Tips from our team on how to improve the experience of working from home

How we stay connected in the age of social distancing

In the last few weeks, many people have abruptly transitioned to remote work for the first time. Working from home has its benefits (no commute!), but it can take some time to adjust. Although Habanero has offices across Canada, we embrace working from home and we wanted to share our experiences to help ease the shift for others. So, we put a call out to all Habs and asked them to share their tips and tricks for how to work from home successfully. Here’s what they shared.

Home office environment

With a laptop, you can work from just about anywhere in your home, but it’s worth taking some time to set up a space that will make you feel good. When we polled Habs on their office set-ups, they reported two different approaches:      

  • Dedicated workspace – Some Habs prefer to clearly separate home from work with a differentiated office space. For consistency, they recommend setting it up the way you would at work. Stephen Brown, quality assurance specialist, says, “I'm a creature of habit, so having everything in its place allows me to feel a level of consistency that keeps me productive. When I'm at my keyboard at home or at work, it is essentially an identical technology experience.”      

  • Different work areas – Others prefer to switch between a desk, couch and table, so they don’t feel confined to one spot. “It's nice to have a change when switching between tasks and it helps me to not feel so confined and stationary,” says Christina Cowen, interaction designer.

Wherever you choose to work, keeping your space clean will help eliminate distractions. Choose a desk and chair that works for you. Stand-up desks are great if you like them, but not everyone does. Test out different scenarios to make sure you’re comfortable and can focus.

Appeal to all of your senses. Set up photos and art you love to look at. Find a corner where the sun shines if you can!”
Chris Radcliffe, Digital Workplace Advisor

Technology and tools

Having the right technology and tools makes a huge difference to the work-from-home experience. It goes without saying that you’ll need a reliable, fast internet connection – one that can handle video conferencing without freezing or cutting in and out. This is especially important if multiple people in your household are working from home. Here are some other items Habs said helped make their day-to-day work experience better:    

  • Webcam – Even laptops with a properly placed webcam struggle to get decent video quality. Consider getting an external webcam and placing it on a stationary surface (not the top of your laptop) to avoid shaky cam issues·      
  • Good headset – Make sure you can hear and be heard with a good headset. There is nothing worse than someone using their laptop microphone where everyone can hear your trackpad clicks.
  • External monitor, keyboard and mouse – A laptop keyboard and monitor can start to feel very small and cramped when you’re using it all day. Multiple monitors eliminate switching back and forth, allowing you to get on with your work.     
  • Central workspace – Instead of spreading out communications, calendars, files and other resources across multiple tools, we use Microsoft Teams to create a centralized workspace that brings together documents, conversations and other apps that integrate with our existing Microsoft services.
Having a good tech set-up has made a huge difference in my comfort and productivity
Julie Chrapavy, Digital Workplace Consultant

Follow conference call etiquette

We use video for all of our online meetings and highly recommend it to help people stay connected. Some folks are uneasy using video, but there are a few things you can do to make the experience better for everyone:     

  • Break the ice. Let people know you are working from home and you might get interrupted. Generally, everyone is worried an interruption will look unprofessional, but even when we make an effort to separate work from home, stuff happens! Saying it out loud will put everyone else at ease and let them know that it’s okay to be human.     

  • Think about how others will see you. If you're calling in from a mobile device, turn it sideways (landscape orientation), so your face doesn’t appear huge for others in your meeting.      
  • Mute yourself on large calls. On calls with loads of people, mute yourself when you're not talking. Little bits of noise across many microphones adds up.      
  • Pick the right lighting. Make sure your workspace has the right amount of light, either from sunlight or lamps, for video meetings. The point is for people to see you, so make sure you’re not cloaked in shadow or bleached out by sunlight.

Screensharing

  • Share the application instead of your whole screen so people see only what you want to share.
  • Hide the toolbar and address bars on the window you’re sharing. This is especially important for people on the call with smaller physical screens, like mobile devices, tablets or small laptops. In your browser on Windows, you can hit F11 to enter full-screen mode, or when using an Office app, collapse the menu.

