As worries about the coronavirus continue to weigh on federal employees and the rest of the country, one resource that federal agencies are being encouraged to put to greater use to maintain their operations is telework (i.e. working remotely).
I have been teleworking for years and overall very much enjoy it. I wanted to share some ideas and tips with our readers in the hope that it might help you if you are new to teleworking. Even if you are a veteran teleworker, my experience may give you some ideas as well.
These suggestions are by no means hard and fast rules, just things that have helped me, and I’m sure there are lots of other suggestions people in the FedSmith community can contribute, so I would encourage you to share your suggestions and experiences in the comments at the end of the article. All input is welcome!
Establish a Routine
This is probably the most important thing. If you develop a routine, it allows you to get work done in a natural rhythm.
I am an early riser, so I like to get up, eat, watch the news for a bit, and not do too much work-wise other than maybe checking overnight activity on my phone.
I begin working afterwards, and I usually stop mid-morning for a workout. I also try not to work much after about 6 PM on a normal day as I find working too late can make it harder for me to “turn off” and sleep.
Juxtapose this with a friend of mine who also works remotely but is a night person; he gets up about 10:30 AM on a work day and literally goes right to his desk to attend morning meetings with his company. He also works into the early morning hours, usually around 2 AM, and finds it nice because he has less interruptions from meetings or co-workers at night.
But the point is develop a routine that works for you and stick to it.
Make a Schedule
Related to the above, it’s important for others to know when you will be working if they need to get in touch with you, hold meetings, etc.
To facilitate that, using collaboration software can help (i.e. a shared office calendar or online document collaboration).
It is also helpful to have in mind what your priorities are on any given day. It can be helpful to actually write out a task list in order of priority, but even if you don’t go that far, at least have in your head what you want to accomplish for the next day, week, etc. to help you stay focused.
I am personally prone to distraction in our internet dominated era. I will have a quick thought, and before I know it, I’ve stopped whatever I was working on, have pulled out my phone or opened a new tab in my browser and am researching that new thought.
Try to limit distractions and finish one task before starting another, no matter how small it seems. Before you know it, you can have 5 things going and you forget what you were working on in the first place.
If you are somebody who can work with the TV on or music playing, go for it. I’d suggest keeping that stuff to a minimum though at least initially and especially the more concentration the task requires. If you put your all-time favorite movie on Netflix while you are working, chances are you will watch it rather than work. But experiment and find what works for you. Experiment though and find what works for you.
If you have a conference call or video meeting, don’t have noise in the background. Having your kid or your dog howling in the background is distracting and unprofessional.
In the case of a video conference, consider your surroundings and physical appearance as well – a video meeting will reflect poorly on you if you haven’t showered, combed your hair, or the other people on the call can see your unmade bed behind you.
Dress for the Occasion
That makes a good segue into my next point: attire.
Some people can stay in their pajamas or underwear, not shower, and be highly productive working at home. Others need to at least put on street clothes to shift into work mode, and others might even want to dress professionally to get into the right work mindset.
Experiment with this and see what works for you – if you find that staying in your pajamas is making you want to just lie on the couch and sleep, consider dressing in some nicer clothes and leaving the living room to get your work done.
An interesting lesson I learned in this area is that I have to wear comfortable shoes when I’m at home for long periods of time working. I have no carpet in my home, and I used to wear slippers all the time since I was inside. However, I found that after several days in a row of doing this I was starting to have pain in my hips and knees from wearing shoes with no support and walking on the hard surfaces, so I have to wear shoes most of the time for this reason. It helps put me in more of a working mindset as well.
Set Clear Boundaries with Family
If your family is used to you being at home only when you are not at work, it may seem to them like an open ended invitation for playing in the yard. That can’t happen; make sure your spouse, kids, etc. know what your working hours are and that you are not to be disturbed during that time. Passing by to ask where you left the car key is one thing; pulling you away to debate your upcoming house remodeling project for the next two hours is another.
Have a Comfortable Workspace
This is just one other way to minimize distraction. If you have stuff scattered all over your work area and can barely find your computer, it could lead to distractions when you are trying to focus.
Also, just because you are at home doesn’t mean you can ignore ergonomics; carpal tunnel can set in whether you work at your house or in an office. Make sure you spend the bulk of your time at a workstation with a comfortable chair, your computer is at the right height, your wrists are supported when using the keyboard, etc.
When it comes to where you work, don’t be afraid to change things up sometimes. I cannot stay home all day every day, plus I find working out in public can put me into a better working mindset sometimes. It’s also not healthy to allow yourself to become too socially isolated, so it’s good to be out around and talking to people periodically.
My favorite places to work are restaurants or coffee shops with good quality iced tea (and free refills!).
Obviously, we are facing a situation with the coronavirus where being in public could present a health risk (and that was the whole point of teleworking in the first place), so use common sense here. If there are known positive cases in your immediate area, it might not be such a great idea to go to a crowded coffee shop and work in close quarters with others.
Be Wise with Public WiFi
If you do work outside of your home, having good internet access is crucial. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Choose places with reliable WiFi. I mentioned I like restaurants and coffee shops for working, and a couple of reliable favorites are Panera and Starbucks. The food and drinks are good, and the WiFi is usually solid.
- DO NOT ACCESS SECURE NETWORKS OR INFORMATION ONLINE ON A PUBLIC WIFI NETWORK, EVER! Don’t you dare log into your bank or access secure data of any kind on an open WiFi network. This is a huge security risk.
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) – if you are on public WiFI, get in the habit of always using a VPN. These days, there’s a good chance your agency/employer probably has one available for you, so check with your IT department. There are no shortage of them out there that you can download and subscribe to as well; they aren’t usually expensive and there are often free options for at least basic use.
- Use your smartphone – many smartphones let you connect your laptop to them to use their cellular connections to access the internet. This is usually reliable and much more secure than using public WiFi. It’s also a good option to allow you to work in a place that doesn’t have WiFi.
Have Snacks and Drinks on Hand
When you’re working at home, you don’t want to end up pausing for an hour or two to cook a meal. You also don’t want to go hungry or get dehydrated.
Make sure you’ve got water/snacks handy, and get up periodically to get some of either. It’s good to not sit at the computer for too long in the same position so that can give you a quick periodic stretch break.
I personally am a fan of leftovers, so I will make a large meal like a casserole or pot of stew and eat from it for a few days. This is a healthy and quick meal you can heat up in the microwave during the workday without too much interruption.
As an added bonus, you’re not in an office environment, so you can eat whatever you want! Stinky fish, loud, crunchy chips; it doesn’t matter since there are no co-workers around for you to annoy, so get creative!
It’s good to schedule a lunch break for yourself too though; you’re allowed to take a break, take time to recharge and stretch, and it’s a good time to go out and run an errand or take advantage of going to a store at a time when it’s likely to be less crowded than it would be on a weekend.
As I said at the outset, this list is by no means exhaustive, nor are these hard and fast teleworking rules. These are just some things I’ve learned over the years that I have found helpful that I thought you might also.
Feel free to help build on the list by sharing your ideas and experiences in the comments below.