Since 2017, RK-TCS has been operating with team members collaborating virtually from their respective home office. As so many people around the world continue to look at many more months of lockdowns and the need to work from home, we thought it may be helpful to share some ideas that have worked well for us, and some that didn’t work so well.
Working Space at Home
We’ve often said we can work from anywhere, as long as we have our laptop, power and an internet connection. This is the most critical minimum requirement for the home office. One small luxury we love is a large monitor screen – it sure reduces the strain on our eyes when working for long hours.
We spend the majority of our working day at our desk, so a comfortable desk and chair are critical – it’s worth the investment.
Don’t make it too comfortable – without team mates to keep you awake, if you are doing heads-down work, it’s easy to ‘fall asleep’, especially when work hours are longer because of time-zone differences. We’ve had a few meetings where one team member didn’t show up because “the couch ate her”!
More and more people are using video-conferencing technology so having a background that isn’t too distracting is a good idea. We love the people who have very meaningful artwork on their walls – while waiting for everyone in a meeting to arrive, it makes for fantastic small talk, much like coffee-table books do in reception rooms.
Have a clock in your line of sight – it may seem redundant since we’re staring at the computer all day and it has a clock. But having the physical clock directly in the line of sight helps with showing up to meetings on time.
Background music – of course it has to be turned off during meetings, but for those long days when you’re working on your own, a little music or background radio or TV goes a long way to feeling connected and drowning out small distracting household noises. Some people need total silence to work, so it’s a personal preference.
Off Limits during Working Hours – make sure everyone you live with knows you are ‘at work’ and cannot be disturbed, especially when you are in meetings. A working space where you can close the door is the best, if it is possible.
Light – as much as possible, set up your working space where there is light. Sitting in a dark, window-less space all day long gets depressing. The window should ideally be in front of you, not behind you when you are sitting down. Not only is it pleasant to look outside, but the light on your face makes you more visible during video conferences.
They have watercoolers in offices for a reason – keep a bottle of water or your favorite drink nearby. It’s important to stay hydrated.
When chatting with family or friends, we often take our device with us as we walk around our home or outdoors. This is not a good idea for business meetings – we’ve all seen or heard about far too many blooper-opportunities!
Take the time to chat with teammates and friends during the day, using whatever messaging tool you are comfortable with. We need social interaction that gives us a mental break. Just be mindful that they may be busy and have deadlines to meet, so keep chats limited, in the same way that you would limit a coffee break.
We love using chat to help each other show up on time to meetings. In the physical world, we may have walked to the meeting room together with our teammates – now we can chat with them a few minutes before the meeting and show up around the same time.
We find that chatting at the beginning of the day or end of the day just to say hi is a great way to start the day. Ask people how their weekend was, or what they did in the evening. If you know something about other people in their life, ask them how they are doing. If something special is going on in your life, share it with people. If something difficult or sad is going on like someone being sick or a death, it’s important to share that too. We are all experiencing many of the same challenges and hearing about how others are feeling, usually makes us feel better. We are not alone in this experience.
We’ve always felt that dress code should be ‘appropriate’ but what does that really mean? We believe in dressing appropriately for the occasion. Dressing a little more formally for an interview or a presentation is a good idea. Being relaxed, well groomed, with clean clothing is important. Yes, we’ve all had those crazy days when we worked all day in our pajamas, but that only works on days when we don’t have to turn on our cameras and please, don’t work in your underwear.
We’ve all been challenged with limited access to hair stylists and barbers. It’s kind of interesting to see the new skills we are developing in this area, with lots of videos available online to help us cut and trim our hair. You usually have no idea if someone in the meeting is going to take a screenshot and your headshot may show up somewhere. So, a good idea to do the best you can, even if you don’t have access to professional hair dressers.
When retirees talk about their careers, the most important memories for them are usually the people they worked with. They often don’t remember the details of the work, but they remember the people. The camaraderie of being part of a great team is what we value the most. Even when we are no longer seeing each other in person, we need to look for those opportunities to celebrate together.
At RK-TCS, we celebrate every new contract win with a team celebratory toast. It’s always a busy time at the beginning of a new client project, but we feel it’s important to memorialize the moment by pausing to celebrate.
People have become so creative with organizing virtual coffees, virtual lunches and even virtual wine-tasting events. Gift cards can be sent electronically, or meals can be delivered just in time for meetings. For teammates that live in other countries, Amazon gift cards are a great way to make the recognition process easy.
It’s unfortunate that when you open the email with the electronic gift card, the person that sent it to you is not able to see your reaction. It’s like opening a gift and missing that moment of pleasure on someone’s face. We’ve learned that sending along a photo with what you did with the gift certificate makes it a great shared experience – much more memorable than an email or text ‘thank you’ message.
Don’t forget the birthdays, anniversaries and other special dates of your co-workers. A simple greeting message will brighten their day.
Work Life Integration
One of the biggest challenges with working from home is the missing boundary between home life and work life – it all tends to become integrated.
Having kids at home, while trying to get work done is an added challenge but a reward at the same time because you won’t miss important life moments with them.
We love working from home because there is more time available to exercise as we spend less time commuting to our workplaces. Getting outside for a walk is great to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise.
Working from home also means that it’s easier to prepare and eat healthy meals – not to mention that it’s cheaper! It can still be a challenge if you have back-to-back meetings all day. Sometimes, we find that we don’t even get away from our desks to take a bathroom break, so even harder to take a lunch break on time. If it happens once in a while, it’s okay, but if it happens too often, then we would suggest blocking your calendar for lunch to ensure there is at least one break in your day.
If you work with a team, your day will likely be structured with meetings. But if you work mostly independently, you could fall victim to the never-ending day. We’ve learned that it’s important to completely disconnect from work and have a clearly defined start and end time for work.
When we are in an office setting, we tend to walk to meeting rooms, walk to the cafeteria, walk to the parking lot, walk to the washroom, etc. At home, depending on the size of our home, our walks can be very short – to the washroom and to the kitchen. Health professionals tell us of the importance of physically moving around and not sitting at a desk all day long. Every time you get up, try to do some stretches to keep your muscles moving.
The great thing is that you can get the laundry done during the week because it only takes a few minutes to step away to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. The problem is that if you don’t feel like working, household chores can become a big distraction. Before you know it, you’ve lost valuable working time which you may not get back.
Sometimes we find it hard to motivate ourselves to work. We find this often happens after meeting a major deadline or finishing a tough project. After days of intense work, we can find ourselves mentally exhausted. If we were at an office, our boss might have told us to take a couple of days off. But when you’re working from home, with nowhere to go because of COVID, what do you do with a day off? It’s tough, but if you’re not being productive, maybe just disconnecting completely and taking a break will help. We find that hobbies are a good distraction to get your mind on something else for a while.
We are human beings, not robots. Don’t expect to be super-productive all of the time. We find that some days we are super-productive and other days we are slower. Use the slower days to drive innovation and creativity which often arise through conversations with different people with diverse ideas.
We hope this helps, especially in the current environment and the increasing number of people that are working from home. If you found even one new idea that you can use in your work environment to make things a little bit better, this blog was worthwhile.
By Rekha Kulshreshtha, President, RK-TCS
We would like to thank Rekha for providing all of our members this great guest blog packed full of ideas to re-engage your staff!
For more information please contact
President & Managing Partner, RK-Transformation Consulting Services (RK-TCS), a division of 2531052 Ontario Inc.