Ellevest

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23 Hard-Won Tips for Working at Home

By Stephenie Girard

Some of us are sheltering in place or have employers who told us to stay home to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. Others have kids out of school, or want to stay home because they’re at greater risk for the virus, or because they’ve been exposed to it. If you can stay home and work — which is a huge privilege — it’s a good idea to do it. Other people can’t, and anything we can do to help flatten the curve and keep our healthcare systems open for them is crucial.

A woman sitting at her WFH setup.

But if this is your first time doing it, working at home can be a huge adjustment. It can feel weird. It can be lonely. The change of routine could be a reminder of what’s going on in the world, and make it hard to focus. You could be climbing an uphill tech battle, on top of everything else (and if you haven’t watched the iconic “Conference Call in Real Life” video, please enjoy it now).

I work from home and love it, as do many on the Ellevest team (flexibility for the win). Here are a few of our best tips for staying connected, efficient, and un-frustrated while you’re working from home.

Communicating with coworkers

One of the hardest things about working from home is that you have less eye contact and no peripheral sense of what’s going on in the office around you. That means you can take cues incorrectly or feel like everything is going on without you. Here are a few ways to handle that:

  • I love taking the “most respectful interpretation” approach with coworkers — aka assuming that we’re all here for the good. This becomes especially important when you’re dealing with often-abrupt messages.

  • Try to connect via video calls, not just Slack and phone. You get a lot of signals about communication from people’s faces.

  • That said, ask what people prefer. For instance, I don’t mind phone calls and I like to pace around while I talk, to keep moving while I’m housebound. That can be something you decide to do with one-to-one conversations if you’re both cool with it.

  • Check in with how people are feeling. Some people aren’t as forthcoming with what’s going on when it’s remote, because they have to “push” their feelings out there rather than just expressing them. Ask.

  • Overcommunicate about deadlines and personal schedules, so you’re on track. We have a “Where you at?” Slack channel at Ellevest so people can let the team know … well, you get it.

  • Virtual happy hour!

Having efficient meetings

Drawn-out video meetings where people talk over each other or are inaudible or don’t see what you’re seeing? Been there. A few things I’ve learned:

  • If you’re using new tech (like video meetings or conference calls, or even new headphones), test it out ahead of time if you can. Fumbling for how to unmute yourself or share your screen can be stressful.

  • If you’re in a virtual meeting, wait a beat when people are done talking before you start. Otherwise, you might be interrupting what was just a pause to think. (Which will happen, and a quick “I’m sorry, go on” is just fine.)

  • But you can interrupt when it’s in the name of saving time. If you can’t hear what someone’s saying because of bad audio (or sirens or babies or cats in the background), jump in right away to say so. Nobody likes to hear that they’ve been talking for five minutes for no reason.

  • “Can everyone hear me?” Great question until it’s been asked for the seventh time in a big meeting. Evangelize an approach of “we’ll tell you right away if we can’t hear you” so that people don’t feel the need to ask.

  • Agendas are your friend right now — and if you can give a timeframe for each agenda item, that’s even better. It will set expectations for who should be talking when, and stand in for in-person cues when things are dragging on.

  • Pro videoconferencing tip: Sometimes when those wifi gods are capricious and things are glitchy and frozen, turning off your video feed but staying on audio will help you out.

Organizing your day

Work-from-home hours have a tendency to creep. For one thing, you’re lacking the change of scenery and coworker cues that tell you where you’re at in the workday. For another, when you’re less connected to your team in person, it can feel like you need to prove you’re working all the time.

But think about how much time you spend at work not working. You’re socializing and doing things like grabbing lunch, running for coffee, or blocking out an hour for an appointment or the gym. It’s OK to take breaks. You can chitchat over Slack or Google Hangouts. It’s all part of a day’s work. A few tips for doing it:

  • Make a routine for yourself: Get up at the same time, try to stop work at the same time, put a lunchtime and an exercise break on your calendar. You’re not working with some of the hard stops you’re used to: subway schedules, childcare deadlines, open hours of your fav lunch place. A routine can help substitute for those and give you a sense of when work is done.

  • Start each day with a to-do list, even if you’re not a bullet journaler in real life. This also adds signposts into your day (and is a good productivity tool anytime).

  • Remember to schedule time for things that take longer right now: grocery shopping, extra cleaning, schooling and caring for children. Be up front and realistic with your coworkers about the time you need.

Self-care

Self-care at work is important at any time — and, to be honest, we tend to ignore it. Add in the stressors of working from home and all that’s going on outside it? Ignoring it will quickly become impossible. A few things to keep in mind that are particular to the wfh situation:

Your body

  • Do a check of your workspace for basic ergonomics: Are your feet touching the floor? Is your screen at eye height? Working from the couch is a great plus for a little while, but will hurt if you do it all day, every day.

  • Stand up. You could move a laptop to a high counter or set it on a box to stand while you work, or make it a policy to stand up during meetings.

  • Take breaks. You can set autoreminders for yourself or for your team. (Our Content team informs me they now have Slackbot messages that say: “Reminder: Stand up, move, get a glass of water, use the restroom, wash your hands.”)

Your mental / emotional health

  • Get dressed at the beginning of the day, unless you’re actually sick — that way you don’t have to do it later and you can easily step outside for a break or an end-of-day walk.

  • Find a way to socialize. Maybe you can meet someone for coffee or plan to go for a walk together during the day. Get outside if your circumstances permit it. Use your newfound meeting skills to virtually chat with friends.

  • If you can, differentiate your workspace. You may have limited space and you may be sharing that limited space with a bunch of other humans. Even if it’s just a corner and only during work hours, carving out space that feels like it’s “yours” and reserving it for work time can help you feel in control of your day.

  • Come to an arrangement with the other people in your house about your work time. Are they also working? Headphones are lifesavers. Heads-ups of “I’m starting a meeting in 10 minutes; please don’t run the dishwasher yet” are considerate. You can talk with kids and set boundaries there too, if they’re old enough.

  • Ask to see people’s pets in meetings. They’re the real heroes here.


Disclosures

© 2020 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.

Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

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Stephenie Girard

Stephenie Girard is the lead career coach at Ellevest. She helps Ellevest members negotiate their pay, navigate changes, and take charge of their careers.