Communications Advice for New Telecommuters

By Susie Adams

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If you are working from home, due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, we offer the following tips and tricks to improve your effectiveness in working remotely. Here’s what new telecommuters need to know:

Clarify with your manager how she/he wants to be updated on your work activities.

If you are not careful, silence can be mistaken for absence. Agree on a way for updates on work progress – email report, telephone calls, etc. and a timeframe – daily, weekly. You may have to initiate this discussion, but it will be worth it.

Show signs of life to your manager, your peers and your customers.

I once worked with someone who would “work from home” periodically, usually on a Friday. This person was very chatty during the week – via email, text message, phone calls, drive-by meetings – to ask questions and provide updates on status. But when she was “working from home.” I would not hear a word the whole day. My assumption was she wasn’t really working; she was taking a day off and getting paid for it.

I began sending up trial balloons in the form of emails to see how long it would be until she responded. And, I often didn’t get a response that day. And I stopped the practice for that person. Under these circumstances it is especially important to be responsive; even if the response is to say that you are working on something else and will get to this by a certain time frame.

Use collaboration tools.

Google Drive, Zoom, Dropbox, and Slack are going to be your new best friends!

Your firm probably has tools of choice. If not, there are a variety of free tools for collaboration and updates. Document sharing, video meetings, and group chat tools can help you stay connected and keep work on track.

Know your style.

If you are an extravert, you may be miserable being at home alone. Build into your day and your schedule opportunities to connect and recharge those extravert batteries. Schedule calls and video conversations with people who give you energy.

If you are an introvert, you have seen and agreed with the memes about the joy of being quarantined. Don’t get too comfortable. Don’t crawl into your shell. Force yourself to actually talk to the people you really need to talk with. I mean TALK, not just email and text

Where you work is up to you.

When I work from home, I can plop my laptop almost anywhere and be productive (I’m currently on my back patio on a 70-degree day). That may not work for everyone – I know someone who has a physical workspace with a door that she closes when she is at work. That is the only way she can keep herself from being distracted by dirty dishes in the sink or other distractions. Know yourself and your style and work accordingly.

Dress for success.

Take a shower and get dressed. Maybe casual Friday attire, but get dressed – you never know when there may be a video conference that you need to be ready for. There is something about being in your jammies that does not signal “productivity.”

Test your communications devices.

If you don’t have a telephone headset or earbuds, invest in them. The improvement in your communications will be worth it. Then test the quality of a conversation with a friend or family member. I once was working outside while on a conference call with my earbuds in thinking that the quality sound was my friend. My colleague interrupted me mid-sentence to say – “do I hear birds chirping?” I realized I was not communicating “hard-working consultant.”

Kick your feet up… until it’s time to hop on the video conference!

Exercise the mute button.

There are noises around the home that you don’t have in the office. Dogs will bark. Garbage trucks will come up the street. Mute to avoid your co-workers and clients from having to experience those distractions.

Set up your video space.

It does not have to be a tv studio, but you should think about where you are going to participate in video conferences. It may be a kitchen table or counter, but be sure to know what will be behind you in the video – a pile of dirty dishes probably isn’t what you want to represent you. Know how to place your laptop so that you are framed nicely in the shot (no nose hair please). Boxes that you have around the house can lift your laptop to the right height. If you are going to be doing a lot of work via video conference, you may want to invest in an inexpensive light from Amazon that you can put behind you.

Stay focused.

The biggest temptation on conference calls is even more tempting when you are at home – multi-tasking. Stay focused. Eliminate distractions. Prepare for the call ahead of time and show up – don’t just be on the line, but participate actively.

This is a time when you can shine, but only if you engage, participate, communicate and work especially hard to contribute to the team.

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