I have been a remote, home worker for over 20 years and a road warrior for even longer. In fact, prior to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, I averaged around 200 hotel nights per year. My time on the road easily outstripped my time at home. In this blog, I will share my simple, best, broadly applicable recommendations to help those relatively new to working from home so they can be successful too. This is also particularly relevant for my peers who may have heard me snoring on the red eye or sharing a drink as we managed endless flight delays and snowstorms.
By now, the vast majority of office-based employees have come to accept that working from home is the new normal. This will probably be true for the foreseeable future, especially for employees who, B.C. (Before Coronavirus) worked in office environments characterized by open floor plans, shared workspaces, and a high-density of cubicles per square foot.
The days of huddling in a small conference room—even with masks—will probably not occur until a vaccine is widely available, or there are other accessible treatments that mitigate the virus’ health risks. This means coffee and water cooler breaks in office common areas and gatherings for lunch or celebrations are also on hold. Dedicated road warriors like myself are also enduring an abrupt lifestyle change. Gone are the simple pleasures of a snooze on a business-class flight, or comped drinks and food in airport lounges, and the forging of business relationships and friendships in cities far from home. Several months into this coronavirus-induced paradigm shift, the risks of in-office work and business travel remain too high to return to these “old normal” things.
Top Tips for Working From Home
Now that businesses and workers have fully grasped the revelations of the new home workplace, what are some of the simple tricks, habits, and best practices can employees do to keep themselves healthy, happy, focused, and productive while working from home in near-zero isolation? And by being productive, I naturally, as a CTO and CISO, also mean cyber secure for themselves, business, and the other devices that might be on their home network. After all, our office doors are no longer locked. Children and IoT devices may be connected to the same network, and we find ourselves sitting in front of the same screen every day. With only dozens of feet separating the kitchen and your bedroom day after day—whether weekday or weekend—social distancing Groundhog Day may take a toll on your health and sanity, if you aren’t proactive about structuring your work environment and workday. To that end, here are my top recommendations to make working from home as productive and natural-feeling as possible:
Stop Sitting: Get up. Stand. Move. We have taken our laptops and desktops home and have them set up on the dining room table, porch, or some other makeshift office. For whatever reason, we believe we are expected to be locked into position in front of our machines all day long to answer emails, take calls, participate in video conferencing, and do our jobs. But you do not have to sit. Sitting all day is unhealthy. Consider spending a few bucks, or ask your boss, to invest in a standing desk. You do not even need to buy a full desk. There are plenty of sit or stand riser desks that can be placed on an existing table or desk that easily transform your workspace from a sitting to standing position in a few seconds. If you are used to walking to work, commuting, running through an airport, or just getting exercise from being on the job, consider adding a standing desk at home to combat the 50-foot walk to the fridge as your sole source of exercise. And, if you believe your situation at home will not change for a long period of time, and you have the room, consider taking this to the next level with a treadmill desk.
Rotate Locations: If you utilize a mobile device like a laptop for your work, do not leave it one place. After all, it is a ”mobile” device. Consider taking calls and answering email from the kitchen, office, porch, and even on the couch in the living room. Don’t let monotony set in. Continue to change up the scenery a little bit. For road warriors, this is a must because staying in one place too long is exactly why we work so well on the road. A brief change of work scenery, such as enjoying the weather while watching a webinar, can make all the difference in the world in helping boost your energy, focus, and mood.
Optimize Network Connectivity: If your newly established workplace at home requires you to use a WiFi connection, consider spending a little money on your own home-based router with WiFi that you can configure yourself (compared to a black box that comes from your Internet provider). The reason why is simple. Most new, and good home-based routers, especially those used by heavy gamers, have a feature called IP Isolation or in simple terms “Allow guests to see each other…”.
