Many of my friends, fellow faculty, and business acquaintances have long resisted the concept of working from home. There are many valid reasons:
- At home there are many distractions including family, television, food and hobbies that make it difficult to concentrate on what you are supposed to be working on.
- The “set up” at home is often not conducive to working. There often isn’t a desk in a private room, or enough bandwidth to handle videoconferencing.
- At work, you get paid for all your time there — including coffee breaks, reading the paper, and surfing the web. When working from home often you often only get paid for work that you actually do.
- The separation between work (when you have to worry about your productivity and the outcome of your work actions) and home (when you can drop all the worries and just have fun or focus on family) is much clearer when you go to work.
I am one of the luckiest people on earth. This pandemic has not impacted my work environment much because I already have a private office in my home that I can set up easily for videoconferencing. As a technology guru, I’m also very familiar with utilizing all sorts of technology for education, and have been for over four decades. My first experience with distance learning was a group called Project Reach that provided college instruction to institution-bound disabled adults back in the ’80s. Then I was involved in a startup company called ECommercelinks.net which provided person-to-person videoconferencing to enable businesses to offer sales and expertise face to face over the internet (way before its time, but which would be worth billions now had we not gone bankrupt in the dot-com crash). Even after that I did consulting with Drexel University on Internet Instruction Certification and, of course, have been teaching online occasionally for Kutztown University (who, strangely enough, limited faculty to teaching just one course each semester online before this pandemic).
Suffice to say that I’m very used to teaching online and working from home, so I’d like to share my fav five tips and techniques for working from home for those who are now being forced into it.
- Buy a new laptop computer. If you haven’t purchased a new computer in the last five years, your technology is not going to work well in this everything-is-very-secure-now world. You may think that you can just start updating to the latest software, but eventually you are going to hit software that is not backward compatible with your hardware, and then you are stuck. If there was ever a time to buy a new computer laptop, it is now. It will save you dozens if not hundreds of hours in frustration.
- Arrange the work area. It doesn’t have to be a full room. But it has to be a place where you can sit or stand (preferably a mixture of both) in front of a computer for hours at a time. Make sure there are no bright lights or windows behind you — you need to face the light so that the people with whom are you meeting can see your face and not a black silhouette. And look at the camera, especially when you speak, not the screen, so that it appears you are looking at the person to whom you are speaking. (I predict in the future the camera will be placed in the middle of the screen instead of on top of it.)
- Have a place where you keep track of online meeting-IDs. A meeting-ID is the unique number given to you to join an online meeting. Most people wait for the email with the link and then use the link to enter the online meeting. And that’s fine when meeting ID’s are one-time use. But eventually people are going to get smart and start using the same ID for multiple (especially recurring) meetings. You will need to know where to go find them because email is a poor place to store semi-permanent information like addresses, phone numbers, and meeting IDs.
- Find a way to separate work time from home time. Remember “WKRP in Cincinnati” and Les Nessman’s drawing invisible office doors around his desk in the open-area office? He strictly enforced people knocking on the door and waiting for him to tell them to come in, as well as opening and closing the invisible door as they came and left. Make some visible indication of when you are working and when you are playing. Perhaps a sign that you can turn around on your wall that says “Working” and “Playing.” When you work, work. When you play, you can do anything you want. With family, enforce that when you are working, they are not allowed to talk with you, even if by necessity they are in the same room.
- Watch the snacking! It is so easy to walk down the hall and grab snacks from the fridge — to the detriment of your waistline. Now is the time to stock up on celery and carrot sticks and other low-calorie munchies when you just can’t resist the momentary break from work. Also — make sure to schedule into your day time for exercise. Tai chi, Pilates, yoga, weight lifting, aerobics and walking around the neighborhood don’t require a gym. And there are tons of free classes online right now.
Most importantly, an open-minded attitude about working from home is required. Accept the inevitability of working from home with grace, and embrace the good parts (especially the flexibility and the extra time you get because you don’t have to travel). Who knows – you may find that you like it a lot better than traveling to work each day. Let me know how you are adjusting!
CJ Rhoads, M.Ed., D.Ed, is a Professor in the College of Business at Kutztown University and the CEO of HPL Consortium, Inc. which is dedicated to providing tools for groups and causes that promote health,prosperity, and leadership. She is also an entrepreneur, researcher, author, and sought-after speaker. She knows more about strategy than most management consultants, more about integrative healthcare than most doctors and more about healthcare costs than most economists. You can reach her at CJRhoads@HPLConsortium.com with questions and comments.