With the rise of COVID-19, so much of the American workforce has suddenly been thrown into the home office. Actually, I wouldn’t even call it a home office yet. No one’s really had the chance to set one up. On top of that, kids are out of school, daycares are closed, restaurants boarded up and with every passing day, the timeline for these restrictions is stretched. I know in recent posts, we’ve explored all the wonderful freedoms and benefits that come with remote work. I still stand by these truths. However, our current day situation hasn’t quite ushered in remote work as a welcomed change. It was abrupt and unexpected. We aren’t ‘free’ from the office and feeling liberated. We are panicking.
So, sound off the shotgun and queue up the video conference calls. If you hadn’t heard of Zoom before, you very well might have their bumper sticker now. And for people used to physically seeing their co-workers and clients everyday, the video conferencing app has been a godsend. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Marco Polo- the whole world has turned to these face-time mediums to connect. Business meetings, client lunches, happy hours, book clubs and family gatherings. Every other social post boasts a successful Zoom call. And sure. The sudden surge of these images could be overkill, but they also feel like a sweet kind of a declaration. A flag waving, arm-in-arm sort of united front. A real Braveheart move, yes? They can take our gatherings of 4 or more, but they can never take our freedom!
So, what’s the problem?
How do you stay focused on a conference call when your kids are fighting to the death with light sabers on the kitchen counter? Or when your wife is yelling for you to find out what the smell is in the fridge? Or when your dog has made it his life’s mission to bark at every jogger, walker, bike rider and car that passes? How do you go ‘virtual’ when your reality just isn’t having it? Here’s the short answer- you don’t.
With the office doors closed, our knee-jerk reaction is to log in as much face time as possible. And this makes sense! We’re used to being in the office all day. You’re used to popping in your boss’s office and checking on your co-worker down the hall. Workdays before consisted of daily, physical, human interaction. So, of course, your natural ‘go-to’ move is to set up as many video conferences as your day will allow. But if you haven’t already, you’re going to find out quickly just how unproductive this can be. In fact, it can be quite counterproductive.
Video Conference Calls- use, don’t abuse
Set a clear schedule with specific times for face to face meetings. Aim to meet one to two times a week. I know, take a deep breath. You can do this. Create an agenda beforehand. Make your objectives clear and prepare your team. With proper preparation, you’ll find these weekly/bi-weekly check-ins to be more fruitful than you thought.
Stay in Touch
Create a communication channel with your teammates and clients that allows for ongoing chat throughout the day. We use Slack- which is like Instant Messaging for grown-ups, except you can still do cool tricks like send giphys and react with emojis. Find a medium that works for your people. Encourage both work and personal chatter throughout the workday. This consistent back and forth will help your team feel engaged and connected.
Set up an Office Space
We’re almost two weeks into our new home office life. It’s time to unpack the boxes. And no, you don’t actually need a room with mahogony book shelves and a swivel chair to have a home office. Simply designate a workspace for yourself. The kitchen counter. The desk in your bedroom. A spot in the garage or on your back patio. Get dressed, pour your coffee and set up shop.
Make checklists for each day and goals for the week but please, allow your schedules to be flexible. With kids, spouses, roommates, pets and wildcard neighbors, the interruptions are inevitable. So take away the expectation of being ‘available’ 24/7 during the workday. It’s not going to happen. Give yourself time at the breakfast table, a morning walk and a true lunch break. Check in with the kids and make sure your wife is still sane. Let the dogs out and give your neighbor the obligatory thumbs up. Of course, set boundaries for focused, isolated work time. But allow your real life to happen.