This feature prevents two devices on the same Guest or Trusted network from communicating with each other and, in essence, isolate every device that you connect. This means that your work machine cannot communicate directly with home IoT devices or other systems that may be connected to support homeschool learning or another family working from home too. This helps protect your work machine from malicious traffic at home and potentially any undesirable lateral movement that malware or a threat actor may engage in. While this tip is rather technical, having the peace of mind that your newly commissioned home office is electronically secure from the rest of the house can go a long way toward supporting productivity and smooth computing operations. For road warriors, this no different than not connecting to an open WiFi when traveling.
Take Eating/Coffee Breaks: The worst thing you can do is start the habit of eating breakfast and lunch in front of your computer screen. If you did not do this before within your office, don’t let this habit take hold now. Seize the time to enjoy a lunch break and get coffee. Just because you are working from home does not mean your fingers should constantly be within reach of a keyboard from sunrise to sunset. While the location of your job may have changed, and you may be doing some tasks differently, don’t forget to be a mortal and take breaks. Especially for meals.
Practice Video Conferencing Awareness: Before COVID-19, conference call intrusions by children or pets were generally considered unprofessional, or at least a violation of work norms. This is a hard truth that was in place even when we previously needed to work from home. Now, these once frowned upon interruptions have become socially acceptable. But with the line between work and home blurring more than ever, how do you maintain balance and keep any separation between one and the other? Here is some guidance that I have personally found to be useful:
- When speaking with close team members, other employees/co-workers in the same organization, and trusted vendors, limited interruptions are acceptable. We need to recognize everyone’s family situation is different and tolerance, consideration, and mindfulness is important for all of us. We are this together.
- When speaking with clients and vendors with whom we do not have personal relationships, interruptions may be marginally tolerated. Cultural differences, the sensitivity of information, and the timeliness of communications with interruptions may create issues. In these circumstances, we should take extra measures to ensure interruptions will be minimized, or ideally, avoided altogether.
- Webinars and Live Feeds pose a unique problem. The occasional dog barking or cat walking across the keyboard is inevitable. We only have so much control over our own home environments. However, interruptions by others is a different problem. It’s not the act of interruption itself that is the issue, but rather the privacy concerns that may arise. You are potentially broadcasting other individuals (i.e. family members) by name, their faces, and the situation that might be unfolding to complete strangers. Therefore, if you participate in live interaction using cameras and/microphones, and it involves strangers viewing your content, consider any steps necessary to ensure there are no interruptions. You have just opened your home, and personal life, to strangers. Make sure you are willing to do that if you have an unexpected interruption from anyone who might be at home.
Take Pride in Your Personal Presentation: Many of those who work from home have foregone shaving, haircuts, and even a daily shower. They may now wear t-shirts in lieu of suits or the formal attire they customarily wore in the office, or pair dress shirt and jacket with shorts and sandals (I am guilty of this too – my blue sports jacket, orange BeyondTrust “B” pin, and white polo shirt are often accompanied by board shorts and no socks and shoes). However, your attire is still a part of your job. While I fully understand not putting on a suit and tie with dress shoes, for goodness sake, at least shower and brush your hair (if you have any – I don’t). While that may sound like unsolicited parental advice, showing up on a video conference call like you just woke up or spent a long week in Las Vegas is just not acceptable. You are still at work, being paid, and there should be some pride in your own hygiene and dress, even if you’re just going 40 feet from the bedroom to your laptop. Believe it or not, getting properly dressed while working from home every morning is a huge step toward staying mentally sharp, while helping to boost your overall health and productivity in your home office environment.
Continue to Learn, Adapt, & Improve
With no game-changing coronavirus treatments on the close horizon, working from home remains the new normal. Our homes are not cookie cutter cubes and offices. Everyone’s home, family situation, internet connectivity, and décor is different. This is a learning experience for us all—even those of us who have worked remotely prior to the days of social distancing. My recommendations may work for some workers, but others may have honed their own at-home work productivity and healthfulness hacks. So, if you have some valuable work from home tips or lessons to share with us, please comment. We all could learn how to better adjust, and no one is in this situation alone.