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Working from Home: Best Practices
In this document:
Working from home for a long period of time, especially in a potentially stressful context, can affect the way you work, feel or live.
A few tips and recommendations can help you deal with this very specific situation.
This document is not a set of rules to follow, but advices for anyone to take or not.
It’s based on several recommendations from various online sources and on personal experience.
Arrange your work setup
You will spend hours per day in your workplace, for days, weeks or more… having a dedicated workspace and well-arranged and equipped workplace can help you focus on your tasks, have effective video-audio communications, feel comfortable enough to preserve your health.
Ideally, if possible:
a separate room
a dedicated space in a room, preferably quiet from distracting family, roommates, etc...
====== dedicated desk,
large enough for computer, additional monitor, notebook, documentation, coffee cup... ======
====== a real comfortable office chair,
sitting for too long on an unadapted seat can quickly transform your day into a nightmare. ======
====== follow usual ergonomic recommendations
as if you were at the office: distance to screen, angles, seating position, etc… ======
====== natural light,
preferably not reflecting in your computer’s screen. ======
====== keep away coffee and drinks from your computer,
as obvious as it seems, remember that any problem with your computer while working remotely, can turn your day into a disaster. ======
a desktop or laptop,
====== if possible, one additional external monitor,
with available cable/adapter. (hit Windows key + P for choosing to extend your display) ======
====== audio equipment,
headset with microphone + speakers for video or music playback ======
====== enough USB ports
for plugging mouse, headset, external usb drive… or charging phone. ======
One of the biggest challenge while working at home is to create boundaries and balance between work and personal life.
Temptations may be great, both ways, to be distracted or work too much.
Working hours, including breaks
====== Have and share clear working hours (and days),
like if you were working at your office, that way your colleagues but also your family or friends to know when you are available for them… or not.
It will also help you have a clear routine, helping define work-life boundaries.
====== Have regular breaks.
Because while working at home it can be tempting to feel comfortable enough to work 8 hours straight or more without stopping, your body and mind still need to relax.
One break every 2 hours, for a coffee, tea, enjoy some fresh air, doing some exercise will help you not only be more effective but most of all preserve your health and mood.
Have a real lunch time.
====== For obvious reasons, dedicating a specific workspace, will help you feel “at work”.
Ideally a separate room, or at least a dedicated space in a quiet room.
Away from distractions or disruptions.
It can seem obvious but dressing up for work is not only recommended for video conferences…
but also for helping you feeling “at work” and distinguish the relax moments and the working hours.
Being dressed up as for going to work will help you feel like… working,
Changing your outfit both for your working time and after will help also have clear boundaries.
Take care of your meetings
Be aware that one of the main risk while working at home can be feeling more isolated, so any interaction with workmates, colleagues, managers or other professional contacts is precious, for you and for them.
be prepared, stay focused, enjoy the moment and take notes.
Because other attendees do not need to wait until you remember you had a meeting, plugged your headset and microphone, fixed your computer settings, put a shirt on, arrange your environment…
Prepare your meeting in advance for being available and presentable right away:
Prepare your videoconferencing application
Prepare your equipment and what you need (documentation, coffee, …)
Test your audio-video settings with a colleague before your meetings
Arrange your environment (visual background, people around, background noise, etc…)
Mute your microphone when you don’t need to talk, especially for meeting with many people.
Attending a meeting remotely can make you feel less part of it than physically. Stay focused, not only for not missing information but also for showing that you care about what’s going on.
====== Avoid doing something else if out of context:
email, texting, leaving for having your coffee, reading online news, talking to someone else in your room, etc… ======
Take notes, preferably in a notebook - paper version, typing sounds can be ennoying…
====== Don’t hesitate to present yourself if needed, talk, participate,
make meeting attendees know you are here. ======
Send meeting report, if you’re the meeting organizer or if this task has been assigned to you.
Respect remote attendees
If everyone is not remotely attending your meetings, ask the people gathered in a same room to:
avoid side discussions, background noises,
present themselves if needed,
speak clearly and loud enough.
People in a same room can easily forget that you are remote and made efforts to attend,
(especially if you followed the recommendations of chapter 3.1).
- Organize yourself
Being at home for working can make it more difficult to feel effective, productive or simply focused, and on the other hand, it can help while working on some tasks needing more concentration.
Define time slots
Mostly for tasks with deadlines or needing more time and concentration to be achieved, you may need to define time slots in your day or week with 3 goals:
Planning your day or week and setup your objectives
Prioritizing your tasks
Preparing any time report needed or activity sharing with the team (i.e daily Standups)
You can even use your personal Outlook calendar for “booking” those time slots and be sure that no meeting invitation will mess up your plans.
As part of daily or weekly briefs or team reports, share your work objectives and plans.
