Here at Edge, a virtual office space has been part of our day-to-day landscape for almost 20 years. As social distancing becomes the new normal, working from home is becoming an option (or requirement) for many folks.
And we understand all too well the challenges of conquering your work day from home. So we’ve gathered some tips directly from our team about how they stay connected and productive while working at home.
Our Top Work-from-Home Tips
1) Create your own space
However you can, set aside someplace where you can get into “work-mode,” even if it’s just a corner of a room someplace.
Gavin Heslop: Ideally, you’ll be able to find a space to help alleviate new distractions you will face when working from home. Working from a high-traffic area makes you susceptible to being distracted by others’ activities.
A designated workspace can also allow you to signal to others that you are at work: a closed door, or the use of headphones, perhaps.
For meetings, you’ll want to ensure that your space is quiet enough to be able to hear your colleagues, but more importantly that you are the only one in your space that they can hear.
Austi Baudro: When I began at Edge, I didn’t have an actual office. I typically would work downstairs on an over-cluttered desk filled with art projects and messy papers.
Having a dedicated workspace was essential to my productivity. My husband and I ended up renovating the room across the hall. Now, it’s MY office where I can close the door and get some serious work done uninterrupted.
Stephanie Chadwick: Working from home is not for everyone. It works best to have a space with a door that you can close.
Over the past almost 20 years that we’ve been in business, our work-from-home situation has varied greatly. At one point, we had newborn twins in the house and a barrage of grandparent and nanny helpers coming and going.
During this time, I would have important conference calls with CEOs, CMOs, COOs (you get the picture). I used our master bedroom closet, the quietest room in the house, to make this work. Clothing is a natural noise insulator – and on the plus side, instead of doodling on a memo pad, I could organize my shoes.
Granted, I wasn’t permanently parked in my closet, though for some, that space could convert really well.
2) Set a schedule
As much as you hated that daily commute, it gave you some time to separate work time from home time. Find a way to signal to yourself (and everyone you share living space with) that you’re done for the day.
Zack Stack: I’ve worked from home for almost two decades now. I love it, but switching from professional Zack to Dad and/or Husband Zack can be a bit jarring.
For me, buffer activities between work and home help me flip that switch in my head that tells me work is done for the day. These buffers often consist of gardening, biking, taking a walk or a run, or just heading to the park to shoot some hoops. All way better than sitting in a car.
When I return to my home I usually find I’ve left my work day behind me and I’m more present for my family.
Jennifer Hall: My family has always been so gracious with my work from home set-up and respecting the time that I am working, but it is equally important to be sure I adhere to a “close of the business day” time.
I can easily work late into the evening if we have no plans but that is not healthy to a good work/life balance. Being aware of when the workday should end, helps my family to know when they can expect me to begin transitioning from working women to mom and wife.
3) Have a Familiar Routine
Monday morning isn’t Saturday morning. As much as possible, make sure a work day feels like it should.
Zack Stack: This might sound like the anti-work-from-home suggestion, but get dressed for work, or at least pretend like it’s always casual Friday.
People always say, “Oh, it’s great working in the semi-permanent, pants-optional home environment.” But I’d hate for my boss to show up at my door one day to find me in sweatpants, Crocs, and my Hillsboro Hops T-shirts from four seasons ago and think I’ve given up on both work and life.
Austi Baudro: Set a lunch time. I’ve found that setting a specific lunchtime helps me to stay productive in those afternoons where sometimes it is hard to focus. Sometimes, I’ll make a lighter early lunch and then take a walk to help clear the brain fog.
Stephanie Chadwick: Have a clear picture of where you’re going to start the next day before “signing off” for the night. I find that 15 minutes of prep before I shut my laptop for the day helps me jump in quicker the next day.
4) Get Outside
Granted, we’re all at home now because we’re trying not to spread disease. But nobody can stare at a screen all day.
