ways that working from home full-time is different than when the work schedule allowed us to work from home.
The first, and the biggest change, is communication.
To update a meeting that used to be in person, to an online forum without any adjustments, is a mistake. They do not serve the same purpose.
The first step in re-imagining meetings is to decide what the meeting is about. Determine the purpose of bringing this group of people together. At this step, ask yourself, can this be resolved in an email? When you were working in the office, would you walk to my desk to ask me this question? Would you call me? If the answer is no, send an email. Although everyone complains they have so many emails at all times, email allows for everyone to prioritize and respond in a time that works for them.
The second step, share the purpose of the meeting with the team. Let everyone know exactly what you want to talk about and create an agenda so everyone can stay on task. An agenda also allows your participants to prepare for the meeting which will make it move along quicker.
If you have to create a meeting for multiple hours, make sure to put an order of events. What might seem like a small task to you, allows your participants to schedule their day.
The third step is thinking about who really needs to be invited. There are people who need to be a part of the conversation and there are people who need a recap of what the conversation was and what was decided. If you do not want to exclude anyone, let them choose. For the latter, add them as optional participants.
After all of the above is thought out, there may not be enough hours in the day to go to all priority meetings. My new mantra: A little recap never killed nobody. *Sing to the tune of A Little Party Never Killed Nobody*. Before each meeting, delegate a person to be in charge of sending out an email recap. If your day is filled with back-to-back meetings, this person can be invited to the meeting solely for this task. Once the recap is sent out, it can easily be forwarded to different team members or referenced if a question comes up. Leave a paper trail.
Turn On Your Camera
The last complaint and this is my biggest complaint about having video-chat meetings all day is that people do not turn on their camera. Not only can we not meet in person, but all of our meetings have turned into phone calls. At this point, I am not sure why we even use video chat. Being able to see someone’s reaction, their eye contact, their body language helps move a meeting along. You will easily know if someone is confused, distracted, or if they understand and you can move on. I do not want to talk to your abbreviations anymore.
In my recent Instagram posts, I shared a series of comfortable outfits styled two ways. One way, you look comfy. In the next, you are comfy, but look put together. Tip: Let’s be comfy, but not look comfy. When you look more put together, you feel more confident and will be more likely to turn on your camera. Turn on your camera and you will save me from insanity. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Email Best Practices
Moving along to the next popular form of communication: email. For starters, take the time to organize your emails. Create folders and rules so your emails go directly into those folders when you receive them. You will read your priority emails first. Another friendly tip, view your emails by conversations. You will always email on top of the most recent response and not answer an email that your teammate already covered. Divide & conquer. Reading your emails by conversations also allows you to go through emails quicker and be less confused by the chain.
Now that we have gone through best practices on how to read an email, let’s discuss how to write one. Think about the subject. Make sure it is relevant to the email below so it will be easy to find again. When you are typing out your email, try to anticipate all possible questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How. Taking the time to write out an email to be clear, will reduce back-and-forth emails of questions.
Before clicking send, read your email aloud again. Check that you did not forget your attachment. Did you cc everyone you intended? Life happens, sometimes you make a mistake. When you do, use the recall email action. Recalling emails are cleaner and help you appear more professional because, hopefully, no one caught your mistake. It also helps to avoid confusion for any user who does not read their emails in conversations.
When To Use IM
The last type of communication should be used sparingly: instant message. These disrupt the deep focus mental state of your co-workers. If you can wait, send an email. There are also no records of instant message conversations, so if something was decided, it is hard to look back upon it later. If you do make a decision over instant message, always follow up on email to recap so you have that record.
Like I said above, the biggest change is communication. Some other notable changes include meetings back-to-back, no movement, no fresh air, and no lunch.
Having meetings back-to-back makes it difficult to actually get your work done. If your workload allows, try to block off time on your calendar to do your work. To others, it will appear like you are in another meeting, so they will have to find a new time to meet. This method only works if people check your availability before scheduling meetings. If they do not, you will not have a good excuse not to go.
Also, if you are not someone who checks other people’s availability before creating meetings, you should. It is simple, shows you took the extra effort, and no follow-up conversation about moving the meeting is necessary.
Take Time to Walk
We used to take walking to meetings for granted. We used to take walking in general for granted. Now, my commute is from my bed to my basement. I sit there for 8+ hours and then I “come home” and sit on the couch. I set reminders on my work calendar to get up and move around, but with back-to-back meetings, this task becomes harder.
The solution to this is waking up a little earlier to get a walk-in before work even starts. It helps me feel less guilty about sitting all day. If you can’t manage waking up earlier, try doing a lunch-time walk around the block or your house. Stretching at lunch could help, too.
There are days that I go without fresh air. It is unnatural. I used to walk around Manhattan all of the time and now, I barely walk to the mailbox. When we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed from work, let’s try to go outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. I wonder if it changes your perspective.
Lunch Time Changes
The last change I have is lunch. This change is a good or a bad thing, depending on the day. Some days, when I can take lunch, I am able to cook because I have access to my kitchen which I did not have in the office. Other days, I can barely make it to my refrigerator to find a random leftover to eat between meetings. Even before this pandemic, I always tried to avoid scheduling meetings between 12-2 pm. If you can avoid it, give yourself a moment to breathe and digest.
In conclusion, working from home used to be a time to sit on the couch, catch up on emails and tasks, and get organized. Now, working from home is constantly being confused due to lack of clear communication, going insane talking to abbreviations, feeling sore from sitting in the same spot all day, feeling guilty for not breathing fresh air, and being wolfish because lunch should’ve been eaten three hours ago.
Life is stressful right now, it’s a pandemic, but when you have a good day, you forget about all of the above. At least I do. I started an end of day routine which has helped me leave work in the basement. I write down what I learned, what upset me, and what excited me for the day. Stand and take a deep breath. I want to add stretching to this routine but have forgotten every day since I started. When I walk up those stairs, I try to think about what makes me happy; usually dinner and a glass of wine followed by a steaming, hot shower and what I call a “shower concert”.
Walking upstairs is my new commute. I try to reflect on my goals and what I want to do for the evening. Sometimes, oftentimes, I have no mental capacity left and I sink into the couch. Other nights, like tonight, I work my way down my to-do list.
Even though working from home is not what we expected, it is nice to not have to commute in bad weather. Not needing to to chase a train or a subway is a pleasant outcome. Avoiding the disappointment NJ Transit consistently gives you. It is nice we get to sleep later. Having access to our full kitchens for meals. It is nice we can spend more time with our family or roommates. Being employed is also nice. Most of all, we cannot overlook that we are healthy enough to go on for another day.
Write out your emotions when you have a stressful day. Even though a journal is paper and not a human, writing down my thoughts helps me feel heard.