This will not only make you feel accountable for your objectives but let also others know that you have your hands full or that have the bandwidth for helping.
Use to-do lists
The simpler and effective way to organize your work is to use to-do lists, either written on your notebook or using applications like Outlook or OneNote.
Review it regularly,
Update priorities and re-order.
Working remotely can in worst case make others think you got off the grid.
Staying in contact with your team with regular communications, sharing what you’re working on and your objectives.
It will not only confirm your accountability for some subjects but also help others know who to contact if they have questions or need information or simply show them that you’re alive and in good conditions.
Daily standup meetings
Even remotely you can attend standup meetings with your colleagues.
If not really “standing up” in front of your laptop (but you can do it), it’s important to share what will be your day, what are the ongoing matters you’re working on and what your colleagues’ plans are.
Attend the daily standup
Use those standup to have real interactions with your colleagues, not just giving a daily one line status.
Have your status visible
When using your instant messaging and communication tool (i.e. Skype for Business), you can share not only your Home Office current location but also information on what you are doing:
Use the mood field (“What’s happening today”) in Skype for Business, for sharing both location and status.
i.e. “Home Office : Working on specific documentation”
Schedule frequent meetings
With your team(s) and/or your manager, having frequent or regular meetings is precious.
This not only to be visible but also:
To keep a level of interactions,
Preserve the collaboration part of your team work,
Balance your individual tasks, sometime fastidious, and interactive ones,
Let others know that you’re ok.
Because you need more than ever to share information and documents remotely you may need to choose the best tools and the best way to use them.
Modern collaborative tools, such as SharePoint, OneNote… not only allow to share documents but also allow several people to work at a same time on documents.
This can be very effective, but also bring some complications and need some adjustments for an effective remote collaboration:
Tell your colleagues as much as you can what are the documents you’re working on,
Inform as possible about the status or version of document to be published,
Inform them when you’re done working on it, or if you needed to move it or added some important modifications,
Synchronize with the colleagues working on same document about each other’s objectives,
When creating new documents, be sure to communicate on what it’s for and where to find it.
Document and explain
Working remotely may need also to be more verbose than usual, explain more and more clearly what your thoughts or ideas are, all this to ensure that you’re not misunderstood or that others are not missing your points. This for both oral and written interactions:
Be sure to use a proper tone for sharing your message,
====== Focus on making information clear and precise,
without being overwhelming with emails taking hours to read, take your time re-reading your communications, adapt the form of it, be sure that your points will be properly understood, ======
Stay positive, caring and proactive.
It can be easy to forget some information after an online meeting or a discussion.
====== Take note of any important informations that has been shared,
during meetings, instant messagings, phone or audio-video calls, etc… ======
====== Use OneNote,
If your notes are written manually, i.e during a meeting, take some time to keep it safe by re-writing them in documents or in OneNote or via email, this will help you find later the information you need or to share it easily. ======
Set clear responsibilities
Working remotely without enough communication can cause problems knowing who’s working on what, and in worst cases having several people working on same task. Same with projects with objectives or assessments not clearly explained or shared enough.
Define responsibilities for each one
Defining those responsibilities is not only sharing each coworker’s objectives but also:
Who’s responsible for what, starting and ending when,
Write down those information,
Be sure that everyone have this information at anytime.
In case of doubt: ask
Because uncertainty can lead to mistakes, if you’re not sure of who’s doing what:
Check the information, standup reports, meeting reports for confirmation,
Feel free to ask colleagues or manager for confirmation,
Better be sure than stepping on someone else’s toes.
Preserve your team spirit
Because having a daily standup meeting, fast and short by definition, is not enough for preserving the team interactions, you may have to add extra interactions with your colleagues.
Synchronous and asynchronous tools usually allow to create groups.
====== Create a group for your team in your collaborative tools
Skype for Business, Outlook, Teams, etc…
this will allow you to send a broadcast message to the whole groupe. ======
Send informal messages
Checking in with your colleagues, at least to say hello, once a day,
Sharing not only professional matters but personal, or just jokes helps keeping contact,
Those messages can be short, quick, reminding others you’re here and taking care of them.
Prefer audio and video calls
Working at home means most of the time working with your computer, alone at your desk.
But working as a team means having interactions with others.
Have audio or video calls with your colleagues,
Talk about work… but not only,
Talk with others… but listen too.
Not a rule but having at least a real discussion with each colleague, once a week, can be considered as a minimum.
Note: in case of confinement and many people working remotely, cautiously use video calls and streaming to avoid network saturations.
Contact your manager
Don’t wait for your manager to contact you but be the one initiating communication for:
Sharing your mood,
Sharing your objectives,
Sharing needs or concerns,
Sharing your achievements,
Ask about personal matters, yours or your manager’s ones.
Take care of your health… and others
Probably the most important chapter of this document and advice to share.
