Generational Viewpoints: Top tips for working from home

COVID-19 has created an unusual situation where many people are suddenly working from home. This means that many professionals who have spent their career working in a physical office away from home are suddenly juggling an entirely new situation, and for some, that situation includes their spouse, significant other, children and/or others sharing their workspace.

To help those new to remote work adjust successfully, we enlisted the help of four millennial leaders, plus our millennial co-author, all with ample experience in working remotely, and asked each of them: “What are your top tips for those new to working remotely or working from home?”

After the coronavirus crisis improves, many professionals (and firms) who originally objected to remote work will have a much more favorable perspective and realize the many benefits it provides!

Create a favorable work environment
“A lot about working remotely is mental. Having a dedicated physical space conducive to an effective work environment is one of those mental factors. Finding a space that’s separate from the rest of the activities you do at home, whether it be a room or just designated space, will help convey to you — and the rest of your family — that while you’re in that space, you’re at work. And the design of that space is just as important. Make sure your setup is sufficient (work area, equipment, etc.) and the area is free of as many distractions as possible.” — Shannon McCain, partner, HoganTaylor (pictured)

“Keep your home office area clutter-free. If your office is frequently messy, you’ll find it distracting. I have a hard time focusing on my work if there’s a mess just feet away from me. This might mean that you spend your first 15 minutes each day tidying up before you get started. It also means you may need to select a space that’s less likely to attract constant clutter from others.” — Brianna Johnson, consultant, ConvergenceCoaching LLC
Expect distractions
“Don’t sweat the background noise — we are all humans. If you are in a meeting and the phone rings, dog barks, or toddler yelps out, it does not reflect poorly on you as a professional. If you are worried about an interruption, you can give the disclaimer at the beginning of the meeting to put you at ease if it happens later. (i.e., ‘Before we start, you should know that my three-year-old wakes up from his nap during our meeting time, so just a warning that you may hear a little voice in the background.’)” — Elinor Litwack, partner, GRF CPAs & Advisors (pictured)

“COVID-19 has created a new challenge with both my husband and I working from home while also caring for our 13-month-old son since he can’t go to daycare. Currently, our approach is to map out the day with our scheduled calls and meetings, and to take turns between watching our little guy and working. It requires longer work days since we have to make up missed hours once he goes to bed, but we’re also enjoying the increased quality time with him. ... I’ve also noticed that if you give clients a heads-up that you are dealing with these new responsibilities, they really seem to understand and have sympathy, or are even in the same situation. We got to witness my son’s first steps at home, so we’re seeing the silver lining in this crazy schedule right now.” — Mindy Elniski, Senior manager, Lougen, Valenti, Bookbinder & Weintraub LLP
Maintain strong relationships
“Check in with subordinates and superiors regularly. To keep the ‘teamwork’ atmosphere and to ensure clear communication when you’re not seeing people regularly, I find it really helps to check in on a regular basis. Whether it’s through Skype, email or a phone call, it helps to keep you and others on the same page. It can really help with the feelings of isolation and separation!” — Mindy Elniski (pictured)

“Video is a powerful connection tool. Encourage your team to turn on video for more impactful conversations and better connections, particularly when in-person interactions are not happening daily.” — Elinor Litwack

“Instant message or chat your colleagues and say, ‘Good morning.; Maintaining a level of social interaction is very important when working remotely. It’s crucial that you know and recognize that each of us are doing the same thing and we are all living in the same world. Get out and talk to your neighbors (from a six-foot distance, of course). Call your family and friends that aren’t living in your house. Interacting with people in general is very important for your overall mental health and sanity.” — Mike Sippel, principal, Green Hasson & Janks LLP
Create a communication strategy
"If your team is new to remote work, come up with a communication plan that fits into your team culture and enhances productivity. Some may prefer to call each other unannounced, as if they’re stepping into an office to ask a question. Other teams may do better with online chats, WhatsApp groups, Slack, scheduled calls, texts, etc.” — Elinor Litwack

“Stay in constant contact with your team members (supervisors and those you supervise) and calendar meetings to discuss overall status (and to simply talk/interact with another person).” — Mike Sippel

“Most people don’t realize that success in working remotely comes in large part from excellent communication. Setting clear expectations and communicating status on your work and responsibilities are both crucial.” — Brianna Johnson
Support a positive productive mindset
“Take a shower and brush your teeth! It may sound obvious, but feeling clean and fresh and ready for work is a helpful way to start out your working remotely day.” — Mike Sippel (pictured)

“Focus on what you can control and try to remain positive. In this crisis, there is a lot of negativity, especially on the news and through social media. Focus on how thankful you are to have a job and that you’re able to work from home given the current circumstances. Take a break and get fresh air. Whether it’s a walk around your block, a yoga session or home workout, or just a few minutes to relax and meditate, your mind needs a break. While it’s stressful enough during busy season, the change in working environment and the current health/economic crisis are the icing on the cake. Take time to clear your head and remember to breathe.” — Mindy Elniski

“Establish personal and professional boundaries and communicate them with your family and friends. It’s OK to diverge from that schedule to sneak in a quick dog walk or start a load of laundry when you need a mental break (much like a quick trip to the coffee machine in the office), but be sure to return back to the workspace, physically and mentally, to continue your workday. On the flipside, stick to your daily schedule and unplug at the end of the work day. It’s much easier for work to leak into your personal life as a remote worker. This seepage impacts your personal home life and relationships as well as your focus the next day when you don’t get adequate reprieve from professional responsibilities.” — Shannon McCain
Practice time management tips
Johnson-Brianna-ConvergenceCoaching (2)
“Have a clear plan for your priorities at the start of each day and try to knock them out earlier, rather than later in the day.” — Brianna Johnson (pictured)

“To avoid distractions and maintain efficiency, try to keep up with your ‘normal’ schedule as much as possible. Have your morning coffee, have meals at your normal times, sleep at your normal times. Let your in-home ‘coworkers’ know your schedule to make sure everyone is clear on when they can bother you and when you should be left alone.” — Mindy Elniski
Boost your physical health
“Be active and exercise. Run/jog/walk outside, do at-home online yoga, and realize that many gyms and other services are offering at home/streaming exercise services right now.” — Mike Sippel

“Getting out of your chair is just as important as having a dedicated workspace. Sitting all day long is detrimental to our health. Try to set up a space where you can stand and work for portions of your day. If that’s not possible without distractions, get out of your chair every 50 to 60 minutes for a 10-minute break. It may seem counter-intuitive, but taking frequent physical and mental breaks is likely to lead to greater productivity and focus.” — Brianna Johnson