For much of the world, the sudden shift to working remotely has been a shock and a challenge. For those of us here at The Kevin Eikenberry Group, it’s been a typical work week….kind of. In this series, we want to share our perspective as veterans “on the front lines” of remote work. We’ve learned a thing or two over the years that we hope might help you in your transition.
How long have you been working remotely?
My first corporate management job involved remote team members, so over 24 years. The last 13 I’ve been working from home 100% of the time and really enjoying it. Turns out, Wayne doesn’t do well in captivity.
What challenges (if any) are different for you in our COVID-19 remote work world and what tips do you have for overcoming these challenges?
The most obvious change is that you probably aren’t alone. I know I’ve gone from my wife working out of the house to being home constantly, but she’s pretty much retired. If you have a spouse who needs access to the computer, or kids who need home schooling (not to mention mom and dad’s attention) it’s hard to just put your head down and get your work done, even if you were successful before all this.
The biggest, unacknowledged, change is that it turns out existential dread is really not conducive to maintaining focus and clear thinking. Many people are feeling more stress than they expected, even if they are personally untouched by illness. The barrage of news, social media, gossip, and concern for your family and community has a more corrosive impact on our ability to think clearly and concentrate on work.
What was your biggest challenge when you first started working from home and how did you overcome it?
At first, I reveled in the lack of structure. I didn’t have to shower, I could wear whatever I wanted, and my day didn’t have a formal start or stop time. Then I realized I was working too many hours, and wasn’t really able to focus my time the way I did when I went into the office more often. The answer was to construct a routine that helped me mentally set my feet to meet the day. Because i’m on the West coast, I start early checking emails and setting my to-do list. Then I take the time to shower, make the bed, dress in work-appropriate (webcams mean you only have to look business-y from the waist up) clothes and begin my day. At the end of the day I log out of Slack and turn off email notifications.
What tips do you have for staying connected with your teammates?
There are two things I’d say:
For people that you interact with all the time, use video as much as you can, and make a point of reaching out.
For people that you don’t interact with often, make a point of reaching out in a simple way. Find an excuse… birthdays, or congratulations on a job well done. We use Slack which makes it easy to send a message and a silly emoji or GIF. If someone shows up in my email or my Slack m messages who I haven’t spoken to for a while, I make a point of reaching out to them. Also don’t forget to make your message personal–like you actually put some thought into it.
Working from home can blur the lines between personal and professional. How do you set boundaries to help with this?
You have to be intentional and want to do it. If you have a house full of people this may require some ingenuity. Setting a schedule that switches back and forth between work and domestic responsibilities helps. That way your conscience will leave you alone to focus on the task at hand. Have a formal start and stop time to your day so that the people you live with can set expectations. If you work during the day but never get off your email, they will start being more demanding of your time because they don’t think they’ll get it any other way.
What advice would you offer for those who are just now entering the remote work force?
Cut yourself some slack and don’t over-schedule yourself. Putting too many items on your to-do list (especially if you know you can’t do them all) will become demotivating and end up making you feel worse. Also, check in with your boss and teammates to make sure you’re striking the right balance of your personal tasks and work that’s important to the team.
What are some of your favorite tools/technology and why?
I have learned to make peace with the webcam. I don’t love being on camera, but the benefits so outweigh the need to take a shower and brush your hair.
I also really love Slack, although you can do most of the same things with Microsoft Teams or other tools if you put your mind to it. Having separate channels for each project, as well as having channels for personal, fun, and learning discussions is a great way not to clog up email but stay in touch.
About the Author
Wayne Turmel is the Co-Founder and Product Line Manager of Remote Leadership Institute. He has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 20 years. He has taught and consulted at both Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world – for the last 8 years focusing on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.