Because you’re working at home means that you’re having less physical activity, meaning that you need to take more care of your health… and others’ one.
Stretch and have a walk
If you don’t need any more to walk for taking your car, or the bus, or a train, or a bike to be at your office, you’ll need to compensate with new routines.
====== Have regular breaks during the day,
even if this needs to setup some reminders. ======
Stand up regularly,
Have a walk, even for a few minutes around your home,
====== If you have consecutive meetings, preserve ~5mn between them.
Schedule or take a few minutes to have a real break: avoid staying seated for half a day!
Apologize and leave the meeting 5mn before scheduled end,
take a break, walk, breathe and be prepared for next one. ======
Again, to compensate a lack of physical activities during the day, think about:
Subscribing or increasing external physical activities: sport, gym, running, biking, walk, etc…
If you can, use practicing equipments at home (hometrainers…),
Define new routines including additional physical exercises.
Adapt and control your diet
Eating and drinking can be tempting while working at home all day. The fridge is just there…
With less activity and social interaction, it can be easy to compensate with food and drinks or to completely forget that you need them.
====== Focus on healthy food,
side effects of heavy meals can affect more stronger your work and health ======
Remember to have real breaks, including lunch. Stay hydrated and fed (responsibly),
====== Eat and drink away from your desk,
not only to preserve your computer for any damage but also to enjoy a real break. ======
Pay attention to your health
While working at home you have less exercise, you may have difficulties to notice any subtle sign of your body having troubles.
Listen to your body,
Don’t wait if any sign of sickness appears, speak to your doctor or have medical assistance coming to your home,
Inform your colleagues and management about any concern about your own health.
Pay attention to others
For the same reasons as in previous chapter, sometimes it’s easier to detect health issues for others than for ourselves. Take time to check your colleagues about their health:
Ask how they feel, be concerned,
Ask them what are their plans if they are not feeling good,
Tell them to ask for medical assistance,
And see the checklist in chapter 12 for yourself and for your colleagues.
Focus on health routines
It’s much easier to adopt routines than define goals.
====== Adopt small physicial exercises during your breaks
(before work, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, afterwork…) ======
Practice daily physical activities (longer ones),
====== Have “anytime” stretching exercises while working
i.e. standups, stretching after any audio-video calls, etc… ======
Remote work implies working on a computer most of the time if not always.
'Shut down your computer(s) at the end of your day,
Stay away from screens as much as you can,
Try as possible to avoid professional emails, text messages, etc… once your day is done.
Working at home, is staying at home…
Go out, breathe, walk, ride… (but avoid contacts).
Going out, even for a few minutes during working hours can help you come back with cleared mind, new motivation and better ideas.
Being at home all day can lead to isolation or at least feeling isolated.
It’s important to keep opportunities to go out, hang out with friends or even alone and have some good time… away from home.
Stay in touch
Staying all day at home, subject to isolation can quickly lead to depression moments.
Stay in touch with colleagues, friends and family.
Communicate: phone calls, video calls,
Let friends and family come to visit you or visit them as much as you can*.
Prefer real time communications or meetings than texts or emails.
Block some schedule slots for yourself
If the global situation allows it and events are available:
====== Plan some outside activities*,
cinema, theatre, expos, visiting friends ======
Having free slots will avoid to “forget” about going out* and let your friends know about your available times.
Keep yourself informed about local events
If the global situation allows it and events are available:
====== Check regularly for local events around you,
concerts, markets, conferences, etc… ======
Ask your friends about what’s going on,
Ask your colleagues too.
*Exceptional situations and confinement
In case of confinement, of course please avoid going out.
You will then have to find alternatives at home:
Online live concerts,
OnDemand Vidéo services,
Online live conferences.
Ask for help
For any IT issue or service, call or email your Service Desk.
Health / CoviD-19
Some public information on CoviD-19:
====== World Health Organization (WHO / OMS):
Switzerland: Call 144 for Emergency Rescue Service (Ambulance), 117 for Police, 118 for Fire.
France: Call 15 for Medical Emergency, 17 for Police, 18 for Fire.
This document can be quite long to read and memorize or keep in mind, but you can use the following checklist, both for yourself or for checking your colleagues.
Remember that all this document is not a ruling guideline but only best practices for you to adapt, taking or leaving what suits you or not.
1.1Dedicated workspace: Do you have one?
1.2Comfortable workplace: Is your workplace comfortable enough?
1.3Adapted equipment: Is your equipment adapted to your needs?
2.1Working hours, including breaks: Did you have breaks today? How long did you work?
2.2Dedicated workspace: Do you have a dedicated workspace?
2.3Dress up: How did you dressed today?
3.1Be prepared: Were you fully prepared for your meeting(s)? What has gone wrong and why?
