In my work career, I’ve spent almost the last 20 years working from home and have learned a lot in the process. For the last 14 years, I have also been fortunate to work for Cisco, a company that embraced the remote work force way before many of our peers. Mobilizing our 73,000+ employees to work remotely has been a relatively seamless process given that we sell world class security, networking and video/voice collaboration technologies that our employees, partners and customers need to get their jobs done at home.
Many of us and our partners will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Here are my five best practices (and lessons learned) for making the most of your work situation.
1. It’s easy to work a 16-hour day from home – so don’t!
Schedule your day. Establish some structure by knowing when you want to start and finish. It’s easy to keep working or return to work late in the evening, as you have everything you need right there. But it’s healthier to maintain set work hours. I often forget that point and pay a price (as does my family).
2. Avoid bringing work into the family environment.
If you have deadlines, escalations and other intense (which is code for “stressful”) situations, be aware of the impact it can have on your family members. They may see or overhear you handling difficult issues and, as a result, they might internalize that stress or worry. Over the years, I’ve become more conscious about this, especially as I took on more senior positions with greater scope and responsibilities over multiple time zones. And candidly, I’ve not always managed this very well.
3. Manage your home time carefully.
Not having that commute can be fantastic. In fact, staying home makes it easier to engage in family time. But it’s important to manage it so you don’t get burned out by being home all day (and night). There have been times when I haven’t left the house and have let three days go by without crossing my front door. Don’t let that happen to you!
4. Be respectful and patient of other team members’ home office environments and that some people can’t work from home.
Some folks will have home offices that are well established, with a professional look and configuration. Others, who are new to working from home, may not. Some may struggle to carve out a workspace in their homes or need to share that work environment with a spouse or significant other, which can cause background noise and distractions. If you hear a dog bark or a baby cry, please be patient with them. I will never forget when my 4-year-old son walked into my office naked in the middle of a Telepresence (video) call one morning, asking me to play with him. A very innocent mishap and thankfully everyone was understanding on the video call.
It is important to keep in mind not everyone has the benefit of working from home. Stay supportive and empathetic to everyone’s work situation. Also, be sure to help your local small businesses even when you are at home, whether picking up food for dinner from a local restaurant or buying a gift card that you can use later. Let’s all try and help keep the least amount of impact to businesses that we can!
5. Structure your day with breaks. Walk the block, smell the roses, or do a call from the backyard. If the walls start closing in, change your scenery:
- Schedule lunch and eat it away from your office. This was a huge lesson learned, as I would put in 12-hour days (or later) with back-to-back calls and forget to eat or eat poorly. You need both a mental and nutritional break, so take a lunch break. But do it away from your computer.
- Don’t forget to exercise. Some folks will squeeze in a quick 30 minute exercise routine where they can. Follow their leads – it’s a great way to clear out the mental cobwebs and re-energize your body.
- A coffee break is a good thing for you even if you can’t get out of the house to do it (remember to sit outside and manage the COVID-19 six-foot distance from other people rule if you are outside of your home).
- Schedule quick 15-minute calls with colleagues or friends. Under normal office circumstances, you might enjoy catching up with folks over the water cooler. While you are home, simulate that connection by scheduling WebEx calls with your buddies. Talking to them not only refreshes your brain but is great therapy.
It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to work from home and to stay close to family, especially in these times of uncertainty.
Best of luck in your remote work endeavors!