New to telecommuting? Learn from an expert

March 16, 2020

Vendi creative director Karen Bernhardt has telecommuted from her home near Milwaukee for Vendi Advertising in La Crosse for seven of her 14 years with the agency. Since many people are now working from home for the first time due to the threat of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing, we wanted to share her tips on how to be productive while working from home.

The threat of the coronavirus has many people scrambling to find ways to get their work done without actually going to work. It is possible to effectively collaborate and be productive while working from home, but it can be challenging to adjust to the new situation. I’ve been telecommuting since 2013, and want to share what I call:

The 5 Cs for telecommuting success

1. Communication

One big difference between working at your company’s office versus at home is that at the office, you’re surrounded by people. At home, you’re likely flying solo. Not being in the same physical space as your co-workers does impact communication. Those chats you might have in the hallway or the ability to pop your head into someone’s office can be valuable exchanges of information—not to mention relationship building—that are not possible if you’re not there. To ensure you stay as in the know as possible, be sure to check in regularly with your co-workers and managers, either by phone, email, video chat or a messenger app, such as Slack. A quick message on Slack is the equivalent of a cubicle drop by, with the addition of gifs. And we all love a good gif.

2. Configuration

Configuring a suitable work environment within your home is essential. This means having a dedicated space that you use solely for work, and you are of the mindset that this is your workspace. The wall color and décor may differ, but the architecture of your workstation should be virtually the same as if you were at the office. Would you sit at a desk at the office? Then you should sit at a desk at home. (No sitting on the couch or trying to do work from bed.) Do you have a TV blaring in your cubicle at the office? Likely the answer is no, so you shouldn’t have a TV on in your home office either. (It’s tempting to have the TV on for background noise, but ultimately, it’s a distraction.) Do you have access to a phone, printer and filing system at the office? Then you should have similar access at home. The more your home office echoes that of the company’s office, you’ll feel like more of an extension of the team versus an island unto yourself.

3. Connectivity

Being plugged into the activities of your company can be as easy as utilizing software, apps or websites that allow sharing. Microsoft Office 365 and others offer shared calendars, among other tools, which enable all members of the company to see everyone else’s schedule. This is especially important when you’re working at home, since you otherwise wouldn’t know if someone was tied up in a meeting or out of the office for a personal day. Keeping calendars up to date is helpful for everyone.

When it comes time to stay organized with projects and deadlines, an online project management tool, such as our choice, Basecamp, is invaluable. Much like a shared calendar, having a shared space for projects allows everyone to have access to assignments, notes and deadlines in real time. 

And if you’re in a job where you need to track your time, there’s an app for that. Harvest makes it easy for the team at Vendi to login online or use a mobile app to keep track of our time while working on any given project. Think of it like clocking in and out during a chess match and it’ll make it feel more like a game, less like a chore. And the bonus is that your time sheets are always up to date and accessible by managers or those who need to see them.

Virtual conferences are also a possibility through several online services. The founder of Zoom recently made that videoconferencing tool free for K–12 schools to use during the school closings related to the coronavirus pandemic.   

4. Consistency

Setting your at-home work schedule is between you and your employer, but one way to create harmony and success is by being consistent. Having a consistent schedule to your day and week provides structure, just like you would have structure if you went to an office each day. If your company’s hours of business are from 8 am–5 pm, then keep your at-home work hours the same. 

By following the same schedule as everyone else on the team, you maximize the time you are available to your co-workers and vice versa. If they pick up the phone to call you, or you shoot someone a message, both parties can expect a prompt response, which helps make working at home seamless. 

Having this consistent structure also eliminates some of the worries people have about working from home: “I would always be distracted and never get anything done.” “I’m not sure I’d be able to stop working and have normal personal time.” “People will assume I have free time during the day and won’t understand that I am actually working.” By setting consistent hours it’s just like going to the office and it creates healthy boundaries between your work and home life.

5. Commuting

Despite the many tools available to help you succeed in working from home, sometimes you have to meet face-to-face. Even during this time of social distancing, there may be times when presentations, photo or video shoots or client meetings have to be handled in person. When that need arises, make the most of this time by deciding ahead of time, through electronic means, what will be covered and who needs to be in attendance. Keep the interaction short and to the point. Avoid shaking hands, wash your hands and have hand sanitizer available.  

There may be challenges to working from home if you’re not used to it, but with a few adjustments you can be successful and productive. And, you’re doing your part to slow the spread of COVID-19.

BONUS 6. Companionship

Worried that working alone at home might be, well, lonely? Not to fear. A perk of working from home is having the constant companionship of a furry four-legged friend! Hey, if you aren’t able to be in the same space as your co-workers, you might as well have someone to talk to, right? If you’re looking for a true companion of a dog, might I suggest a Boston Terrier? They love to stick right by your side.

Berklee - assistant to the creative director

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