I’ve Worked from Home for 12 Years. Here’s What I’ve Learned.
By Nancy Hendryx
Back in 2008, Catalyst took a leap of faith and hired me—sight unseen—to “work remote.” At that time, it still was an unusual concept. A handful of staff already worked from home, but they had started out working on-site at one of Catalyst’s offices before switching to remote work. Hiring me was a decision rooted in Catalyst’s own research—predating my hire and continuing today—that promotes flexible work arrangements and work-life balance solutions as a recruiting and retention tool.
Over time, many other Catalyst employees began to work remotely, and until the coronavirus pandemic, at least half of Catalyst staff worked remotely, with everyone doing so at least part-time.
In mid-March 2020, due to the pandemic, Catalyst closed its physical office, and all employees now work remotely. While many companies are, of necessity and in droves, adopting remote work as a means of tamping spread of the virus, enabling employees to take care of their families, and ensuring business continuity, some believe that remote work is going to fundamentally and permanently shift how people work even after the virus subsides. “Given this coronavirus, I think overnight, almost everybody really understood” they needed a video-conferencing tool, said Zoom CEO Eric Yuan in early March. “This will dramatically change the landscape. I truly believe in the future, everyone will [use] video for remote worker collaboration.”
Whether or not Yuan is right, the fact is that study after study demonstrates remote work can benefit employers and employees alike—boosting productivity, lowering stress, raising retention rates, and promoting diversity and inclusion.
For employees being thrust into this new way of working, here are some tips:
- Create a dedicated workspace. If you’re fortunate to have a spare room you can convert into workspace, do it. You’ll appreciate being able to close the door to housemates and family members when you need to participate in virtual meetings or create a focused, distraction-free zone to hit deadlines. If you don’t have a spare room, devote a corner in another room to your workspace. No desk or filing cabinet? A table and some storage cubes will do to ensure you have what you need when you need it.
- Get the right tools. Aside from a fully loaded laptop, it’s worth it to invest in noise-canceling headphones. They’re especially helpful for video conferencing if your workspace is in a common household space.
- Communicate expectations with family or housemates. With schools and offices closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be sharing a tight space with multiple people in your household. Are you all vying for one highly desirable spot? Is the volume on one household member’s laptop too high? Set expectations and create fair and reasonable rules. Let members of your household know that when you are at your desk, you are working and can’t be interrupted except under certain agreed-upon circumstances that you define. Let them know ahead of time what your day looks like, when you’re about to join a meeting, and when you’ll be taking breaks. That way they will know when you can make a few minutes for them should they need you.
- Trust your coworkers. A culture of inclusion means valuing and trusting those with whom you work. Don’t assume that if someone doesn’t instantly respond to an email or message that they are slacking off. They may be on a conference call or have silenced their messages to focus on an urgent deadline. But at the same time, make sure to be transparent with your colleagues, employees, and managers. Let them know if you need to be offline from 11-2 to deal with a personal matter or make a deadline.
- Take Breaks. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you are working remotely you aren’t working “as hard” or don’t deserve breaks. The pressure remote workers feel to “prove” that they are “actually” working is real. But research has shown that people who take regular breaks are more productive than their peers who don’t. So, stretch those legs. Enjoy that cup of coffee on your sunny porch steps. And eat that lunch—just not at your desk. At the end of your work hours, close your programs and apps. Taking time for family, friends, fun, other obligations, and rest will equip you to handle whatever the next workday serves up.
Director of Operations, Global Brand & Strategic Communications, Catalyst, Inc.
Nancy Hendryx has more than 30 years’ experience in staff and freelance roles successfully managing remote editorial and design teams of 25 to 250 contributors. She applies this broad expertise to managing Catalyst’s complex creative services production and administrative operations in alignment with the organization’s overall strategic goals.