Working Remotely Under the New Normal

Some suggestions from 17 years of working virtually

I’ve been working remotely with leaders for over 17 years.  My work with them has been a combination of in-person meetings and meetings via the web.  Working remotely/virtually has provided me the opportunity to work closely and instantly with leaders nationally and internationally.  I certainly wouldn’t say I’m an expert at working remotely, but I have learned a few things about how to make it easier and more effective.  In that spirit, here are some that come to mind.

Different space, but same headspace
Yes, the setting or space is now different, but your headspace should be the same as before.  Same work, but just a different location.  I know, it’s not exactly the same work now, given the coronavirus.  But your headspace needs to be the same.  Yes, we may be at home, but we’re at work.

So that means keeping to the same schedule.  Granted you now may get a few more minutes of sleep, given you don’t have a commute, but don’t overextend the sleep-in.  Ensure you get to work at least at the same time as you’ve done before.  So that means getting up on time, taking your shower (assuming that you do), getting dressed (same assumption), getting a bit to eat and/or drink, if you do, and getting to work on time (just a different location).

Same privacy rules, just different location
At your “old” office, you wouldn’t have confidential conversations that everyone else could hear.  You wouldn’t do that for yourself, and you wouldn’t do that for the person you’re speaking with.  So you need to do the same at your new office.  If you can, find a quiet, private space to conduct your calls and web sessions.  People will at first understand if there’s some noise in the background, but after a while, people will expect some level of professionalism, even under these difficult circumstances.  And they don’t want to feel that others can hear what you’re discussing.

And what about web meetings?
If you’ll be using web meetings extensively, get yourself a Zoom account, if your company hasn’t already provided you access.  A basic account is free, but the upgrade to at least Pro is worth it.  We’ve used Zoom for years, and I’m not being paid to say that. 

Also, again for those involved in numerous web meetings, best to get yourself a professional headset.  I know.  You’ll look like an air traffic controller, but:
1) You’ll preserve your voice.  You’ll likely be having more web meetings than you had before.  And with a headset, you won’t need to talk as loud as you do with only a webcam.  You may not notice it, but we tend to talk louder with just a webcam, akin to when we talk on a cell phone in public.  And over time, that’s hard on your voice.
2) You’ll sound better.  Your voice will be clearer for those you’re speaking with, and you won’t have that “hollow room” sound that people usually hear when someone’s using just a webcam.  This is the reason why many audio journalists and podcasters are currently reporting from their closets.  No joke. (Smaller space = less echo, and any clothes in the closet will dampen that same echo.)
3) And most importantly, by wearing a headset, the person you’re talking to will know that only you can hear what they’re saying.  So if not for yourself, do it for your colleagues and/or clients.  Again, you wouldn’t hold a private conversation in a public space at your old office.

Find a decent background for your web meetings.  It doesn’t need to look like HGTV, but on the other had, on one wants to see your dirty laundry or what’s left of last night’s dinner.

And make sure people aren’t looking up your nose (via your laptop webcam) when you’re in a web meeting.  If you can, raise your laptop onto a self-made platform (we could certainly use those old phone books right now). 

Also, consider getting webcam software (your laptop/computer may have basic controls, but I’ve found dedicated software to be better) so you can adjust the brightness, contrast, color, and zoom (you don’t want people to see those pajama bottoms, which of course you would never wear, because of the earlier point about getting showered, dressed, etc.)

Now more than ever, keep things safe
You may feel more casual at home, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.  Ensure your WiFi network is password protected with a robust password (i.e., not “12345”).  Consider using a VPN for all web-based activity, particularly when you’re accessing a WiFi network other than you’re own. 

And if, for some reason, you’re keeping corporate or client data on your personal computer/laptop, ensure you’re encrypting the files, and that includes particularly when using flash drives/memory sticks.  It would not be cool for you to be the reason why confidential or client data became public.  Important note:  Just don’t lose access to the encryption key.  I repeat, don’t lose access to the encryption key.

These are challenging times for all of us, and it looks like the new normal will be the new normal for sometime.  So do what you can to ensure a sense of normalcy and continuity.  Your colleagues will appreciate it.  Your clients will thank you.  And your psyche will be the better for it.