How to Thrive (Not Just Survive) in This Working From Home Thing

a young woman at her desk and holding her dog, enjoying working from home

7 Essential Actions You Need to Put Into Practice

For most of my career, I have managed large teams of people while working in a virtual office environment. So, if there is one thing I understand, it’s how to work remotely.

When I began my career at American Express, I worked in a large customer call center – 3000 people under one roof. Together with my leaders and peers, this was a place where I worked, dined, exercised, and socialized. Within a few years, I moved from a call center leader role to managing Sales and Client Management professionals, who were all remotely deployed. I eventually gave up the office and a nasty Atlanta commute, and moved my office to my house. Later as a General Manager, with teams of Vice Presidents and support staff spread across the United States, I remained virtual.

The reason I share this history with you is that during the many years I worked from home, I learned some very valuable lessons, and discovered that there are a handful of critical keys to success in a virtual office setup. I felt it important to pass these along because it’s critical to remain connected and engaged to your peers, teams, and leaders now that you’re not seeing them face to face on a daily basis. I also believe you have a great opportunity, as well, to deepen the connections with your family, and those that matter most. If you’re purposeful in your approach, you’ll not only grow to thrive with this setup, but you might actually learn to love it! Of course, I understand the circumstances today that have moved you to work from home are likely very different from mine, and things might be quite scary for you right now (me too). Uncertainty always is! However, when this pandemic is over, you may never want to go back to a traditional office setting.

Here are the keys:

1. Set up your “Office”

Money may be tighter right now, so you might need to improvise or get creative. Remember that you’ll spend more time here than you do in your bed, so you need to be comfortable. Put up a TV nearby to play business news or something valuable in the background, or perhaps a small music player that doesn’t distract you. How about a stand-up desk, a better chair, a stronger Wi-Fi router, or a second monitor (I have three)? Make this space inviting, comfortable, and creative. If you’re limited on space or sharing it with roommates, it’s okay to work from different rooms or even work outside when possible. You’ll want to be able to roam around a little. I do most of my morning calls from the front porch (I am fortunate to have one of these), I pace all over the house when I’m on calls, and I FaceTime and Zoom from my phone or laptop from anywhere.

2. Get off email

Pick up the phone and call. And, of course, use video whenever possible. I was an early adopter of video years ago, and my teams initially hated it. In time, we all grew to love it (well, most of us did). But as a leader, I like to see “eyeballs”. I like facial expressions. I crave genuine communication. Right now, as people are missing seeing one another in person, this is a viable substitute. Email is good for sending documents and providing facts, but we all know that it sucks for conversations. Phone is better, and video crushes the others. Embrace this medium. Thrive!

3. Be physically active and encourage your team to do the same

No more excuses about not going to the gym. Well, that’s not true, I guess, since it’s closed. But you now have time to walk, run, ride a bike, do a bunch of push-ups, do burpees (my favorite), or find something else that you enjoy. I’ve been using the Peloton app. Early workouts are better, but I do mine mid-day when my body needs to burn some energy (2pm). You can now make smoothies, salads, nutritious foods and snacks. In the 30 days of April that we’ve been told to stay home, you can start new amazing habits. If you do this, I promise you will be so much happier and more productive with your work and in all areas of your life.

4. Enjoy your family, your friends, your pets

Perhaps a gift has been given to you. You might now pass a spouse or significant other in the kitchen between calls, or have a dog that wants to come in the office (if he’s not a barker), or have kid(s) that aren’t at school and need some attention.

Yes, you have work to do, but you’re allowed to chill for a few minutes throughout the day with those who matter most. This is your new break time.

This is who you do a “Power Lunch” with. This is perfectly fine. Yes, get the work done, get it done well. No, don’t ignore the ones you love. In the end, you’ve lost a ton of commute time, and you’re not going to that 4-hour meeting this afternoon that you don’t need to attend anyway. There is “new found” margin – capitalize on it.

5. Invest in yourself

You may now have more “open gaps” in your day (assuming you’re not also home schooling the kids these days), so don’t waste it! For some, this will be a chance to read new material, begin learning a new language, acquire new software skills, or build out your network. For others, you may want to invest in your mental health during this difficult time. Either way, there are so many options available for online learning, and there has never been a better time to leverage these tools. If there is anything we all should be learning right now, it’s that life is fragile, so we need to be investing in ourselves daily so that we can maximize our well-being and overall impact at work and in our communities.

6. Live by a schedule. And stick to it!

Okay, it’s time for a few rules (maybe this one should have been #1 on the list). Wake up at a regular time. Take a shower, get dressed, and drink your tea, coffee or smoothie. Eat a healthy breakfast and be disciplined in your day. Do your emails from this time to that time, calls from here to there, learning and reading from this to that. I prioritize and calendarize everything – the important things don’t get missed. Bottom line: you need to have a plan for the day – every day.

If you’re going to thrive, you need to be disciplined and organized.

For me, there are no days where I don’t have a plan. If I stick to a script, then all of the other things that I want to accomplish happen – work, family, fitness, health, connections, etc. They all happen. Without this plan, I end up busy, but not productive.

7. Keep your regular traditions, but use new mediums

I know it’s goofy, but why not have a virtual happy hour? Why not have a call first thing with your main office friends to see how they’re doing? I’ve had virtual holiday parties, happy hours, and even birthday events with my remote teams. Some of my team members found ways to get together in person, but most were in their homes, watching and joining in. In these times, you need to keep connected, you need to be seen, and you need the love and support of your coworkers.

You also need to be checking in with your leader regularly, whether or not they are checking in on you. Don’t get lost at home – be a catalyst for connecting!

And if it’s not happening right now in your team, take the initiative to be a leader. These are scary and lonely times for all of us – you can help fix this.

I truly hope that these keys will be helpful to you. I’m sure that many of them you might have already heard, but sometimes a little encouragement can help in putting things into action. Lastly, please be safe, everyone. I continue to keep all of my friends (that includes the people I work with) and family in my thoughts and prayers. And I, of course, truly look forward to a time when we can all see each other again in person. But for now, I’ll keep doing what I can do to be a catalyst for connecting people to one another as best I know how.

This is a copy of a post by DataOceans board advisor David Blaha which was originally published on LinkedIn. As we come up on one year of sheltering in place from the pandemic, David’s practical advice on working from home is a reminder that we can cope, and even succeed, in challenging times.