Remote Work in a COVID-19 World
Like many other folks, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to COVID-19 and its effects on the world. And, as someone who's spent most of their career working in an office, I imagine there are a lot of other “never-WFHers” like me that suddenly find themselves trying to figure out how to best work from home. I mean, even right now, you're probably trying to figure out what to do since you can’t just walk to the break room to grab some coffee. It may even be how you ended up reading this blog. So, if you're thinking, "how does he know?", let me just say this: I get you. I also know that you probably have another six minutes before your next meeting and now you don’t have to take the elevator to another floor and find that conference room you’ve only seen once in your life. Use those extra few minutes to check out the rest of this blog. I'd love to share some tips and lessons that I’ve learned in my very short WFH career.
My WFH Experience
I worked out of an office for almost every single day of my professional career for twelve years. Out of those 3,132 working days, I'd be surprised if I worked from home for 50 of them. Most of that time was because of snow. I live in Portland, Oregon, and snow will shut this city down. I remember the feeling of dread as I suffered through working on my kitchen table–dreaming of the moment I could make my way back into the office.
I don’t know why working from home never appealed to me. I’ve exclusively worked at software companies my entire career and there’s been plenty of opportunities to work remotely. In a way, I think I was convinced that you couldn’t be as effective at home and working out of the office was the thing to do. Well, after some changes in my life and career, I’ve now been working from home for almost half a year. There have been some growing pains (I had to get an actual desk and a whiteboard and stop working off of the kitchen table), but I think I’m almost competent and, dare I say, effective as a remote worker.
Your Face Matters. Your Attention Matters. Video Matters.
I get it. Sometimes you have those early meetings and now that you’re at home, it’s easy to forget to shower and you just don’t want to turn on your video. You’re still listening, though, and your voice will boom across a blank background like a declaration from the heavens. That should be good enough, shouldn't it?
Except it isn’t good enough. Your face matters. You’re able to convey more with a single twitch of your brow than sixty seconds of rambly rambles while you’re sipping your coffee or folding your laundry. And most importantly, nothing says, “You matter,” more than having your video on and staring straight at your camera.
Here’s another way to think about it: When you’re in the office, do you dial into a meeting when the conference room (and everyone else) is just a few feet away? If you do, then, by all means, no-camera away.
For the rest of us, however, proudly press that camera icon and show your face. I promise that you’ll eventually figure out a way to look glowing and chipper–even if you just rolled out of bed.
Don't Feel Obligated to Go to Useless Meetings
I really struggled with this one when I first started working remotely. I always felt that it was too easy for me to get distracted if I’m not at the office. As a result, I ended up overcompensating by accepting every meeting that came my way, even if I normally would have rejected them had I been sitting in the office. Since I didn’t have to physically move to go from meeting to meeting, it became really easy to just keep joining one after another to prove to myself that I could still be a contributing member to the team, even if I wasn’t in the same office. (And, you can bet that I didn’t have my camera on for a lot of those meetings).
The rules don’t change just because you’re remote. Your time is still valuable. The work you’re doing is still valuable even if there’s no one other than your cats in your proximity to validate it. Don’t be tempted to join those meetings just to show that you’re “present.”
Instead, show your presence by finishing out the work that’s most valuable for the team, even if it just involves you sitting there and working quietly on your own (because you did that in the office anyway, didn’t you?)
Water Cooler Talk Will Still Happen
This is especially true if a majority of your other peers are still working out of an office. This was one of the hardest lessons that I had to learn while I work remotely. Once I realized this, I could even see it as it was happening — I’d be talking to a coworker about a topic over chat and they’d stop responding and then an hour later, another coworker would bring the topic up with me after they had a hallway conversation with the first coworker.
Initiating conversations through a chat or messaging tool can feel like you’re interrupting someone and deter you from engaging unless someone reaches out to you first. This is still a challenge for me, though amusingly, I had no problems just walking up to someone’s desk or approaching someone in the hall and start talking about whatever came to my mind. Your messaging tools aren’t any different. Engage as much as you can. In fact, it’s actually more polite than grabbing someone in the hallway — at least with messaging, they can pretend that they never saw your message.
Please, Please, PLEASE Mute Your Mic if You're Not Talking
I'll be short and to the point on this one. I don’t care how many bi-directional noise-canceling whatever your headset has. No one wants to hear feedback or echoes when they’re talking and remote workers have the luxury of a mute/unmute button right at their fingertips. Use it.
Remote working is an extremely valuable skill to have in your back pocket, and hopefully, this handful of tips makes your life a little easier. And one bonus tip to office workers that work with remote workers: If a few of you meet regularly with a remote worker, try holding the meeting at your respective desks instead of in a conference room with the remote worker as the “odd person out.” It’s super easy to have “hallway conversations” in a conference room (especially on mute) that strips a lot of context for the remote individual. By having everyone seated at their own desk it helps to equalize this.
Best of luck — stay healthy and safe!