3.2Stay focused: Did you follow the whole meeting; can you summarize it?
3.3Improve remote and physical meetings: How could you improve the meeting?
4.1Define time slots: How are you organized with your tasks or objectives?
4.2Share your objectives: Did you share your objectives with your team?
4.3Use to-do lists: What’s in your to-do list?
5.1Daily standup meetings: Did you had standup meetings every day?
5.2Have your status visible: Did you update your status?
5.3Schedule frequent meetings: What are your next meetings?
6.1Collaborative tools: How are you using Sharepoint?
6.2Document and explain: What was your most important communication?
6.3Take notes: use OneNote: What were your last notes?
7.1Define responsibilities for each one: What are your ongoing responsibilities?
7.2In case of doubt: ask: When was the last time you asked or needed for clarification?
8.1Create groups:Are you using groups in Skype? Is every team member in there?
8.2Send informal messages: To who did you sent such informal messages? What was it about?
8.3Audio and video calls: How much audio/video calls you had today?
8.4Contact your manager: When did you contacted your manager for the last time?
9.1Stretch and have a walk: Did you had a walk today?
9.2Exercise: What exercise are you having those days? What are you plans?
9.3Adapt and control your diet: What did you had for lunch?
9.4Pay attention to your health: How are you feeling? Did you notice any change?
9.5Pay attention to others: Who did you contact for knowing how they feel?
9.6Focus on health routines: What are your routines?
9.7Get out! When did you get out?
10.SocializeWhere did you go for your last outing?
10.1Stay in touchWhen did you have news from friends and family for the last time?
10.2Block some schedule slots for yourself: What are your scheduled free slots?
10.3Keep yourself informed about local events: What’s going on around you?
11.Ask for help Do you need some help? Did you ask for help?
12.ChecklistDid you used this checklist for you or some colleague?
Having personally experienced such situations of long lasting remote working, amongst many others one specific long period of nine months in 2012-2013, for providing technical support to colleagues during Windows 2008 servers migrations on field delegations.
I made a lot of mistakes while dealing with such specific situation, had to look for advices and ideas and find by myself finally some workarounds, adaptations or solutions.
Having in mind that I was most of the time working 8 hours straight, sometimes more, between 6PM and 2AM or 2AM and 10AM, alternatively one week to the other.
The more noticeable mistakes I made and solutions I had to find:
No dedicated desk or workplace and unsuitable seat
Working on a dining table is ok for a few hours but clearly not good for a long time.
sitting on a drummer stool or teakwood garden armchair, I quickly broke my back feeling like being 80 years old after a few days, making difficult to be effective or even friendly enough to my remote colleagues (the mood is highly related to your health situation),
- I then invested in a simple desk, installed in my room, providing both the workplace and separate workspace.
- I invested also in a real office chair, comfortable enough for sitting for hours without affecting body and mental health.
No breaks during working hours
Working 8 hours straight and sometimes more without any break or only minutes for grabbing coffee, something in the fridge or a drink for having it at my desk, while still working = zombie and health effect.
- I forced myself into having real breaks, not only for lunch but for also having fresh air, stretch legs, walk as much as I could, even if because being a kind of “emergency support” for several field teams, I had to be available but mobile applications (i.e skype for business and email) helped to compromise.
Shifts were supposed to be 8 hours long but sometimes started before official time, for checking up with colleague having the previous shift or in order to be sure to be ready. It could end of course way after supposedly ending while finishing an urgent task, providing live support, etc…
Of course, providing the best support is rewarding and useful, but this should remain exceptional, most of all for such working conditions (night, alternate hours…).
Organized work, meetings and interactions with the team
I cannot say that such specific period and mission needed specific efforts on organization, meetings included or interactions with the team.
This because I had weekly “real” meetings with the project team and management, many interactions with colleagues, both via text and voice/video and daily tasks being mostly planned as part of the workflows clearly defined and documented or being “on demand” support asking then immediate response.
Isolation effect on personal life and health
The biggest risk while working at home was… to stay at home.
Going out for shopping only, not enough social interactions.
Feeling isolated quickly affected the mood, especially night shifts meaning sleeping during the day and being less available.
Problems quickly appeared: getting bored, drinking, eating, sleeping issues, weight issues, health issues including moments of depressions.
I then had to:
- ** Force myself again to have external activities (music, cinema, concerts…), hangout with friends, physical activities (walking, swimming, etc…)
- Enjoy and develop as much as possible my communications both at work with colleagues and with friend and family to keep good and enough social interactions.
- Dress up for work, limit food and drink, focus on healthy stuff as possible.
- Travel as much as possible during off days.
All this experience brought logically also some ideas for solutions in such similar situations when working remotely, at home and most of all when alone for hours or days.
Ideas that could help in writing this document and complement information available online with personal lessons learned, hoping this can help some others.