We’ve recently been asked for a lot of advice about work from home strategies, and we feel confident giving it. PMG has been a 100% virtual marketing agency since our founding in 2002.
So last month, when companies were scrambling to transition to remote working, our team was able to continue their normal work routines. (Well, as normal as work routines can be during a pandemic.)
One of our colleagues asked us to deliver a training on work from home strategies to help her team adjust to their new normal. She shared that challenges like distractions, isolation, and setting boundaries were impacting productivity and peace of mind. All very common obstacles when working from home, and all manageable with the right approach.
Here is a summary of our presentation to her team. We hope it can help you and your team be as effective as possible when working from home, both now and in the future.
Working from Home: The Physical
1. Designate a workspace.
Ideally, you can identify a room – with a door you can close – where you will focus on your job. I remember attending a presentation given by a leader at Trello/Atlassian, another 100% virtual company, where she shared that a dedicated room with a door is a requirement for employment.
If you cannot devote a room to your job, then find a dedicated space in your home, and make sure it is not a couch! For so many reasons, primarily your physical wellbeing, the couch is a terrible place to work.
Set up a desk in a corner of your living or family room if you can, using plants or a screen to create a visually appealing boundary. Or you can create a space at the kitchen or dining room table where you work each day. You’ll just want to clear it off and tuck work away when you are ready to break for the day. More on breaks later!
Bedrooms are not ideal. Try to keep your bedroom a place for relaxing and sleep, not the stimulation of a project deadline or Zoom calls. Speaking of Zoom and other video calls, keep your background in mind when taking them. The sight of a bed or bathroom in the background can appear too casual.
2. Watch your posture.
If you are coming from an office environment where you had all the ergonomic bells and whistles, it can be a surprising and uncomfortable adjustment to work from home.
Do your best to create a work space that not only helps you get your job done but that also protects your body. This may mean investing in an office chair, a stand up desk, and appropriate lighting. Your employer may be willing to offer full or partial reimbursement for these items, it never hurts to ask.
3. High Speed Internet You Can Trust
Have you ever been frustrated when on a video or web call and your boss, coworker or client has delayed or echoed audio or a frozen video throughout the call? Do your best to make sure you are not the culprit in these situations by ensuring you have reliable high-speed internet.
Connect with your company’s tech team for guidance on how you can be sure you have stable, secure, and fast internet service when working from home.
4. Tech Tools at the Ready
Your work from home tech stack is important, too. At PMG, we rely heavily on Slack, FunctionPoint, our Google Suite, and Zoom to keep our team connected and collaborating. But these tools, among others, are only as good as the strategy employed in using them.
Think about the best ways for your team to brainstorm, give and receive updates, and get work done. There is no lack of tools available, but it’s important to commit to using the ones you choose so you don’t waste resources on unused technology.
5. Get Dressed! 😊
When that rainy Monday morning rolls around, it can be very tempting to stay in your pjs, grab your laptop, and crawl into bed to work. Avoid this scenario if you can. Getting dressed and groomed will make you feel better and, ultimately, work better.
And while you definitely can be more casual than you’d need to be if going to the office, you still want to look presentable and professional for video calls. There is a reason that WalMart is reporting selling more shirts than pants during these work-from-home days.
Working from Home: The Mental
If you are used to working in an office, It can be hard to stay focused and manage the new and different distractions that naturally occur at home. For best results and better concentration, try to create a typical office day in your home workspace.
6. Take frequent breaks.
Without the natural rhythm of commuting, office lunch hours, and the quick coffee break with cube mates, it can be easy to stay chained to your computer all day, looking up to realize it’s 3 pm and you haven’t had lunch yet.
Even if you have to set an alarm, commit to getting up and moving around (outside if at all possible), to eat lunch and healthy snacks, and to get a mental break. I find that 90 minute stretches work well but there are several other strategies, including the pomodoro technique.
