How to Become a High-Gear Telework Ace

It’s time to rethink our approach to telework.

For the past 7 months, many of us have been hunkered down ‘quarantine-style’ due to the coronavirus pandemic. Before the pandemic, only about 5 or 6 percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home, but today there’s roughly 37 to 45 percent teleworking. And when COVID-19 is finally behind us and our economy is back to full production, working from home will no longer be seen as a perk, but instead as a critical weapon in our fight against future pandemics. So while we have all learned how to get by in this new environment, many of us probably can stand to raise our game.

Of course, there are already many resources online that provide ‘best practices’ in working from home. In fact, just typing “working from home best practices” yields more than 700,000 results on Google. But as this blog is about switching to ‘high gear,’ I’ve decided to use SWITCH to organize the following six recommendations. The meaning of the word “switch” depicts the adoption of something new; making a change. So, to help you SWITCH from a so-so teleworker to an ace, I’d recommend adopting the following six best practices.

#1: Stick to a Schedule.

Before the pandemic, most of us would get up at a certain time…make coffee…get dressed and drive or catch the bus to an office with the hope of sitting down at your desk before the clock chimes 8:00 a.m. Now we don’t have those time-sensitive constraints in place to hold us accountable to each hour of the workday, and there are those who glorify the moments of working in pajamas all day. But to become a telework ace, you need to set a SCHEDULE and stick to it.

What does this mean?

Sticking to a schedule means getting up at the same time every day and following your morning routine. In fact, developing a daily routine can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Career coach and writer Marty Nemko suggests that a regular routine can have a soothing effect as it counteracts the daily unpredictable and anxiety-provoking stressors in life, especially during this time as we endure a national pandemic.

There will be times you will need to adjust your schedule to accommodate a doctor’s visit, a sick child, or a contractor coming into your home, but notwithstanding those special circumstances, it’s best to adhere to a schedule where you can be productive and then call it a day.

Sticking to a SCHEDULE will help you pull yourself together and be prepared to face your day with purpose!

#2: Set up a productive Workspace.

If you have the resources and room, set up your workspace similar to your downtown office. As with every workspace, stock up on your favorite notebooks, pens, paper clips, and even grab your favorite mug for coffee or tea. It’s also very important to have a comfortable office chair and functional desk – perhaps even a standing desk where you can customize the height level – which helps to ensure that you are able to comfortably work for periods of time without a sore back or neck.

And don’t forget about those personal knick-knacks or family photos. According to research, “personal items such as artwork, photos, figurines and comic strips, can act as both markers of territory and expressions of individual identity, helping workers to maintain their energy when faced with work stress.”

Setting up your WORKSPACE to brighten, uplift, and focus your day will increase your productivity and lift your spirits!

#3: Interact more with coworkers and managers.

While there are many benefits and perks in working remotely for both employees and managers, there are some downsides to working full-time at home – increased social and professional isolation are certainly big ones!

Before the pandemic, the workplace afforded employees to engage in impromptu interactions, such as sharing each other’s latest weekend excursions or advising a fellow colleague during a lunch break on how to handle inter-office politics. These sporadic conversations provided much-needed breaks, which allowed your mind and body to recharge while also providing professional networking and relationship-building opportunities. This time is incredibly important as it also helps to generate creative thoughts and ideas!

So how are you building ‘water cooler’ time in your remote working day?

To compensate for the loss of being onsite with your manager and coworkers, you need to proactively reach out to them regularly through instant messenger, email, phone, virtual meetings and other tools to help bridge this gap.

“Be proactive even more than you would be in the office,” says Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster. “Schedule time on your boss’s calendar to catch up once a week (even if it’s a 15-minute call just to check in). You don’t want to be out of sight, out of mind when working remotely, and that’s why it’s important to keep both communication and rapport in motion.”

When it comes to your co-workers, touch base with them on a weekly basis. It can be a simple email stating, “I hope your day goes well. Let me know if you need anything.”  This quick note goes a long way. In fact, you will be amazed how less isolated you feel when you INTERACT and keep in touch with those around you.

