How to Successfully Work from Home: Advice from AESC Staff
Now, along with countless others in response to the outbreak, we transitioned to a work from home situation for all team members. Although remote work is not new to the association, there are still new things to learn and adjustments along the way. We asked the AESC team how they're coping with the changes to identify useful tips for AESC members.
Maintaining a Routine
Mandatory lockdowns inevitably cause unwanted stress and can take a toll on your mental and physical well-being. The best way to combat these overwhelming feelings is to keep your regular work routine in place and plan time away from your desk.
To our remote teams: How is working from home different now compared to before?
Patrick Rooney, Managing Director, Asia Pacific & Middle East: Before the crisis, I could break up the working day by working from a café or traveling to business meetings. Now with the lockdown, I’m home all the time, and it’s a bigger adjustment than I expected. Now more than ever it’s important to focus on work that has impact and is meaningful. The personal sacrifices you make to spend time working are more apparent, so it’s important to spend that time wisely.
The issues the world is facing seem so big and we seem so small as individuals in comparison, working on meaningful projects with colleagues is one way to feel like you are contributing and have a stake in the future. - Patrick Rooney, AESC
Linda Backlund, Executive Assistant, Membership & Events, Europe & Africa: The main difference at the moment is having a full house. My “space” is no longer mine. The main piece of advice I can give to people who are new to working from home is to make sure that you implement a routine in your day, and stick to it. You need to keep up the feeling of going “to an office” even if your office is at home. I would also recommend that you take a short morning break and an afternoon break to stretch your legs, take a walk, do some chores around the house. Make sure that you move enough, even if it is a walk around the block or the couch. Keep that blood pumping!
Which routines work best for you and are most helpful?
Don Hailer, Senior Web Designer: Working from home is a new experience for me; I’m not a fan and have done it only a handful of times. To combat the many distractions, I quickly learned to keep a strict schedule, working from 7 to 3. The early hours require that I awake with an alarm clock which, in turn, gives me a sense of purpose. I stick to my usual pre-COVID routine and wear regular work clothes to feel “polished.”
Joe Chappell, Chief Marketing Officer: I find establishing a work routine in my home that is somewhat similar to that in the office allows me to better focus on work when I am working, and also be more purposeful with my time when not working. Working out a few times a week is very important to me for my physical and mental wellbeing, so I have made time to pause a few times per week at midday for a virtual workout. This allows me to also break up my day and reenergizes me for the afternoon.
Arthur Gwynne, Director, BlueSteps Operations: It’s important to still take breaks – take a full hour for lunch and (virtually) socialize when you can. If you’re feeling stressed, turn off the computer and do something else for a few minutes. My wife and I are both working from home, we have to respect each others’ space during normal work hours, but we’re retaining our after work and weekend routines as much as possible. Work/life balance is even more important right now.
Sarah Boyle, Senior Manager, BlueSteps Global Marketing: As a night owl, I'm not really minding the ability to sleep in a little longer each morning in the absence of my commute! Some routines were made to be broken. However, I am really enjoying my new lunchtime workout and as I've oddly regressed back to staying with my parents, family dinner. It's been nice to show my Dad some cooking tips I've picked up over the years and cook him dinner once in a while. I also think it’s OK to not stick to your routine with everything going on. Check in with yourself and with how you’re feeling, most importantly!
While some team members are accustomed to remote work, working from home with new “officemates” have introduced new challenges.
What is essential for staying productive?
Olena Gomazova, Director, Information Technology: My key to success is being agile and flexible. I tend to break up my work into big/medium/small tasks. If I have a couple of hours in between the meetings or while my kids are watching a movie, I can do 4-5 small tasks or 1 medium-size task during that time. Keeping track of all the tasks and having a ‘living' to-do list is the key, this way I can always pick things that are going to fit in the given schedule pretty easily. I try to start my day and week by prioritizing tasks that others are dependent on. Having more one-on-one calls and virtual meetings in small groups helps immensely.
Don't try to do everything yourself. Ask for help. Delegate as much as possible when you feel stressed out and/or overwhelmed. - Olena Gomazova, AESC
Arthur: When I’m busy I “get in the zone” where my physical environment doesn’t matter too much, but it was important for me to get a good desk setup at home – having a dedicated space to work, a good chair, a desk at a comfortable height for the keyboard and screen. Just sitting on the bed with a laptop is not only physically straining but it blurs the line between work and nonwork, and you start writing REDRUM on the bathroom mirror after a few days. Listening to music also helps keep my mind focused.