Routine is your friend

All Habs agreed it’s helpful to maintain a regular workday schedule as much as possible and follow the same routine you would if you were heading to an office. This means changing out of your pajamas into regular clothes, showering and exercising (if that’s your thing). Resist the urge to stay in comfy sweats all day! Do whatever you need to signal to your brain that it’s time for work.

I still complete my morning routine as if I were going in to work, which helps me get into the zone. I try to get up on time and get dressed as though I was going to be out and about, but I'll just take a bit longer to get warmed up for the day and I'll have a good breakfast to get started.
Christina Cowen, Interaction Designer

Remember to take breaks

It can be hard to draw a line and decide when you’ve done all you can (or should) for one day but working too long will lead to burn out. Sticking to a set schedule and knowing your limits will help you in the long run.

It took a long time for me to learn to step away from the computer after I finished my proper workday. Not having a three-hour of commute made me feel like I should put that extra three hours into doing more work. If done frequently, that burns you out fast.
Scott Baitz, IT Administrator

Remember to take mental and physical breaks throughout the day too. Get up and stretch your legs or go for a short walk if you can. “At an office, there are built-in opportunities to do that when you're interacting with your team,” says Christina Cowen, “so you have to work those in consciously if you're working at home.”

Danielle Kovacic, interaction designer, suggests choosing one or two exercises to do every hour on the hour during your normal workday. “You can start off small by doing 10 to 15 of each exercise and work your way up! Any little bit can do wonders for your mental wellbeing.”

Managing work and home life

It can be challenging to work in close quarters with kids, roommates or even partners in the same space. Be patient with the people in your life and accept that you may need more time during the day to check in with family, sometimes unexpectedly.  Here are some ways you can keep the lines of communication open: 

  • Create a schedule so everyone in the family knows when you can connect.
  • Make a plan and communicate expectations around space, level of sound and other factors.
  • If you share living space with other people who are also working from home, coordinate with them to manage overlap with calls and meetings.
  • If issues arise, consider if it might be better to stop and address them in the moment rather than expecting family to wait until the end of the day for your support.  
I start or end my meeting with some toddler interaction. I also wrestle my dogs for a few minutes when they are starting to get really hyper! It makes a great show for my son and we all get to burn some energy. It's a win-win-win situation!
Ricardo Ramirez, Senior Consultant

Try to keep work and home tasks separate, so you don’t get sidetracked. Scott finds it helpful to draw a firm boundary for himself: “When I'm working from home, I'm working, not also doing the dishes or folding laundry,” he says. “Although I have the ability to take a break to do those things, I separate myself from those items when I'm working to keep focused.”

Reach out to stay connected

Connecting with others when you work from home requires a bit of effort. In the office, we often engage in spontaneous conversations in common areas. When working remotely, remember to take some time to reach out to others.
I try and reach out to team members for little chats in the day, even if it's just to say hello via Microsoft Teams chat.
Carmen Bronsch, Interaction Designer

We use Microsoft apps to keep the virtual office talk going. Habs have been exploring and using these tools in different ways and sharing the results, so we can all learn from each other. Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

  • Virtual lunches – Groups connect on Microsoft Teams over video for lunch. It’s like our regular lunchroom, but online!       
  • Coffee chat – Habs schedule casual one-on-one chats with each other over video. People schedule these spontaneously and there is no agenda. It’s a great way to connect with people you don’t necessarily work with directly or speak to every day.
  • Text – With Teams, it's super easy to send someone a quick “hello” to see how they’re doing without disrupting their workday.
  • Social networking – We use Yammer, an enterprise social network, to share spontaneous updates, crowd-share knowledge, recognize and praise individuals and teams, and share events and ideas across the whole organization.

We started doing many of these things long before working from home became a mandatory measure, but now we’re relying on them even more to stay productive and connected. We’re even more inspired to dig deeper and be intentional about how we work with each other and learn how we can support others who want to ensure all employees have a great experience when working from home.

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