Right after university, I was lucky enough to start working with IBM. Back then, IBM had a very friendly WFH (Work From Home) policy, and although I lived 5 minutes away from the IBM lab (5 minutes walking 🙂 ), I made sure I leveraged that policy from time-to-time. As for my current position, it is entirely remote. A fantastic benefit that New Signature provides its employees. Oh, and we are hiring :D.
So I wanted to write this post to illustrate my experience with WFH and also some tips that I hope would help you work from home efficiently in these trying times.
Credits to my cousin for the idea.
Tip #1: Your workstation/office
Whether your company allows WFH or not, I believe every person needs to have a small space in their house that acts as their office/workstation. I do not mean anything fancy with oakwood desks and bookshelves but a simple corner desk where one can sit and focus-in on their work without any distractions. Having that space for people who do not plan to work from home encourages you from time-to-time to sit and spend some time maybe just self-developing, reading or even relaxing.
Now for people working from home, below is a picture of my office and how I set it up.
I think everyone is now familiar with the second monitor option, and everyone is using it now. I use 2 extra monitors along with my laptop screen (its a touch-screen, have to keep it available even if I never actually use it). I like to keep one of the displays in Portrait mode, helps a lot when reading articles, long documents, or having Microsoft teams open.
My primary Monitor is an ultra-wide LG screen that gives me the amazing ability to be able to have multiple windows open in all 4 corners of the screen and be able to easily read them.
Standing desks are all the rage these days, but I needed something with lots of storage and space since when doing my MBA at night, I need to go over annual reports with multiple pages and need an area that is not covered by a keyboard or mouse.
I use a dock to be able to easily connect and disconnect my laptop, but you can always just connect all the cables, which should not take more than 30 seconds.
Tip #2: Keyboard, Mouse and other peripherals
Now, you might be wondering why did I give keyboards its own tip while throwing-in monitors with the workstation one. Its because I believe your keyboard, mouse and the other tools you will use for your day-to-day work are more relevant and need to be the utmost quality.
Before I started working a lot from home, I used to have a traditional keyboard and mouse and eventually, whenever I finished work, my hands would hurt, and it would feel like my veins are going to pop-out. That was the first on-set of carpal tunnel. So investing a bit in a proper ergonomic keyboard and mouse that works for you is very essential, especially if you are going to be using them for hours at a time. I included a picture of my keyboard and mouse below, but feel free to choose whatever makes you comfortable but make you sure you are satisfied. Mechanical keyboards with background lights are cool, but make sure you can type for hours on them.
Now the other items, such as your webcam and microphone, might not be that essential for a casual WFH person, but for a remote employee, it is a must. When you are attending meetings daily from home, you have no excuse to spend the first five minutes of the meeting, making sure everyone can hear you and that your laptop camera is on. Built-in laptop mics are not that great in a WFH setting, especially since my laptop is usually running on 80% CPU, and I feel like it’s about to take-off anytime soon.
So take the time, invest in proper tools and make sure its all adequately set up with whatever tools you use, whether its Zoom, Slack or Microsoft teams. Apologizing in a meeting about your mic, webcam and speaker issues is not acceptable anymore.
Tip #3: Routine
I cannot stress this one enough, but just because you work from home does not mean you can do whatever you want whenever you want. Well, you can, but you should not.
Working from home has a dis-advantage where some people can start over-working where they end up sitting on their desks at 8 and only walking away when the wife yells and says, “I have been waiting an hour for dinner, and it is all getting cold.” There is also the opposite case, where people might have the laptop on and are walking around the house doing other chores and checking every 30 minutes to make sure their online status has not been changed to away.
A routine and balance is the key here. Everyone can have their own routine, and my point is to have one, does not have to be similar to mine, but one should exist so that your mind, family and even pets know that you are in work-mode now and no distractions should take place. What I do, is that after waking up, working out and doing whatever my morning routine is, I come and sit at my desk and close the door. When the door is closed, my wife knows that’s its work time even if I am not on calls, she knows to just let me be. Now, as soon as 5:00pm hits (unless, of course, there is some crucial work or a deadline looming), I switch desktops (a Windows 10 feature, bing it) and start my MBA work and door now open.
Now a few important things to note here, I do take breaks and go downstairs to the kitchen to talk to my wife or have lunch with here. I am not saying act like you do not exist, just have a schedule. Actually, I do recommend taking more short-breaks, spend more time with your family, go out for a walk or like me shoot mini hoops every now and then. Having that “fun and relaxing” factor is what WFH is all about and what will make you more productive.
One note that I would like to add here is that over the years, I have felt that when you are working from home, there is a higher expectation when it comes to responding to IMs and emails. Unlike when you are in an office, and people know that you are there and will eventually get to their messages, the expectation is different when you are at home, there is a need to show that you are around and sitting on the laptop doing “work.” My adjustment to that has been if someone does IM me, and I am trying to focus on something, I will let them know that give me a few, and I will get back to you. Don’t feel obliged to respond to every IM and email right away just set your priorities and manage expectations with people like you would in an office.
- Dress appropriately. It is not that no one is going to see you, its about the mentality. I am not saying suits but something that if you turn your camera on, you are not judged.
- Please do not sit on the bed and do a web call.
- Make sure your background that is seen on a video call is not distracting; Microsoft Teams has the amazing blur feature that can help you with that or custom backgrounds for all other tools.
- Turn on your camera from time to time even if your workplace does not require it, it is more personal.
- Feel free to video bomb people and just ring them up to talk about other stuff.
- One handy thing I found to have in your office is an Air purifier. I found a Levoit one on Amazon for 70 CAD$, and it really helps keep the air in the room fresh and keep away any stuffy smells. Worth every cent.
- Have a fun factor around you. I have a small plant, a little water fountain and mini basketball that I am usually playing with.
- Take advantage of WFH and spend more time with your family, add more time to your self-development and make sure you set some time up for exercise.
I really hope some of these tips will help you and set you up for success when working from home.