Don: Most of my projects have set deadlines, which is helpful. Additionally, at the beginning of each day, I list three items that I must complete before I log off for the day. Somedays, they may be only small projects, but it feels great to scratch them off my to-do list.
What tools are you using to help you work remotely?
Arthur: Zoom, Bluetooth devices like keyboard and headset connected to the laptop, and a viable internet connection.
Don: Zoom, [Microsoft] Teams, and Slack help immensely. In addition to using them for work, I try to check in with co-workers throughout the day so I can stay connected on a personal level. I never realized how important office interaction was until we all became separated. I definitely miss the camaraderie. The Monday morning staff meetings are ESSENTIAL.
Leading Teams from Afar
For team leaders: What is important to keep in mind when leading your teams during this time?
Joe Chappell: I believe empathy is always important when carrying the responsibility of leading a team through any time, but it becomes even more essential in moments like now. Ironically, in many ways, we are all more vulnerable and exposed in a virtual environment. As we move to connect virtually through video calls, we are inviting our coworkers and clients into our homes. As a leader, it's a good time to embrace ruthless authenticity and appreciate the authentic in others. Now is not a time for polish or veneer or perfection.
Be your authentic self, lead by example and more importantly, lead together. I think this builds stronger connections and trust. - Joe Chappell, AESC
Arthur: Letting folks vent and discuss how they’re doing before the meeting fully starts helps dust off some cobwebs. Trying to have everyone on video chat also keeps some focus on your work and environment and keep focused on the meeting at hand.
Charlene Manuel, Director, Global Marketing, Communications & Education: It’s important to ask what’s working, what’s not working and how can I help?
Remote Working as a Parent
Do you have any advice for parents in this working situation?
Set up a routine.
Linda: [The routine] doesn’t have to be intricate. If your kids are young and don’t yet have a strict curriculum to follow, don’t make school time last longer than a couple of hours per day. Ensure that your children have access to creative time, board games, puzzles, playing with siblings, etc. As it is becoming harder and harder to grocery shop in many countries, ensure that you make a plan of the various meals you can make with what you have and what you buy. Go through your pantry, cupboard, fridge, and freezer, and write everything down. I would also suggest making a list of the things you can make for lunches so that you don’t have to think and be creative when people start getting hungry.
Olena: I have adjusted my schedule to work with everyone else in the house (husband and his job, kids and their school, meals & nap time.) For me, this means spreading out my meetings and calls so that I don't spend a few hours in a row on the phone, and moving most of the meetings to the afternoon when my little one is taking a nap.
Allow for screen time, should you choose.
Linda: If you are opposed to screen time, make sure the kids play or watch something that you approve of. If they have some knowledge of a different language, set their movies to that language. Have them do a summary of a movie afterward so that they pay more attention and learn something at the same time.
Olena: I find good educational movies and let kids call friends and family members (our screen time limit is pretty much non-existent these days.)
Eliminate stress when possible.
Olena: This means letting things be not perfect. This can mean anything from letting the kids create a mess, not trying to make fresh homemade meals 3 times a day, keep work projects moving without perfecting every single detail, and more.
Linda: Pick your battles. I have become a lot more relaxed during these weeks of lockdown. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you are used to being in an office every day, and you are now expected to home school your children AND work, remember that it will not go perfectly. Make sure that you can find some me-time every day, even if just for 10 minutes. Do a facial mask, read a chapter in the book you’ve been neglecting for months, do some meditating and breathing exercises, workout, take a walk, put on music and dance around, watch some funny videos online. Don’t forget about your own mental health!
This unprecedented situation will no doubt take a toll on parents whose normal work and private lives will now overlap fully. Mental health should be a priority for all. - Linda Backlund, AESC
Spend quality time with them when you can.
Linda: Make sure you have some cuddle time during the day! Kids will undoubtedly feel their parents’ stress during this lockdown. Make sure you take a few moments each day when you can talk and cuddle. Get your kids out of bed and eat breakfast together. This gives you an opportunity to discuss the day.
Continue reading with these helpful resources
- AESC Members: Insights & Inspiration in the Wake of Coronavirus
- AESC: Workplaces Disrupted: The Office of the Future
- SmartBug: 6 Tips for Staying Successful While Working Remotely
- HBR: 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered
A special thanks to our AESC team members that gave time to share their advice. Meet more of our staff members here.
How are you transitioning to a remote working situation? How can AESC help you work in a virtual environment? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org