Working from Home on Steroids

Thursday, March 19, 2020 » posts.tags:

Today we face a novel virus, SARS-COV-2, and the disease that it causes, Covid-19, spreads fast around the globe. Most countries decide prioritize people’s lives over economic welfare and decide to enforce some form of social distancing to slow down the spreading of the virus. This means that people work more from home. It is still possible to forge strong teams that hold together, but it requires good intend, respect and an effort from both team-leader and team-member.

During the last decades, we gathered a lot of experience working while with virtual teams that span different countries and multiple time-zones. Here are a few hints that can make a big difference, and turn this period of hardship in a period of opportunity, self actualisation, productivity, and personal growth.


Clarity is the quintessence of good management. Working from home is even more predicated on clarity from both team-leader and team-member.

  • Be clear on what you can and cannot do.
  • Be clear on what you need in order to be successful.
  • Speak up if you’re stuck, if you feel bad, even personal things matter, and yes: your team leader does care.
  • Provide feedback to everyone, and do not forget that your manager will need now feedback more than ever.

Build Trust

The cornerstone of a good functioning team is trust, and we tend to trust people that we see in person and meet often. Working remotely, we cannot meet in person and hence need to make sure that team members have ample opportunity to see each other and communicate.

Fortunately, technology helps us to stay connected, and offers us the next best thing to a meeting in person: the video conference. To get the best out of it, you will want to:

  • Make sure that the camera is on. This might be the only face that your lonely colleague will see for a while.
  • Make time for small talk and don’t be afraid to bring something personal to the meeting. Do not be ashamed that your pet or kid wants to be on the video conference, realize that you are doing an effort to get work done while they are around. You will be surprised how your team-members will be understanding.
  • Organise virtual coffee breaks without specific agenda, but just allow people to talk. Why not spice up the virtual break with a fun contest (drawing, best dressed, a fitness challenge, etc.)
  • Start from the assumption that team-mates are people worthy to be your friend. Start an online, informal discussion group and see what happens. Have fun, but keep it respectful.

Be Accountable

It is always important to deliver what you commit to do, but while working from home makes it becomes even more more important. Think about it this way: even in these days, there are managers that believe that productivity will go down when you work from home: prove them wrong! Prove them wrong and earn the right to work more from home.

  • Make sure that you understand what needs to be done. Re-read the section on clarity and reflect on it regularly.
  • Make sure that the task allotted to you is realistic (be clear and frank if you cannot do it).
  • Even when the two previous point are satisfied, things can go wrong. Make sure to reach out for help or escalate early.
  • Never, ever get stuck. Be your own coach and reflect often, that will help you to recognise early when your task does not go as planned.
  • Be a problem solver, bring solutions to the meeting, not problems.

Be Effective and Efficient

Accountability alone will not keep the productivity on a sufficient level, one must practice the fine art of being efficient and effective.

  • Avoid procrastination.
  • Plan ahead, set objectives and measure outcomes, hen celebrate successes.
  • Reflect often if what you are doing will work, is there a more efficient way, is it effective, etc.
  • Use team meetings and personal meetings with your manager to reflect on those issues. You will be surprised how effective it is to formulate the problem out loud.
  • It is O.K. to meet more when working with a virtual team, but try to keep meetings short.
  • Be efficient in meetings (do not change the subject before the decision or action is clear, summarize actions and decisions at the end of the meeting, stick to the subject and avoid elaborating when the decision is already made, etc.)

Get Organised

Working extended periods from home might blur the boundaries between work and private live. This is bad news for your private life, work and overall well-being. In order to be able to relax, body and mind need to see and feel a difference between work and relax.

  • Plan the week: What are the key things that you want to achieve this week?
  • Plan the day: Given the weekly objective, what can you do today to achieve that weekly objective? … and do not forget the coffee break
  • Dress for the occasion: It is ok, to opt for a dress code that is less formal than in the office, but changing clothes when transiting between working and private life helps the mind to change to the other mode.
  • Master the space: in the office you have a caring teams that make sure that workstations are ergonomic and functional. It is important to make sure that you can have an ergonomic setup of your work-station.
  • Mark your space: try to have your space to work. Even if your space is at the kitchen table, then it should be your workspace during the hours that you work. Ask family members to respect this, where possible, or integrate them in your work-experience. If that fails, discuss with your manager to adapt your workload.

