Working From Home—Tips from a seasoned remote employee & her cohorts

In times like these, it’s important to find gratitude. Personally, I’m extremely grateful that I can continue working at home during the COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place in California. Several years ago, PixelMill began offering remote work options to our team members, and two years ago, our organization was able to go fully remote. With Office 365 including MS Teams we’re able to collaborate as a team as well as with our clients anytime, anywhere. Before I joined PixelMill, I had previously worked for two organizations that allowed me to work from home as well. While the cultures, industry, and expectations of the three organizations vary drastically, I’ve learned that the habits, strategies, and customs I established while working remotely translated to all three quite easily.

Working from home is a wonderful privilege, but I’d be lying to you if I said it came without challenges. Many employees have been thrust into the remote-work life without warning, and many of us are also doubling as teacher and caretaker as schools close around the country. So, today I offer a few of my ‘tips and tricks’ for not just staying sane while working from home but excelling in your new environment and finding that ever-elusive work/life balance. 

🚪 Claim Your Space

When I first started working from home, I thought this is awesome! I can work anywhere I want. Eat cereal at the kitchen counter and plug away on my laptop? Check! Kick up my feet on the coffee table and churn out another report? You bet! But here’s the problem… without creating a place that is designated for my work, I found myself never shutting down. During work hours, I was constantly distracted by the dishes in the sink or the laundry in the hamper, and similarly, after hours, I was still responding to emails while fixing dinner for my family. I found it extremely beneficial to have a place that I could go to go into ‘work mode’ and close the door to my ‘office’ when it was time to call it a day. Even if you don’t have a room designated for work, even just claiming a specific part of a room, table or desk can do wonders for your psyche. 

👔👚💄Get Ready for the Day

Another work-from-home perk, especially those who aren’t fully utilizing video conferencing, is skipping hair and makeup, and rocking your PJs or sweats all day long. This is pretty nice at first (and honestly a ritual I’ll indulge in occasionally), but I’ll be the first to admit it starts to weigh on you. As they say, perception is reality. So help yourself stay motivated by playing the part. I’m not saying you have to put on a suit and tie, but I highly encourage you to get dressed and maintain some of your professional grooming rituals to help you feel ready to take on the day. 

Don’t just take my word for it. My fellow remote coworker agrees:

“Get up, get ready, wear shoes! It helps to feel like you are ready for the day and in work mode – I find that easier when I am not in my jammies and slippers all day!” – Amy, PixelMill Developer

🎥 Lights, camera, action!

Speaking of video calls… if you have the means, do them as often as possible. Now more than ever, we need facetime. So much of communication and bonding is non-verbal. Turn your camera on, and you’ll be surprised at how much better you’ll feel. I find myself feeling more personally connected to my coworkers and clients, and my meetings are much more effective when I have my camera on.

Pro-tip… Be a wallflower 🌻

“For video calls, if you do not have a dedicated office, I find it helpful to have my back against the wall. It looks more professional, and it usually makes for a better lighting situation. Do your best to prevent any backlighting that will darken your video, so I suggest facing a window. If you’re using Microsoft Teams or similar software with ‘blur background’ feature, I highly recommend it. This not only prevents distractions but also protects your family, pets, and anything else in the background from being seen.”  – Amy, PixelMill Developer

📅 Keep to a schedule when you can

When working from home it’s easy to blur the lines between work and home and check messages outside of work time. While sometimes this is necessary, often things can wait until normal business hours. Set a schedule and communicate it clearly with your team and your family. It’s easier for teammates to contact you if you maintain a consistent schedule—even if that schedule includes time away. Clear expectations eliminate a lot of unnecessary heartache. Microsoft Teams and similar chat-based solutions offer ways to communicate your status as well as share your schedule with your teammates. 

“It’s easier to manage family expectations when you maintain a relatively consistent schedule so that other family members understand when you’re working and when you can help with household activities.” – Carolyn, PixelMill Business Analyst

🌴 Give yourself a break

When I first started working from home, I found it extremely challenging to set aside time for breaks. I’d find myself staring at my monitor for hours straight, which we all know isn’t healthy. You will produce better work if you give yourself a few moments to get up, stretch, and clear your mind. If you don’t schedule time for this, it won’t happen. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your team.

“I carve out time each day in my schedule for personal time so that I don’t book meetings or other tasks during that time. I try to use that time for taking a break and getting a little exercise in if I don’t have the opportunity to do it first thing in the morning. If my morning workout is missed, I often opt to use my treadmill desk (really a piece of wood that is secured to the arms of my treadmill) that I can quickly pop on top, grab my laptop and start walking. Working remotely gives me the flexibility to keep my exercise ritual, even if it’s a slow walk during a webinar.” – Heather, PixelMill Sales Engineer & Project Manager 

If you’re looking for a DIY treadmill desk, check out Corrie’s post: https://corriehaffly.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/my-treadmill-desk/.

Microsoft offers MyAnalytics which gives you a rundown of your work day displaying statistics about your work patterns over the past month, including your focus and collaboration time, how many days you were able to disconnect from work, and how effectively you are networking with your coworkers. You can use this tool to help you find the best times for ‘focus time’ so you can maintain balance in your day. 

👪 For the Mamas and the Papas

Many of us have littles at home now, which adds a new complexity to the work-from-home life. One of our developers created a great solution to help her family navigate the situation… 

🚦‘Go Where You Wanna Go’… within reason

“My office is in a room with a door but tends to have a lot of traffic as it also contains craft supplies or is a space where my kids can hang out and read, do homework, or play. I put up some remote-controlled, multi-colored LED string lights around the outside of the doorframe to act as an alert. The lights are plugged on inside the office so that the remote works from my desk. If I’m on a client meeting and absolutely cannot be disturbed, I set the lights to red, and the kids know that they cannot come inside the office at all. If I’m on an internal meeting, I set the lights to blue, so they know that they can come in quietly (and even whisper questions to me).

If your company is flexible enough, block off personal time as needed. If you need an hour to get the kids settled with their online learning, or you need to get lunch on the table for the family, set up those times as recurring Outlook events so your team can see that you’ll likely be unavailable during those times.” – Corrie, PixelMill Senior Developer

🤝 Use Microsoft Teams to Collaborate

I’m sure we sound like a broken record—but really—use teams to communicate with your immediate team members. You can create a team around a project, keep the files linked through teams, create meetings in that team, and eliminate long and complex email chains. Microsoft Teams is a great remote work tool. Need more convincing? Read Why Your Team Needs Teams Right Now

🤹And most of all, remember to be kind to yourself. While we all feel like we’re juggling a million new things, take a deep breath and do your best to focus on what we can control.

Does your team need to activate remote work, or enhance your digital collaboration tools? We’d love to chat with you today! PixelMill offers many different solutions to help your team take your digital teamwork to the next level.

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