SF Technotes

Suddenly You’re Working from Home

By Michael Castelluccio
March 24, 2020
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So you’ve been sent home for weeks, or months, to work as though you were at work, but you aren’t. It almost resembles a kind of culture shock, an experience a person may have when they move to a cultural environment that is different from their own. Before, your weekdays were in two time-allotted, separate worlds, home and work. That’s collapsed now to all day at home.

 

Culture shock has a development curve of four stages, curiously similar to the current relocation:

  • There’s a honeymoon (Wow, no suit, no commute, my own schedule!);
  • then anxiety (Did I leave all my thumb drives at work? Where are Tuesday’s files? It takes so much longer to complete stuff here; I can’t do this.);
  • followed by adjustment (Learning new ways to communicate and binding the group together.);
  • and finally, acceptance (A marker for this stage is when you get it down to a routine so you can leave “work” at five).

 

If you’re still in the first stage, start checking the platforms everyone will be using to reach each other, check all your gear and resources, and start making a plan. Before the first-stage euphoria gets you into trouble by encouraging bad habits, there’s list of tips below to help with the difficulties and anxieties that accompany them. And remember that, just as you once learned to be comfortable and productive at work, with similar effort you can do the same in your new work environment.

 

ROUTINES

 

There are lists posted all over the internet with practical recommendations for working at home. At the heart of most of this information is the power of routines—routines transferred over from your office to your home. The value of these behaviors rests in their familiarity and the fact that they reflect many of your own previous adjustments made over the years at work. No sense starting all over again at home.

 

Three areas need to be addressed: when to work, where to work, and how to work:

 

  1. Try to keep regular hoursIf you don’t want to use an app to track your time, just hang up a calendar, and mark when you start and when you end each day. If you need to extend a day, mark the overtime and manage your comp time with adjustments made on a later day.

 

  1. Schedule a normal dayGet up as you would normally for work (less the commute time), get dressed, have breakfast, and then go to work in the location you have chosen for your workspace. Repeat, five days a week. During the day, schedule lunch and breaks for similar times you were used to at work. If you are used to leaving the building or taking a walk after lunch when at work, do that. It’s important that you aren’t in the house all day.

 

Use smart speakers if you have them or your smartphone to set alerts for these breaks and follow those signals to get up and away from your monitor and keyboard.

 

  1. A dedicated workspace might be the most challenging requirement and the one that’s the hardest for anyone else to define for your situation. A separate room with a desk and a window, as well as several close electrical outlets sounds ideal, but if that just isn’t available, here’s a few general rules fromWired’s Brian Barrett, someone who’s worked remotely for 10 years.

 

Barrett advises, don’t work from the bed, the couch, or the futon. It’s called a laptop, but you need a hard surface for your desktop. “In fact,” Barrett summarizes, “let’s just say don’t work anywhere that lets you recline if you can help it.” That means use the kitchen table, not the La-Z-Boy in the living room.

 

Barrett also says you should “clearly define the part of your house where work happens. At all costs, you should avoid turning your entire house or apartment into an amorphous space where you’re always on the clock but also kind of not. It’s no way to live.” Establish and keep borders. Two more things: Wherever you set up, keep the space neat, and no TV. If there happens to be one in your space, remove the remote from the room when you arrive in the morning. Metaphorically, it’s like closing your office door.

 

What might be especially problematic with our current national mass exodus from work is that the kids are also being sent home from school, and the Starbucks or library where you once might have retreated to get in a few hours of work also are likely shuttered. The basic idea is to find a place apart that’s available for a regular number of hours a day where you can work and keep the technology you need to stay in touch.

 

Sounds like a lot, but don’t despair. Long before wires in the wall, Johann Sebastian Bach lived in a household clamoring with seven children and four adults, so he would retire to the attic where he could work and practice his music on a spinet stored up there. And he produced some rather worthy work in his separate space.

 

THREE REMINDERS

 

The online calendar that you and your group set up takes on additional importance now that you don’t have others in your department ducking in your doorway to remind you of the two o’clock in Conference Room B. The shared calendar will keep the group together. Check it often.

 

Another critical difference between home and the office is the way many view security at home differently than at work. It’s important that you adopt the same cautious frame of mind to your work at home as when you were at the office. It’s even more difficult for IT to manage security in the current scattered landscape, and the hackers know it. Give your security team a break.

 

And finally, go outside, regularly. Volunteer to take the dog out. Take a walk with the kids after lunch. But get outside regularly. It just isn’t healthy sitting for long periods of time. The streets should look much more empty than usual, and the sky will lift some of the pressure.

 

FINAL CHECKLIST

 

  • Set routines
  • Maintain borders
  • Communicate often
  • Get outside—often

 

THE COMMUNICATION APPS

 

Not surprisingly, seven of the top-50 most-downloaded free Apple apps last week were communication apps. USA Today lists these as the current favorites numbered in the order they appeared:

 

1. Zoom—video, audio, and screensharing app for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.

9. Google Hangouts Meet—allows dozens of people to join the same virtual meeting with video and audio.

12. Microsoft Teams—Office 365 meetings hub with chat, video, file-sharing, and storage.

29. Google Hangouts—video chats, instant messaging (replaced in October 2019 with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet).

30. Messenger—Facebook’s free instant messaging app. Connects with friends on Facebook and people in your phone contacts.

36. Google Duo—mobile video chat app for Android and iOS. The function is also built into Google’s Chrome browser for laptops and desktops.

38. WhatsApp—messaging and voice calling to individuals or groups with document, photo, and video sharing.

 

Because of their popularity and business orientation, we’ll take a closer look at Microsoft’s Skype for Business and Teams.

 

Skype for Business (courtesy Microsoft)

 

Microsoft has announced it intends to retire Skype for Business on July 31, 2021, but you’re fine for now if you prefer the Skype program. Both apps are free, and they share a long list of features before you reach the threshold for the paid “pro” subscription services. Basic with both, there’s:

 

  • Instant messaging to individuals and groups. The conversations appear in a running history that includes a search function.
  • They have “Available-Busy-Away” status notifications.
  • There’s voice and video calling between individuals and groups.
  • The mobile app for each is free and provides service from anywhere.
  • Screen sharing is available between individuals or while on conference calls.
  • There’s shared document editing.
  • A Microsoft Outlook add-on can provide conference planning.

 

Microsoft Teams was introduced on November 2, 2016, to compete with Slack. By October 2018, it had more than 14 million active users, and it had incorporated all Skype Business Online features and functions. Because Microsoft is focusing all its attention on Teams, it’s worth a look if you’re currently a Skype Business user.

 

There are a variety of ways for managing the transition, so be flexible. And if you get stuck, reach out to your work group, to online help sources, and, of course, to your family—your new workmates.

 



Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 25 years. His SF Technotes blog is in its 22nd year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


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