7. Set office hours and stick to them.
Ironically, one of the bigger challenges our team faces is not slacking off but working too hard. By setting a schedule and committing to it, you will make sure you are mentally sharp on the job and well balanced in your life overall.
8. Shut off alerts and notifications.
It is difficult to focus on a task, project or phone call when you are seeing and hearing beeps and seeing alerts from Slack, email and social media. We encourage our team to disable their Slack and email notifications when they are trying to do deep work.
It's just as important for your mental health to shut down these alerts when you are not working, so your phone is not a 24/7 reminder of what is waiting for you at work.
9. Use or lose music for mental focus.
Some of our team loves music when they work, others need silence. I happen to like classical music or the app Coffitivity when I am trying to concentrate.
10. Leverage the power of the outdoors.
An amazing study has shown that spending just five minutes in nature can improve your mood. And nature does not have to be a remote hiking trail. A park bench in the city or a chair on your porch works just as well.
Get outside as often as you can during the work day for a mental health boost.
Working from Home: The Emotional
Working from home can be lonely, especially if you are used to being surrounded by your coworkers all day. Our team is comprised of individuals who thrive in solitude and individuals who get their energy by being with others.
The most successful virtual teams are committed to make sure that along with the required full team events, they offer social opportunities for those who need them – and the permission to not participate for those who don’t.
11. Regular check ins and updates.
Scheduling regular check ins – in pairs, as teams – keeps people connected and engaged in the company as a whole. Our team has Thoughtful Thursdays each week for agency wide trainings and business updates. This is an opportunity for the full team to be together and get on the same page.
12. Practice employee listening.
If you supervise virtual workers, create ways that you can keep your finger on the pulse of how they are feeling and doing in their jobs. Our client wrote a great piece on keeping work from home employees engaged during COVID-19.
We ask our team to email us their monthly highs and lows as a way to stay in touch. These emails help us see trends, red flags and things to celebrate on a regular basis. Employee NPS surveys are also a great tool to hear from your team. These can be done with a simple Google form or Survey Monkey tool. We borrowed our NPS questions from HubSpot, who asks all employees, on a scale of 1 to 10, (1) How happy are you working at HubSpot? and (2) How likely are you to refer someone to apply to work at HubSpot?
13. Use video as much as possible.
Choose video over audio only as often as you can when working from home. Whether you are hosting or attending a client call or a virtual after hours with coworkers, turn your camera on. It is the easiest, most effective way to be connected to others. Just remember the get dressed tip above!
14. Designate a fun Slack channel.
Creating an online space or email thread where your team can share Friday funnies or random silliness does wonders for rapport. At PMG, we have #Random, #Recipes, and #FridayFunny Slack channels that are very popular with our team and keep us all laughing and connected during the week.
15. Get together in person when you can.
Even though we have always been 100% virtual, we appreciate the power of in person and schedule regular coworking days for team members who live near each other to work in the same place. We also have a 3-day May and October team retreat for professional development and team building. Nothing can ever replace the energy and good vibes of physically being together.
Final Thoughts on Strategies for Remote Work
It’s worth noting that working from home right now is happening under extraordinarily unusual times. People are feeling anxious about their health and their loved ones, overwhelmed by young children at home full time, and uncertain about finances and their future.
Understanding that none of us are at our best physically, mentally or emotionally will help you and your team to navigate working from home more successfully. And when this time is over and circumstances normalize a bit, you may find that while you resisted work from home in the past, you can see the real benefits and balance it can bring.
Finally, it’s no surprise that a lot of content has been published about working from home strategies in recent days.
Here are some good ones we have come across:
- 8 Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You
- 32 WFH Tips You Can Do Right Now
- 20 Tips for Working from Home
- How to Focus Amidst the Distractions
- Trello Blog – Great Resource as Virtual Employer
- Where to Sit When Working from Home
Looking for more? Head to our COVID-19 Resource Center for more advice, tips, and business resources.
And, if you're curious – see how the PMG team has been spending their quarantine.