Creating an Effective Home Office Environment

by | Apr 7, 2020

Certainly, not all of us were prepared to all of a sudden start working from home. Especially when we are used to facing a 100% office environment.

Although we acknowledge it is less than perfect for some of us, we found a few ideas on what things to do to make your remote work experience a successful and enjoyable one.

1. Understanding your company’s tech tools

Your company might or might not be equipped for remote work.
What technologies is your company already implementing that enable work from home?
i.e. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, task/issue trackers such as Jira, Asana etc.?

If you were using mostly live meetings before, you will now need to determine what technologies you want to use moving forward.

For meetings, once you have selected your meeting platform, make sure that every calendar invite contains the right meeting URL and instructions. Doing a sound and video check before your call is always good practice. Generally, the experience will be better for everyone if you are in a relatively quiet space and using headphones.

2. Ensure you can capture the right feelings and intentions from your colleagues and partners.

When writing…
Inevitably you will be communicating more in writing now that it is impossible to bump into someone in the hallway or catch them at their desk. A key thing to pay attention to there is to
assume good intent in your colleague’s written messages – you can’t see or hear your colleague’s tone of voice, so it’s hard to see what intention they have. Assume the best, and pick up the phone to clarify if needed.

During video calls…
In conference calls – turn your cameras on. According to Ernst van Nierop, yes, my husband and office-mate for the time being but also a former GitLab executive – a company known for successfully building a 100% remote work environment – “You should always use the camera, you need to be present and use the meeting the same way you would use a meeting when you are in the office. You are not having a meeting in the office with your headphones on while you are in the bathroom…”

Watching and being watched allows you to get a good sense of the response of the room, so you can get a little bit of the benefit of seeing visual cues and getting a sense of where people are at.

“I even think that you should not be muted by default unless it is a very large group or if you have a lot of background noise” says Ernst. The more you can make it like a normal conversation the more effective your communications will be.

3. Balance being professional with being realistic about working from home

You want to have a place that is relatively quiet so you can be unmuted whenever possible. Having as few distractions in the background as possible, like your roommates, family members or pets will help you focus during video calls. But if they come wandering into the image we should acknowledge them, don’t try to awkwardly remove them out of the way.

We should all recognize that everybody is working from home, nobody has a super professional office setup; nor should that be required to be productive from home. But that leads us to the next point….

4. Be friendly to your back

You should try to have as ergonomic as possible setup, same as you have it at the office.
Can you retrieve some hardware or furniture from your office?
If possible, ask your employer to allow you to retrieve items like your monitor, keyboard, chair or even the desk. But if you can’t, then perhaps this is a good time to upgrade your desk or your chair. If those things aren’t possible, dining tables are always a good go-to option.
Avoid working from your couch, your bed, or the stool at your kitchen counter. You are working from home, so if you are comfortable doing that for a short period of time do it, but don’t hurt yourself.

5. For people managers

It is important to remember to check in with people more frequently because now there will be fewer random conversations in the kitchen or while getting coffee. You need to replace the informal chats with deliberate check-ins, using chat rooms, scheduled check-in meetings, or office hours.

Creating chat channels can be a force for evil (by distraction) instead of a force for good, but it is better to have them and allow people to opt-in and out as they feel vs. not having them at all.

6. Separating personal and work-life

The more division you can bring to really clarify “this is when I am and where I am when working” and “this is when I am and where I am when not working”, the better for yourself as well as for everybody around you in the house.

7. Homeschooling*

It gets tricky with homeschooling; probably very few parents have it under control and whoever says that they do have it all under control is probably lying*. What we started doing is scheduling specific blocks of time out of our workday, and that either means you need to recognize you are going to get less done and your manager and you have to be ok with that, or you need to adapt your agenda and potentially work during odd hours. Your options and preferences will vary.

We created a schedule that the kids can check hour by hour, and that helps them learn how to keep control of their own progress. It takes time to get it going and it might not work for younger children, but for grades 2 and above it works well. So far.

Another much more developed resource is Wide Open School, it works for kids of many different ages.

*Please note that neither the author nor her husband have nailed homeschooling yet.

We wish you the best of luck during this time, it is not easy but we will all get through this.
Make sure to share your experiences and tips with us!

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1 Comment

  1. Pricelda Cid

    Thanks Latinas in/tech, these are all great suggestions. If any of you want additional help I own an ergonomic services company and can provide additional help with setting up your workspace and can spend one on one time with any of you in your space at home via zoom. I dig into habits and routines to make sure you can complete your work safely. Stay safe everyone!!

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