I am one of the lucky ones. The commute to my office is less than a minute, usually in slippers with a cup of home-brewed coffee in my hand. I work from my home office in the Philadelphia suburbs and have since 2010.
I work from home, but I don’t work from the couch or from my bed. I have a home office. My role requires me to constantly interact with team members, direct reports and senior leadership at my company’s headquarters, which is located 3,000 miles away.
My goal is to make the experience with my teams feel as seamless as if I was right there with them. That can’t happen if one of my kids runs over to me and starts typing on my lap while I’m on a video conference, or if someone is running the vacuum cleaner while I’m on a call, or if my internet drops out while I’m in the middle of a presentation.
Whether you work fully remotely, like I do, or work from home occasionally, here are tips to make the experience better for you and your team:
Think location, location, location.
Your home office will make or break your workday. Avoid distractions, for you and your team. Where is a quiet place in your house or apartment? Think about what sounds might be heard. If your roommate is making noise in the other room, will your team on the conference call hear it too?
Check your backdrop. What do people see when you are on a video call? I have a painting of Independence Hall behind me; it’s a good conversation-starter and signals where I’m calling from (Philly!).
Lock it down. When I started working remotely I was a mom of two under the age of two. I was lucky to be working from home to be near my kids and fortunate to have childcare in my home. But I needed to avoid surprise visits, so I had two locked doors between me and my kids. It also helped to have a bathroom adjacent to my office space so that I could avoid the emotional pleas of “Mommy doooonnnn’t leave me!” every time I stepped out of the office for a restroom break. - Check out this funny mishap from a BBC reporter that forgot to lock his door.
Get hooked up.
Signal strength. The right internet connection is very important to avoid video conferencing delays and ensure you can send and receive large files easily. Have a minimum bandwidth of 6MB downstream and 768K upstream. Always be hardwired to ensure your audio and video don’t fade in and out with the whims of your wireless signal.
Have a backup plan. Inevitably you will need a backup method of communicating. I alternate between using my computer for video conferencing, my landline and my cell phone. There have been many times when my laptop has frozen or my internet service cut out and I had to quickly revert to my landline. In cases of full power outages (it’s happened), my cell is my last resort.
Know your tech tools.
Consider this list of must-have hardware.
External monitors. You don’t want to be crouched behind a tiny laptop all day. I recommend at least two monitors, one for video conferencing and one to view documents, instant messages and email. Check with your IT department for recommendations on monitor and adapter types.
External speaker and mic. Try a USB-connected external speaker (Jabra Speak 410) or a wireless headset (Jabra Supreme). They cost $80 to $100 and help avoid the dreaded screeching and echoing of audio feedback.
External mouse and keypad. I prefer a wireless mouse to cut down on the amount of wires in my workspace. (Logitech)
Printer/scanner. A combination device is space efficient. I have a Canon MX920 Printer/Scanner combo that I bought from Costco. Ink can be found in bulk at Costco or online. There are also great scanner apps like Tiny Scanner ($5 or less) that allow you to take a photo of signed documents or expense reports with your smart phone and create PDFs that may be emailed from the app.
My must-have software list includes:
Video conferencing. You may need to use more than one video conferencing service, depending on what you are trying to do. I often switch between software depending if I’m doing a one-to-one call, I’m calling a video conference room at my company's headquarters or conferencing with an external partner. Work with your IT department to understand which software works best for your specific needs. Examples include MOVI/Jabber, Cisco Video Bridge, Skype for business, BlueJeans.
Document sharing. Your IT department should be able to advise you on the best document-sharing tools to use with your colleagues and your external partners.
Virtual brainstorming. It’s very important to enable ways to quickly and seamless brainstorm new ideas. There are software programs designed specifically for virtual brainstorming, either live with the whole team or for asynchronous brainstorming, especially helpful if your team is distributed over many time zones. Examples include, MeetingSphere, BoxNotes, Skype Whiteboard.
Have the proper props. What do you need within arm’s reach? In my line of work, it’s great to have easy access to my product or my competitors’ products to check labels, claims, product scents and other information.
Don’t forget ergonomics.
Start with a good office chair. You are going to be sitting in it more than your colleagues who work from an actual office. They get to walk from room to room for their meetings. Make sure you have good back support and the chair is the right size for your height. I also sit on a sloping coccyx cushion — so much sitting can wreak havoc on your tailbone! I have a Herman Miller Aeron Chair.
Splurge on a sit/stand desk. Give yourself the option to sit or stretch. There are many options to choose from online. Models comes in different sizes, colors and configurations. I chose an UPLIFT Adjustable Sit Stand desk.
Limit your blue-light exposure. Did you know the blue light emitted by electronics is harmful because it’s the highest-energy wavelength of visible light? The effects of blue light are cumulative and can lead to eye diseases like macular degeneration. At the recommendation of my optometrist, I wear glasses with lenses coated with blue-blocker tint. Another option is to purchase a blue-light screen protector for your monitor.
You don’t have to sacrifice team-building and productivity when you work virtually if you set yourself — and your office — up for success.
Working from home can be a pain in the neck, or the tailbone
It's important to think about ergonomics when working from home and setting up your home office.
Check out this 4 minute video on some key ergonomics tips.
1. Select great seating
2. Invest in a sit/stand desk
3. Use an external monitor
4. Avoid blue light
5. Take a stretch break
6. Incorporate walking meetings
One-on-one coaching on how to get off to a great start when working remotely.