Planning and Communicating Effectively When Working From Home

Whether you’re new to overseeing virtual teams or you find yourself working from home for the first time, it’s important to understand how to manage time, communicate effectively, and feel connected to others.

Communication between leaders and teams is never more important than in virtual work environments. We’ve created a free discussion guide that you can use on a regular basis to have conversations that help plan work, prioritize and re-prioritize tasks, and identify successes and opportunities for individuals and projects. The guide is broken down into three sections to help you thrive in your environment, remove guesswork, and work with purpose.

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Thrive in your environment.

Being able to effectively work from home means being open and honest about what’s working, not working, and what you need to be successful. Discussing your availability and capacity and how they relate to your state of mind helps create understanding and empathy. Taking some time to think about how you’re connecting with others and what is getting in your way can help you be intentional about your work environment. Try these tips for creating an environment at home that you can thrive in. 

Establish a routine and set working hours. When you’re working from home, it can sometimes feel like the construct of time no longer applies to you. While you may have more flexibility with your time, it’s important to have a regular routine so you don’t end up working too much, or not enough. Set regular working hours and communicate them to your teammates. Be accountable for that time and disconnect when the workday is over. 

Create a dedicated workspace. Just like going to a brick and mortar building, having a dedicated workspace in your home can help you focus and feel “at work.” Whether it’s a defined room in your house or a defined end of the dining room table, make sure it’s set up for you to be successful. Find a quiet space, free from distraction, and have easy access to the tools you need to do your job—computer, headphones, notebooks, pens. When the workday is over, be able to walk away and disassociate with that area.

Connect with others on a regular basis. Communication is key and sharing in conversation with colleagues can help you build and maintain relationships, be accountable for work, and aid in collaboration on projects. Schedule recurring check-ins with managers, chats over coffee with friends, and brainstorm sessions with project teams. When they are part of your regular routine, you’ll be less likely to skip out on those important moments to connect.

Remove guesswork.

Too often we make assumptions that everyone is on the same page. Make time to actively discuss and acknowledge common practices and agreements that span teams or departments—from schedules to processes and policies. Take the guesswork out of working virtually and be clear about expectations and special arrangements. Try these tips for removing guesswork from the equation and creating clarity.

Schedule office hours for casual drop-ins. As work gets done, questions come up. Without being able to peek and see if you’re in your office, colleagues may not know when they can reach out to you. Like a professor trying to advise a semester's-worth of students, block time on your calendar for office hours so colleagues know when they can find you for those casual, off the cuff conversations.

Set realistic expectations with managers. Be honest about your commitments and your time. Some of your work may not be conducive to an at home environment—some may be more conducive. Your schedule may be atypical or uncertain. Communicate early and often about challenges you’re facing, concerns you have, and opportunities you see. Pivot what you’re working on when it makes sense for you and the business.

Work with purpose.

Being purposeful in your work is about understanding how you’re spending your time and how that work is contributing to the bigger picture. There will always be things that need to be done, things that provide for continuity of business operations—acknowledge the roadblocks that prevent you from being successful. How you address potential work and work that is sunsetting can help you make the most of your capacity. Try these tips for being purposeful with your work and making the most of the hours in your day.

Utilize work blocks to plan time. Ever notice how much more efficient you are the more things you have to get done? When your time is accounted for, it’s harder to get distracted and off-track. Schedule time on your calendar to tackle the items on your to-do list, one by one. You may have to adjust but at the end of the day you’ll be able to see how you spent your time—what took longer than expected and where you gained time back in your day. Make sure you schedule some time at the end of the day to plan work blocks for tomorrow.

Practice active listening skills on calls. When you’re on calls it can be easy to get distracted or try to multitask. You may find yourself unaware of what was discussed while you were doing other things. Hone your listening skills by doing things that actively engage you but don’t prevent you from listening to what is being said. Taking notes is a proven method for retention but you could also doodle or color if you’re looking for something a bit more fun.

Working from home is not easy and as a society, we’re much more practiced in co-working effectively on-site than we are in doing it remotely. This guide and these tips can help you have meaningful conversations as you build trust and productivity. 

More than anything, as you continue to adjust to life at home, give yourself the grace to figure out the strategies that work for you and your team. Try new ideas and communicate often. Turn up that motivational playlist and remember to take regular breaks to clear your mind, refresh your perspective, and prevent monotony from setting in.

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