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While most of the Bryley team works from the Clinton office, I’m physically distanced, writing at home. And as the days have grown to months in this work-from-home-if-you-can-work-from-home world, our perspectives change as our settling-in has changed us. So here’s a bit of remote work advice, for the times they are still a-changin’.
More Tips for Working at Home
Working In Isolation
Don’t be too surprised that isolation feels isolating. Going to work feels different than being at home. We get into a different frame of mind based on our physical surroundings. Our energy and drive are affected by our workspace and colleagues. One possible help, use the phone and teleconferencing software for more than just work. From NPR’s Yuki Noguchi: “one undeniable loss … the ‘water cooler’ conversation that connects us to people. [Now] co-workers are scheduling online social time to have conversations with no agenda.”1 Keep in mind it’s not as easy as poking your head around a cubicle wall, or just talking loud enough so a person can hear you. Virtual living takes work and effort. And with the fatigue associated with this communal quasi-solitary confinement, it can feel extra hard. So, try making a routine of it, like a weekly lunch-date with a couple of friends over Facetime.
See if a friend will be an accountability partner via phone or teleconference. Salespeople do this with specific goals. You’ll have to decide if the burden of a goal is needed now. But share your aspirations. Share your to-do lists. Report back to each other with your progress weekly or bi-weekly. The purpose is to keep you both connected to each other and your heads in the right space.
Patience Is a Virtual Virtue, Too
“There is something magical about … asking at the computer, ‘what do you think of this?’”2 said one-time Google CFO Patrick Pichette. Even if your internet supports a hard-wired, wide-bandwidth connection to your company’s VPN [Virtual Private Network], nobody can/should interact with the kind of immediacy that comes from being in the same building. So, when you’re feeling the pressure of a deadline — the pressure of disconnection from your managers (‘where are the usual signals from them? am I doing a good enough job to keep this job?’), turns out this is when you really need that mindfulness there’s been so much hype about: take a step back, take a step away, away from electronics, walk outside, play music, play with your child (if one’s handy), breathe. And come back in ten minutes the better you.
We Love it When You Overshare
The communication with the people you work with is different now. To approach replacing conversation with voice calls, video calls, text, email, Slack or Twitter, you’re going to have to overcompensate. “Screens are distancing,” says Thalia Wheatley, a professor of brain science at Dartmouth who studies the difference between face-to-face and online interaction. “In face-to-face communication, you are sharing a moment in time and space with someone,” Wheatley says. “That is incredibly compelling for our ancient brains.”3 Psychologist Sherry Turkle has shown that we depend on the pregnant pauses, the revealing inflections, and the “boring bits” of conversation to be in synch with each other.4
So, in the absence of non-verbal cues, it’s good to be extra clear about what you mean. Try not to leave any ambiguity about your requests. Don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions. And repeat back in order to confirm what you’ve heard from a colleague. These can feel awkward, but keep in mind it’s better to over-communicate now to try to keep people on the same page, than to risk breeding frustrations later. Managers, over-reassure.
Speak to Me in Dulcet Tones Hear Good, Too
A dog’s bark or a child asking a question during a call is cute the first time. Even small noises, like shuffling papers, can get amplified by a cell phone mic. Get familiar with the mute button and use it when you’re on calls to block background noise and interruptions.5 And for your own ability to hear, on an iphone make sure you turn on Phone Noise Cancellation (Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Phone Noise Cancellation). And Google has created the Sound Amplifier app that brings Android phones nuanced noise control.7 For better sound with Zoom and other videotelephony software, check out Krisp at https://krisp.ai/. 8
Lastly, this virus is a global trauma, that we’ve only begun to assess and address, so be patient with yourself.