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Working at home for the first time? A career advisor’s advice for how to make it work

Many employees are currently shifting to remote employment for the first time. In addition to completely changing work environments, many are tackling the use of unfamiliar communication tools, adjusting to being socially distant, and for many, working while also balancing family in the same space.

Heather Livingston, M.A., NCC, LPC-ND, who works as a career advisor for University of Phoenix, is accustomed to working remotely. She lives in Washington state and provides career counseling for the University’s students and alumni throughout the world by phone and email. She offers advice to employees who are making this adjustment for the first time.

Q: How often should I be communicating with teammates?

A:  Communication is ESSENTIAL to success in a remote work environment. Lots of options are available, so you’ll likely find yourself communicating with co-workers and customers via phone, email or video conferencing. Your supervisor should spell out how often they expect to communicate depending on your job responsibilities, but at a minimum, you should expect to communicate with your supervisor weekly.

If your supervisor has not set guidelines related to communication, check in with them to see if you can put some in place. If you are in a supervisory role, check in with your team on a regular cadence, and make sure they have your direct contact information and times/days to reach you.

Q: What types of technology might help me while I’m working from home?

A: Thankfully, this pandemic didn’t happen 20 years ago! Now is the time to embrace technology. There are a variety of apps that allow desktop sharing and webinars. Whatever data security policies and rules existed for your business prior to the pandemic should carry over into the home setting. That may mean having to remote into your work computer using VPN (virtual private network). If you are handling paper documents, be sure you have an organizational system and that you treat documents with the same level of security and privacy as you would in-office.

Q: Will I be micromanaged?

A:  You are a competent employee who doesn’t need to be micromanaged, otherwise you would already be micromanaged! Of course, the particular person and job responsibilities will dictate how much collaboration needs to happen. But typically, your role and dynamic with your supervisor will remain the same. You’ll know what’s expected and how to deliver, just as before. If you don’t, be sure to ask.

Q: I’m worried I won’t be as productive at home as I am in the office. What can I do?

A: View this remote adventure as the same job happening in a new location, with the same expectations you had before. One of the greatest benefits to working remotely is that you can dedicate the times you are most productive to getting our work done. You have flexibility with your time, and that can actually be a boon to productivity. As long as you are giving 100% to your work, just as you were before, you can rest easy.

It helps to have a dedicated work space, so you can leave work at work, so to speak. Even if it is just a corner of a room, have a desk, computer and any other work essentials in that space. It’s important for your mental health wellness to be sure there is some separation between workspace and living space.

Q: Do you have any tips on building a routine when working from home?

A: A routine is important for everyone, although some people need more structure than others. A Type A person has to have more structure and routine. A Type B person typically flourishes with flexibility, although set work hours are always a good idea. Talk with your supervisor about what routine will be most effective for you, keeping in mind other responsibilities you may be balancing, like child care and helping kids with school work. Then create your daily schedule around deadlines during those times.

Q: I’m nervous to reach out to my supervisor with concerns. What’s the best way?

A: This goes back to the question on communication. It’s important now more than ever to have an open dialogue with your supervisor regarding expectations. Follow the same chain of command during a time of remote work that you would if you were in-office. Try communicating first with your direct supervisor. If your issue is unresolved, reach out to the next manager in the organizational structure.

Q: Do you have any tips for video calls?

A: Try to appear as you would for an in-person meeting. Take cues from your supervisor regarding expectations on appearance. For the most part, you still want to maintain a professional look while talking with customers, but you may be more relaxed when talking with co-workers.

Try to minimize background noise as much as possible. Have a space dedicated “office space” where you take video calls. Take a look at what others will see when you appear on screen. Declutter the visible space as much as possible and make sure the lighting is sufficient. It’s best not to rest a laptop on your lap. Instead, use a solid surface. And sit far enough away from the camera that you aren’t leaning into the camera space.

If you need to type during the video call, mute your audio, otherwise others will hear you typing. And it’s also OK to mute if sudden background noise occurs in your space. Everyone will understand if you need to do this!