#4: Get the right Technology and Tools

When it comes to technology and tools, obviously you will need the basics: a laptop or PC, keyboard, mouse, headphones, computer speakers, webcams, printer and a surge protector. However, in my opinion, why would you just settle for the basics when you can get your “Tim the Toolman Taylor” version on. So, to switch from a so-so teleworker to an ‘ace’ remote guru, go for the gusto and get the following tools.

Obviously, with any technology, ensure that you check out your agency or organization’s information technology (IT) policies. With the many brands on the market today, your agency/organization may have specific criteria about what you are allowed to connect to your work laptops. Make sure you aren’t violating any security or IT policies before you make some of these purchases.

In any case, here are some options to consider:

Laptop stand. What I love about my laptop stands (yes, I have two, one each for my Dell and MacPro) is that they raise the screens to eye-level to keep me looking straight ahead instead of downward focused. This can help to alleviate neck stiffness and eye strain. Further, using a laptop stand helps keep your laptop cooler. Did you know that laptops, unlike traditional desktops, tend to run on the warm side?  Lifting it will help decrease fan usage within the hardware and ensure you are up and running for a long time to come.

Dual monitors. If you are using a laptop, connecting it to a separate monitor will dramatically improve your work experience and productivity at home. In fact, once you go to two monitors you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

KVM switch. In addition to my two laptops, I also have a desktop computer. Before I purchased a KVM (keyboard, monitor and mouse) switch, I would have to use one mouse for the work laptop, one for the MacBook Pro and other for the Desktop. Three mouses on my desk…yep, it got confusing at times! Then, I heard about the KVM Switch, which is a hardware device that allows you to plug in to control multiple devices with just one mouse, keyboard, and screen. You can learn more about them at KVMSwitchesOnline.

#5: Get your best face on and Connect

After nearly seven months of remote work, webcams have become the norm, both professionally and personally. It’s just not cool, or professional when one person uses their webcam and you are not. It’s like showing up at an on-site meeting wearing a paper bag over your head. So, in our quest to become a telework ace, let’s put on a nice polo and start using this technology to our advantage.

But it’s not just about your clothes. Also make sure you have a non-distracting background. Lauren Rottet, an interior designer and president of Rottet Studio, recommends finding “a place in the home that has the most neutral wall background.” There are others who recommend sitting in front of bookshelves or parts of your home or office that displays a part of your brand and personality. At the end of the day, you may be limited in options but the rule of thumb remains the same: Choose a background that compliments your professional appearance and ensures that the viewer on the other end is focusing on you and not on, say, your singing-bass fish clock.

Finally, pick out a high-quality webcam (but don’t forget to check out your organization’s policies before connecting it to a work-provided laptop).

#6: Make Health & Wellness a priority.

Did you know that your health plays a critical role in helping you to achieve success?  Ana Reisdorf writes in an article on Mental Health First Aid, “Being successful at work requires focus, commitment, dedication and time. But being your best professional self also requires that you take care of your health. Indeed, when you neglect basic healthy habits, you run the risk of being tired, unfocused and more vulnerable to illness. This can create a significant negative impact on your work performance, whether you work from home, on the road, or in an office.” So let’s get our heart rates up and our smoothie machines working!

There are many ways to increase your energy and lower your stress levels. Some of my favorite tried-and-true habits include: watching my diet, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, and exercising (even walking is healthy). These are all great ways to keep your mind working and your body young.

Here are a few other resources to help you build a better mind, body, and soul:

Implementing these six steps will ensure you are on your way to SWITCHing from a novice and becoming the high-gear teleworking ace that you were born to be!

Special thanks to my teammates who provided editorial review and contribution: Julie Broadway, Deputy Director at Federal Career Connection (FCC), and Krystle Cluen, FCC Public Affairs Manager.

Alex Harrington is currently a Federal civil servant and a Certified Career Services Provider and Global Career Development Facilitator. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and is a Persian Gulf War veteran, and is currently fighting Stage IV Melanoma Cancer. He is also Program Director at Federal Career Connection, an all-volunteer program consisting of a cadre of federal subject matter experts and hiring managers who provide insights and techniques on how to search and apply for fulfilling careers in the Federal Government.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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