Tips For Working from Home From The Foundry Network

Over the past week I’ve been gathering work-from-home tips from Foundry Group portfolio companies. Here are some of the best suggestions – from WFH veterans as well as some newbies quickly getting up to speed. I highlighted a few that I thought were particularly good ones.

Work Space

  • Create a dedicated work space distinct from high traffic or personal areas. Make sure that it’s uncluttered, professional and comfortable. You will also want to have good lighting and A/V accessories. If a dedicated space isn’t feasible, get creative and find some workable nook in your home where you’re comfortable and can focus.
  • Listen to some music. If you’re in a lot of meetings this can be hard, but try to squeeze it in when you can.
  • Invest in a good desk chair. Your back will thank you. Yoga balls are cheap, available for quick delivery, and ergonomically healthy. Note: I actually stole back into our office this weekend to get my standing desk and my back is already thanking me.
  • Work near a window and keep it open. The cold air is a game-changer.
  • Light your favorite candle in your office.
  • (For CEOs and managers): If a critical employee needs something, get it for them. Make sure people are comfortable and can be productive. If a key employee needs a monitor or a standing desk, order it for them.  
  • Make occasional tweaks. Move things around in your WFH space and try something new each week. Over time you’ll discover little boosts from mixing things up. 
  • Not every task necessitates a laptop or sitting at desk. Can you take that next meeting from the couch, and use your iPad for your notes? Can the meeting after that be from your phone and headphones while you take a walk? 

Routines

  • Establish work routines that are similar to your in-the-office routines and will trigger you entering work mode. Start with a morning routine (breakfast, walk the dog) and ease into the work.  Similarly, it’s helpful to wrap up the working day with a routine (touch base call or email, jotting down tomorrow’s to-do list or just closing down your computer for the day). This helps you keep the two modes separate. 
  • Take the time you normally would have spent commuting for a workout.
  • If you have kids at home with you, establish ground rules for moving around the house and when and how you can be disturbed. Consider creating blocks of time dedicated for meetings or heads down time. By the same token, establish times when they know you’ll engage with them. That said, know that you’re in a fluid environment and chaos is bound to appear so embrace it with good humor when it comes. Note: I love that the new WFM culture embraces the occasional interruption on a Zoom or conference call from kids or pets. I’ve taken to asking my kids to come say hi when they accidentally step in on a call.
  • Consider chunking up the work into bite-size intervals. Some prefer 60 to 90-minute periods while others like the shorter periods of 30 minutes. The important thing is to leave a space of time 5 to 15 minutes at the end of each period to take a break.
  • Be disciplined about your calendar. This goes beyond faithfully calendaring your meetings. Set time aside for heads down work so colleagues will think twice about disturbing you. On the flip side, consider dedicating a block of time for catching up with people. 
  • Drink plenty of water. Not necessarily because water is good for you, but to replace those “water cooler” moments – Grab your phone when you head to the kitchen for water/coffee breaks and try to text a friend for a few minutes.
  • Stop worrying if you’re doing it right. At home you’re the office manager, so you can change things up!

Communications

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. It is even more important in a remote environment.  Use video calls as much as possible. They create a sense of community much more effectively than phone calls. To lighten things up and have a little fun, many video conferencing apps allow users to change their backgrounds. Try Gallery Mode on Zoom – it’s nice to see everyone’s smiling face in Brady Bunch mode. Also, don’t be afraid to converse on multiple levels. Chat can enhance and add nuance to teleconferences.
  • Back-to-back video conferencing meetings are more draining than in-person meetings and leave little time for moving the body, staying hydrated, etc. Try shorter meetings 25 and 50 minutes, instead of 30 and 60 minutes to force people to have breaks during the day.
  • Behave as if everyone is remote even if you have multiple people in the same location. Have everyone log into a video conference on their own individual computers. It levels the playing field and facilitates engagement by everyone. 
  • If something isn’t solved within 3 exchanges on Slack, jump on a Zoom. A face to face conversation usually sorts things out much quicker. 
  • Update your vocabulary. Out Of Office / OOO and Away from my desk are no longer meaningful in the COVID-19 era. Away from Keyboard is universally applicable.

Physical/Mental Health and Morale

  • Encourage people to get outside. Spring is arriving so get out, breath in some fresh air, and soak in the energy from rebirth all around you (but keep social distancing rules in place, please!). 
  • Think about the fact that you’ve been given the gift of time and place. Sure, there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but you now have more control over your time and your immediate environment. In many respects, the pace of life has slowed down. Be selfish with this newly found time and spend it with the people with whom you are close – at home or virtually. Reach out to lapsed friends or family. Finish a project. Read a book. Make the best of it.
  • Regulate the amount of news you consume and pick your times to check it. Many of us are news junkies. It’s easy to get distracted and even consumed by events in the world around us. While the new information is constantly coming to light, the overall narrative rarely changes.
  • As a culture/excitement perk consider sending a little something to your team. Cookies or snacks help spirits stay high and give people a little surprise. Their families appreciate it too. 
  • Build social interaction into your work routines. Carve out opportunities for spontaneity with banter time at the start of regular meetings. 
  • Try 4pm “Happy Hour” meetings with no agenda. It’s a great way for the team to connect for 30min and bring everyone back to their workstations if they got distracted for some reason. You can also try “crew time”: lunches or yoga. Trivia or Jackbox games over Zoom are also fun. Slack has apps like Poke or Donut that encourage ad hoc engagement. 

Lots in here. And lots more that I’m sure others have discovered and are implementing (a quick Google search reveals a number of blog posts and articles on this subject). Remember, everyone is in the same boat. As for help if you’re struggling with the new reality. And remember to stay connected.