Working Well Together, Even When You’re Apart
By: Joyce Sonenberg, Senior Consultant
Monday morning, the start of a new workweek. Off goes the alarm, and off you go. Comb your hair, throw on some clothes, grab a coffee, check that all is right with the world, and head off to the office. The office? Wait a minute. Where is the office? The office may be in the corner of your bedroom, the empty spot in the basement, or the remains of what used to be the linen closet. The fact is the office can be anywhere. Because, in this world, you are a full-fledged remote worker.
If you are a remote employee, you are far from alone. If you currently are not working remotely, chances are that you may soon be. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates over 25 percent of all Americans will be working remotely by 2025, which translates to over 36 million people. That’s a whopping 87 percent increase compared to pre-pandemic figures. Other research suggests even higher increases as workplace dynamics continue to evolve. Regardless of the numbers, sooner or later you may find that your office is just down the hall—the hall in your home, that is. Working remotely can be chaotic, stressful, and frustrating. It can also be very satisfying, rewarding, and unleash a level of professional creativity that can change the trajectory of your career. Let’s aim for the latter. Here are a few tips to consider as you head to your office.
Maintain a professional workstation.
Be organized. Practice the time-honored cliché, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Run your home office just like you would your location office. Keep your stock of office supplies at an acceptable level. Have adequate amounts of printer ink, paper, notepads, pens, pencils, staples, and zip drives. Remember, you oversee the office supply department. Unnecessary trips to the office supply store are inefficient and waste time and money. Make sure you have up-to-date technology. Your home computer may be a bit less sophisticated than what you are accustomed to in the on-site office, but you should be able to come fairly close. If you need two monitors, then get two monitors. If you need a dependable audio headset, then get one. You can’t expect to work efficiently without the proper tools. Check with your internet provider to ensure your connection speed and capacity can handle your needs. Create a practical workstation or desk that provides ample elbow room for notepads, calendars, your keyboard, and your mouse. Don’t forget a comfortable office chair as you will be spending many hours in it. Choose your home office area to be in as distraction-free an environment as possible. Often easier said than done, but it will benefit both you and your family members in keeping the peace. Re-organize at the end of the day so you are ready to start fresh in the morning. You’ll thank yourself for it each day.
Present a professional image.
Okay, so you don’t have to dress like you are making a presentation to the Board of Directors. However, you are a professional, working with other professionals, from your professional office. True…a home office, but a professional one, nonetheless. So, business casual at the least? Yes. T-shirt and sweatpants? No. If you look and feel professional, you will demonstrate professional work behaviors which can directly impact your relationships with students, parents, and other staff. Remember, remote workers reside from coast-to-coast, time zone-to-time zone, and even globally. Look good and be at the top of your game.
Maintain your focus.
Treat remote work like a real job, because it is. When you are in your home office, you are at work so schedule your day appropriately. Use and pay attention to your calendar. Keep your supervisor informed of personal, sick, or vacation days. If you are a director, maintain a schedule for your staff and share it with them.
Even though you are working from home, you may still require daycare. We love the little ones, but we do not typically bring them to the office. Household chores like laundry, shopping, lawn care, and home maintenance are distractions that are not part of a normal workday, so schedule them for your off days. Sure, you can load the dishwasher, but accomplish this task during a scheduled coffee or lunch break. It’s easy to get bumped off task when working remotely from home.
Stay connected with your staff.
Staff can’t just pop into your office and “touch base” with you like in the past. Likewise, you can’t as easily provide directives or clarification face-to-face either. It’s more important than ever to stay connected with your staff. Reach out to them often. Keep them in the loop. It isn’t difficult to achieve this, you just need to use different methods or tools. Hold regularly scheduled brief daily check-up meetings at the beginning or end of each business day. Informal individual or group end-of-the-week chats can help to build both trust and teamwork and assist staff to become more comfortable and efficient with the remote environment. There are several reliable platforms available for use in this approach. ZOOM and Microsoft Teams are commonly found in most offices. Use them to share both your and the staff’s calendars, assignments, and directives. Email and conference calls are very useful and time-tested methods. Remember, you’re not functioning as a hermit. You are still working with your team. Engage them often and encourage them to do the same.
Stay connected with your students.
Students are the reason you are there. Providing quality service to students while working remotely often requires extra effort. Make sure you reach out to the students often and assure them they will receive the same level of attention as if they were standing at the front counter of the campus FA office. Develop staff schedules that clearly identify email and telephone response responsibilities, both for receiving and returning student and parent inquiries. It may be particularly important to monitor staff performance in this regard. Take the time to review the financial aid office portion of the school website and clarify any confusing instructions, confirm contact phone numbers, and email addresses, and important dates on the calendar.
Final Considerations. Whether you’ve elected, or have been directed, to work remotely, it doesn’t appear to be a work style that is on the decline. Regardless of which resource is cited, most indicate a steady growth in U.S and international remote workers. Is it right for you? Of course, only you can decide. There are many areas to consider when contemplating a remote employment position.
Control of your work schedule is a strong attraction for those considering a remote position. While it is convenient in some respects, that flexibility does not mean the remote workforce is made up of slackers. Remote workers say they often average 45 – 55+ hours on the clock per week. A significant number of remote workers reported they felt obliged to work more than 8 hours a day and often worked 10 to 12 hours a day, frequently putting extra time in on weekends. Many workers acknowledged that knowing when to shut down and disengage was one of the biggest challenges they encountered while working remotely. Scheduling breaks, taking a walk, eating properly, and prioritizing time with family are important considerations. On the flip side, workers generally stated they felt more focused on their responsibilities, experienced less job-related stress, and are 35 to 47 percent more productive. Remote workers often reported an increased sense of self-esteem and professionalism.
Would you like some help navigating the new realities of work? Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate how your staff and office are structured. Contact us for a no-obligation consultation.