We Love These 10 Easy Hacks From People Who Work From Home | Part 1 of 2

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Bev Hutney is CEO of The Stelter Company and teaches at the MBA level on strategic management of change.

I’ve never worked from home for more than two or three consecutive days. So when coronavirus shutdowns went viral last week and The Stelter Company sent employees home to work, I quickly imagined my future: Afternoons on the couch watching the final season of “Schitt’s Creek” with one hand holding a muted iphone to my ear and the other sunk into a box of Nut-Thins. #workingfromhome 

Luckily, I have colleagues who’ve got this mastered. My first call was to Kit Lancaster who is good at pretty much everything. I use her ideas liberally here, along with the advice of startup founders, new-economy gigsters and productive hermits who are all delighted to share their best tips with you:

1. Know your Internet Sitch.

Test your Internet speed. Does it match what you’re paying for? If not, try restarting your router, or contact your Internet service provider for support. Do you have reliable wifi, or should you plan to connect your computer by ethernet cable? If you have less than 5 mbps download speed, consider alternatives. Unbelievably, we learned that one of our employees had download speeds less than 1 mpbs (She’s currently parked outside Starbucks, logged into their free wifi.)

2. Designate a space for work.

Ideally, claim a room with a closing door. Create clear lines between work and home. You don’t want a pile of unfolded laundry distracting you from work during the day, and you don’t want a pile of papers distracting you from relaxing at night. If you plan to sit, consider your chair choice. (Hint: your couch probably isn’t the most ergonomic option.)

3. Get dressed.

Keep your routine as normal as possible: Get up, get coffee, get dressed. Staying in PJs all day is a one-way ticket to meh-ville. Our resident fashionista and Graphic Design Team Leader Marlena Estes has a brilliant write-up on how to create your own WFH style. Bonus tip: The Cladwell app can recommend and track your outfits.

4. Ignore the doorbell.

Set working hours and decide if and when people can contact you outside of work. Consider designating “office hours” for specific times when you’re available for ad hoc conversations. Make sure family and friends know when you’re in work mode and then maintain that boundary. 

5. Embrace productivity tools.

Team Chat: Slack is the current choice of all the cool kids (including our digital team), featuring free team chat and file-sharing with Google Docs and Dropbox. Because we have multiple software chat options at our workplace, we encourage people to standardize on one tool for critical information.

Video conferencing: A running favorite, Zoom, is simple to use and has fun features like virtual backgrounds to cover up views of your messy house. Google Hangouts offers free and business versions or there’s always the stalwart GoToMeeting.

Online office tools: We rely on both Office 365 (the web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note) and Google (with Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drive and more). 

Shared File Storage: Stelter employees work daily with donor mailing lists, which carry major security requirements, as well as huge inDesign files. Our primary storage tool is Dropbox, which has built-in security controls and syncs well. 

These first five tips cover the basics of setting up a virtual office. In my next post, we’ll explore the five clever ways our employees and others bring an extra layer of joy and professionalism to the experience of working from home. Stay tuned!

3 thoughts on “We Love These 10 Easy Hacks From People Who Work From Home | Part 1 of 2

  1. I live alone and I’ve been working from home for 14 years with one day/night of travel each week usually…. Even in this first travel-free week I feel potential isolation-mode starting to creep into my mind. My hack is to move around the house to find a sunny spot this morning, a quiet spot for a phone or conference call, a busy people-watching (car-watching) spot when I’m feeling isolated. I open my front door and work from the couch with an adjustable computer table so that I can see my neighbors going to and from the mailbox which is in my line-of-sight. I’ve set up 4 Teams meetings with my workmates on our collective calendars – open time where I will log in and see if anyone can just chat for a few minutes – see each other – and talk about work or life or viruses…. no topic is off limits. I need to spend time with people and these little things help to feel as if I have done that.

  2. Katherine, great ‘hacks’, love it! And 100% agree with you!

    As someone who spent 8-years working from home (albeit I was traveling from time to time), changing scenery and moving around is critical! It’s TOO easy to get stuck in back-to-back-to-back calls and find yourself sitting in the same spot staring at a computer screen. Scheduling time to stand up and move around is what I like to do (and/or set your phone/Apple watch to remind you).

    I’m also a fan of video calls, but not just for the sake of video calls. What I mean by this is that (especially now with all of your neighbors working remotely and attempting to utilize a lot of the same tools — i.e. Zoom, GotoMeeting, etc.. — not to mention pulling from your internet bandwidth) it’s okay NOT to use video for EVERY call, instead focus on calls where it’s really critical to have face-to-face instead of instituting the rule for all calls.

    I’m hopeful that we’ll identify some new best practices for communication and collaboration with our teams during this time of isolation. Perhaps we’ll realize that we really don’t need to invite EVERYONE to this meeting, perhaps we only need 2-3 people. Maybe we’ll find that the phone can be a much better tool to handle an issue than an endless thread of emails. And we might even find new ways to prioritize, organize and execute on our work given that many of us are working from home with children running around too, given the school closures.

    Good luck to everyone over these coming weeks and stay safe!

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