Physical Health

An ergonomic workstation that allows you to switch between a sitting and standing position is not enough to stay healthy in long term.

  • Take regular breaks.
  • Stay hydrated, have a bottle of water next to you.
  • Make sure that your workstation is properly installed so that no joints would be strained much (straight wrists, straight angles in knees, screen high enough so that you do not have to bend your head, etc.). You know the drill of a healthy position after the computer. Now change it. Even the best position after a computer is not a position to use 8 hours straight. Move around, take some meetings on the phone and lay on your back or stand (decompress the spine), sit on a giant ball (not more than 15 minutes if you’re not used to it), walk with the phone, build a simple standing desk, … do whatever works but change position often. Especially take care of the following:
    • I repeat: change position often.
    • Do not work the whole day in front of a laptop that is not raised; invest in a detached monitor, keyboard and mouse.
    • Do simple and light (stretching) exercises in a 5 minutes break. Start a meeting saying that you will stop 5 minutes early and be efficient.
    • Decompress the spine after sitting an hour or so (stand, stretch, lay down, etc.).
  • Get into a workout routine: daily is best (every second day is nearly as good and even better when you’re over 50). Whatever you do, do not overdo it and seek advice.
  • Indeed, be careful: most exercises can be dangerous if not performed correctly or with too much weights. Ask the team, there must be someone that is happy to share information.
  • Set your goals. What do you want to obtain during this quarantine? Improve stamina, loose weight, or build muscle? Define your goal, set a plan, and commit to it … just as you would for work.
  • Why not combine it with informal team-meetings? Stream workouts and do it together, set a challenge, etc.

Mental Health

All the things mentioned under the heading “get organised”, will help you to keep a healthy work-life balance. However, in these trying times we might want to pay extra attention to other people too and we should seek to fight burnout and social isolation long before it occurs. Also the things in the last section might help. Additionally, you might consider:

  • Meditation, mindfulness, coaching and mentoring. Reach out to find a partner for whatever you choose.
  • Start a project to keep your mind busy (find a pen-pal, learn a new programming language, read a good book, pick up welding or knitting, etc.)
  • Whatever project you choose, talk about it, share your project with team members, find like-minded people and socialize. For example start a language-partner program in your company, a robotics club, … even a cycling club will work (just keep a healthy distance or stream your cycling on video).
  • Work out (see also the section on physical health) – working out will help you to feel better, sleep better, and be a better version of yourself in general.

Introverts, help extroverts

Generally, extroverts have an edge when it comes to making career, and functioning in an open floor system. Today, the extroverts will face a more challenging time. While the introvert welcomes the extra time that is not spend on commuting and will naturally fill it with introspection and interesting projects, the extrovert might lack energy due to thinner or more shallow social interactions.

Support each other, reach out and get personal

Social distancing, closing of pubs, movie theatres, and schools is bound to create problems for many people. Some people will have to cope with spending a lot of time with a small group of people and others will face the looming abyss of loneliness.

  • Be perceptive for other’s people’s needs. Do not assume: ask. Even when you’re not in doubt: ask, do not assume.
  • Parents with small kids in a small apartment will have a hard time to focus on work, be mindful and check in with them, offer to take over some work, etc.
  • People that are lonely need friends now more than ever. Be that friend, reach out to team-members and let them talk, share something of your own, be not afraid to share your emotions. However, do “stay on the right side of creepy”, and respect each other’s privacy.

To Conclude

You made it this far. Great! That’s a first and important step. Now, the best way to go is to reflect on this article, make your personal top three of things that you did not do and would like to do. Then write them down as your personal goals. Keep the goals next to your working station and try to do it. Then regularly revisit this article, and update your top three: your route to continuous personal improvement is on a good track … time to set more ambitious goals.

Good luck!