Jennifer Hall: To avoid the feeling of being shut-in, it’s important to physically get up from your desk or to walk away from your workspace and to literally come up for air – fresh outdoor air.
Use your breaks to tend to your garden, walk the dog, or take a stroll. Getting outside, whether for 2 or 10 minutes at least twice a day, has proven to boost productivity, sharpen mental focus, relieve stress, and in general promotes a positive attitude.
5) Communicate early and often
Working remotely means you’re not going to be seeing colleagues at the coffee station or parking lot. Make a concerted effort to check in daily (or more).
Zack Stack: One of the biggest challenges we’ve found for employees transitioning to a work-from-home environment from a shared office is social isolation. This has proven especially true for younger employees who may live alone and crave interpersonal connections.
When you spend the day working by yourself it’s even more important to reach out to others during and at the end of your day.
Also, when you’re relying on text messaging programs for a majority of your comms, don’t forget that voice is sometimes the better medium. When it would take a novel to describe something, when you’re planning creative, or as soon as you see your tone being misconstrued. That’s when you know it’s time to “go audio” as we say.
Austi Baudro: Every Monday, I send out a list to our team to set the top priorities of the week. It not only helps our team, but it helps me to list out my own priorities. Sometimes I will even number these in order of importance to make sure they are completed at the appropriate time.
Stephanie Chadwick: Talking via audio instead of wholly relying on Slack helps you feel and stay connected more personally with those on the other end of the line. Adding video to the mix when possible helps increase the humanity factor as well.
Tools of the Trade
Matt Neznanski: At Edge, we use a range of platforms to stay in contact, share ideas, and work together. There are many options, but here’s a breakdown of some of our faves.
1) Collaboration and Communication
Everyone’s got email. We like Gmail and the Google Suite because files can be collaborated on in real-time and everything works well together.
We’ve always got Slack open for team updates, questions, and water cooler chat. If, in the office, you’d just walk over to someone’s desk for something, use Slack instead of email.
We also host internal meetings in Slack, using their in-app calling. We don’t always use video for those, but it’s available.
We couldn’t get by without Asana, a work management platform that keeps our projects outlined, tasks sorted, and task-related communications in one place.
2) Meeting notes, project documents, lists
Collaborative documents in Google Drive (which allow for simultaneous real-time changes) are a huge benefit when you need to work together and have a single source of truth for a document as well.
Be done with multiple versions of docs hanging around! (This is a solid move even when you’re all back in the office.)
3) External meetings
For meetings with people outside the Edge team, we use Zoom. We like how stable the system is and how simple it is to share screens.
4) File sharing and screencasts
We’re big fans of Droplr for sending big files, annotating screenshots, or capturing video of our screens for troubleshooting, training, and more.
Balancing Work and Kids
Even our home-office day-to-day is turned upside down now that our kids are out of school and daycare. Here’s what we’re doing to cope with that.
1) Schedule blocks of time
Austi Baudro: Now that my boys (ages 7 and 2) are home with me, I have to schedule blocks of time to go outside or play with play dough or get out those magnet blocks that put good ‘ol Lincoln Logs to shame.
Now, my day looks more like 30-minute blocks of work time and 30 minutes of play.
Realistically, I have my laptop and phone in hand at all times.
Talk with your co-workers and communicate when you will be unavailable. Try to limit calls during these times or schedule them when you know you have extra help.
2) Schedule their time
Matt Neznanski: The one thing I always forget about my kids (ages 6 and 3) is how structured school and daycare is.
Blocking out free play, academics/art, and quiet time is huge for us to combat boredom.
I blame the schedule, too: “Schedule says it’s quiet time. Who am I to argue?”
Also, I’m amazed at how often they eat. Never mind the toilet paper, we’re stocked up with crackers, dried fruit, and cereal.
For a much more in-depth discussion of balancing a house full of people with full-time work for years, check out this great post about establishing a more flexible work-from-home life with kids from Edge partner Stephanie Chadwick.