Companies around the world are doing what they can to limit the spread of COVID-19—from increasing their cleaning routines to implementing work-from-home policies for employees who are able to do their jobs remotely. For many people, working remotely may mean no long commutes, more time with pets, or even more flexibility in work schedules. But those new to remote work often don’t anticipate its challenges or make the changes to their routines necessary for long-term success. Facebook software engineer Erin S. understands these challenges firsthand. In this post, she shares her top tips to help you make working from home work for you.
I worked from the Facebook company’s Menlo Park office for five years before moving to North Carolina. For the past two years, I’ve been working from home, and I’ve come to truly appreciate the benefits of remote work—the biggest being the two hours I get back each day from not having to commute. For me, this has led to a huge increase in my quality of life and happiness and a decrease in stress. I find myself with longer stretches of deep thinking time without the distractions of conversations, and I’m much more thoughtful and intentional about my work.
As the coronavirus situation impacts more people’s lives and their work environments, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help support my community—of fellow software engineers, parents working from home, or anyone new to remote work—however I can. Here are a few tips that have helped me make my work-from-home experience more productive.
1. Create a designated work area.
Find a dedicated area for work that is free from distractions so you don’t waste mental energy trying to figure out where you’re going to work each day. I have always set up my work-from-home station in the garage, but if you don’t have a dedicated space, consider setting up at your dining table. While coding in bed sounds luxurious, bad posture can lead to serious injuries.
2. Set boundaries.
It’s up to you to set boundaries for your personal and professional life. Be conscious of the amount of time you spend working. Every day, I set a calendar alert for 5:30 pm to remind myself to stop working. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re available all the time, and no one expects that of you.
If you live with others, have conversations ahead of time about how to make this work. Set ground rules with roommates or partners if you’re both working from home, and let them know about important meetings ahead of time to avoid interruptions. Yesterday, I had a meeting right when my kids got home from school. I told my partner ahead of time and asked him to keep the kids from rushing in, and it was very smooth.
“If you don’t have kids, please have empathy for those of us who do. Your coworkers with kids are probably handling added stress juggling their kids and work at the same time.”
3. Make time for nutritious meals.
It feels silly to include a tip on how to eat, but I struggled with finding a good breakfast and lunch routine when I started working remotely. Now, I eat the same thing every day for breakfast and for lunch. I started getting meals from a delivery service because they are healthy and delicious, keep for a while, and are easy to prepare. If you're able to do the same, it's worth it to have something nutritious and convenient available.
4. Take breaks.
When I sit in front of my computer for four hours, I start to feel drained. Remember to move your body, and if possible, take a walk outside. I also really enjoy having one-on-one meetings on the phone while taking a walk around the block. If your one-on-ones don’t require screen sharing, try it out. I find that people are a bit more laid back over the phone.
5. Ask for help.
There’s a lot more friction asking for help when you’re working from home than when you’re in the office. You might hesitate because you feel like you’re “bothering” someone, but remember, it’s your responsibility to ask questions and clear up things that might be blocking you. This means proactively messaging people that you don’t know or asking your team in a group chat. If possible, work with your team to set up a space for people to ask questions, whether it’s a forum, a dedicated group chat, or a productivity tool. This will provide an open environment for people to reach out to one another.
6. Make sure you have the right equipment.
Video calling is an effective solution for meetings. When you dial into a meeting with more than five people, be sure to mute yourself when you aren’t talking to avoid background noise and interruptions. You won’t ever have direct eye contact, but I try to switch between looking at the camera and looking at the screen when on video calls. Showing that you are paying attention makes people feel heard.
If you can, wear comfortable headphones that work with your computer. I used to get complaints about white noise when I was speaking during meetings, but headphones fixed the issue.
The Facebook company has powerful tools to make working from home seamless. Portals are my favorite remote technology. The Workplace app on Portal
allows you to dial rooms for meetings, and dial other employees. I used to use a Portal for scrum meetings on my old team, and it worked well.
“Showing that you are paying attention makes people feel heard.”
7. Create opportunities to socialize.
At times, it can get lonely working from home all day. When I can, I grab coffee with a friend or lunch with my dad. But a social break doesn't have to be face-to-face to be effective. A quick phone call to keep in touch with a friend or loved one can work, too. If you plan time for these breaks throughout your week, you'll have some human interaction to look forward to.
8. Be patient with your kids and set expectations with your team.
Working at home with kids is really hard. I’ve found that more screen time keeps them occupied, though I also have parental guilt about overdoing the screen time. Remember you’re doing the best you can. Setting expectations with your team is equally important. If I take an early or a late call and it’s more casual, or if my kids are at home sick, I warn people that they might make a cameo. Only once did I have to hang up and reschedule because my kid misbehaved. If they’re old enough to listen, having conversations about why you need to work can help.
If you don’t have kids, please have empathy for those of us who do. Your coworkers with kids are probably handling added stress juggling their kids and work at the same time.
9. Cut yourself some slack.
No one expects this to be perfect. I’ve had my child run into my office naked while I was on a call. I’ve had a bug crawl over my hand in a meeting, and I was running and screaming. I’ve plopped an Oculus Rift on my kid’s face and turned on a movie to finish up a call when I was working in VR. These are all funny stories now, but at the time, they were embarrassing. Give yourself and others around you some grace.
“Remember, you’re doing the best you can.”