Would you have ever guessed that you would be regularly working from home? Not just once a week, but EVERY day of the week, for weeks on end—Not by choice, but by government mandate for the sake of public health! And no one knows how long this will last. The changes this pandemic is bringing to our lives are mind-numbing. One of these changes is the fact that our regular work routine is now entirely different.
I recently asked an executive about how his new “home office work life” was going. He said that the first week was a novelty. The second week was weird. The third week was no longer a novelty, and he wanted his old routine back. He said to me: “Sure, I don't have that long commute. I save on my dry-cleaning bills, tolls, and gas. I get to be with my family more. But I miss going to the office! I just want my old normal to return!”
Another client said that she could never have imagined such a strange situation. Her world has turned upside down, but she added, "I miss my old routine, but you have to adapt. Isn't that what leadership is all about?”
Most of us find ourselves in a similar situation. For the past several decades, I have spent the majority of my time on the road working with clients. But like most of you, I am now at home. Due to this unforeseen pandemic, most all of us are working from home, which is a foreign situation thrust upon us.
So, I recently asked my clients, associates, medical professionals, and others how leaders can be at our best in this new arrangement of working from home. Adding my observations to theirs, I share with you the following ten behaviors that are intended to help you create a healthy and productive work from home environment."
Ten Must Behaviors for Successful Leaders Working from Home
1. Be Patient with Yourself
Challenge: Overcoming the understandable tendency to be stressed out over this entirely new situation.
Solution: Many of you have hard driver-like personalities. You want to take action and solve the problem. Accept the fact that what we are facing now is not your fault. It’s normal to be anxious. We’ve never faced such a strange situation like this before.
One of my colleagues states it this way; "Stress is a byproduct of uncertainty. Giving yourself permission to not be Superwoman or Superman will help you with your mental health." Accept what we are facing as tough and troubling. Accept what your leadership role is within your sphere of influence and commit to doing your best in that sphere—for your own sake and the well-being of your people. You cannot solve this global problem. What you can do is uplift your people. Listen to them. Encourage them. Support them. Respond to their needs. Then mutually move forward with clear and realistic expectations, so they know that you and they are in this together. As a leader, projecting this caring attitude and sincerely communicating this supportive message is essential in meeting their needs, and reassuring their anxieties.
2. Create Your Own Workplace
Challenge: Trying to create a workspace in your home that is productive, comfortable, and pleasant.
Solution: You don't know how long you may work from home, so try to make your new workplace as comfortable and convenient as possible. Look over your home or apartment layout to determine the most optimal arrangement for your work area. Prior to this pandemic, you likely had a temporary workspace that was a back-up to your office at work. But now, the situation has reversed itself, making your design a more permanent arrangement. What you come up with may likely last for several months.
Be creative. Talk with your family, roommate or spouse and see what they think. Arrange furniture or dividers to provide you with the most productive work results possible. Consider windows, lighting, desk space, plugs, and shelves. Think of noise patterns during the day. Do you need music or white noise? Where can phone calls or online chats/video conferencing take place to allow as much privacy as possible? Consider earbuds. Enhance your workspace with visuals that elevate and inspire: quotes, pictures, and mementos. Your end goal is to create a home work environment that is uplifting, pleasant, comfortable, and productive.
3. Set Strong Boundaries
Challenge: My associates tell me that setting boundaries may be their toughest challenge while working from home. When you were in your office at work, there seemed to be natural times and events that regulated your day—traditional start and stop times, regular meetings, lunch breaks, and transportation schedules. However, as you are now working from home, without those built-in reminders you had at your office, you may find that you tend to disregard the clock as you are focused on a steady stream of activities such as emails, reports, calls, and assignments.
Solution: There are a variety of ways you can address this challenge. Schedule short breaks, touch base with your family, or leave your work area for a while. Make sure you take time for lunch.
Be aware of your tendencies of getting so involved in work projects that you lose touch of time and forget family commitments. Commuting has a built-in start and stop aspect. You are no longer doing this, so the start and stop of your workday can be very fluid. Often you find yourself zoned in on a work project, fully absorbing your consciousness. Build in noise reminders to bring you back to reality.
Be diligent in setting a time on your work calendar for when you will stop for the day so you can be with family, your partner, or take time for yourself. If you work for a global organization, this can be particularly difficult because of early or late calls and virtual meetings. If that is the case, build in short down times to conserve your energy and recharge. Discuss these and other time challenges with your family so you all can reach a compromise in establishing boundaries.
4. Start Your Day Right
Challenge: Starting your day in the most productive way possible.
Solution: Remember what you typically used to do before your morning commute. Now replicate as best you can that same schedule. Stretch, shower, dress, make your bed, morning coffee, breakfast… Your former patterns need to continue. As an example, perhaps you don't need to dress the way you previously did, but make sure that what you wear signals to your mind that you are going to be as productive and disciplined with your day as if you were in the work office. Spending the day in pj's or sweats, while comfortable, will not send the desired signals to your brain in helping you be productive.
5. Establish a Daily Routine
Challenge: Trying to accommodate a daily work routine that meshes with your home situation, and establishing a balance between your personal and professional commitments. You now have distractions that you didn't have at the office. These can be tempting and steal away the time that you must devote to your work priorities.
Solution: You know yourself and your tendencies better than anyone else. In light of this, be honest with yourself and design a daily work routine that is effective for you. Build in the order of what you do first, second, and third. Allow for unexpected issues to arise because you know they will. Apply the time management rules and methods that helped you in your company office. Some of these may need to be modified to meet the new aspects of your home office and family life.
Just mentally reviewing these work methods will be beneficial to you, because it will enable you to consider a new perspective of what you are now facing. Become a better friend of technology, as it offers tips and improvements that were not known only a few months ago. As far as your brain is concerned, your neuro-paths like consistency. They like routine. Play to that advantage. Try to replicate some of your established routines as conditions will allow.
6. Care for Your Health
Challenge: Maintaining your physical and emotional health during this period of extreme change, uncertainty, and anxiety.
Solution: Typically, many professionals go to the gym daily or several times a week for exercise and overall health. That is not an option right now. The warmer weather makes for a welcome environment to go for a walk, allowing you to appreciate the flowers or new vegetation. Get outside each day. Walk, run, or go for a bike ride. Breathe deeply. Fresh air is vital. If needed, have phone calls as you walk. You will be surprised how good you will feel by taking a physical break away from inside your home office.
When you are in your house, take short breaks from your desk and laptop by going up and down the stairs several times. Consider online classes, weight training, or sitting on a large exercise ball while you work. Stand up and stretch throughout the day. Look out the window for a few minutes as you take deep breaths. Make healthy eating choices. Stay well-nourished. This does not mean that you cannot look forward to special treats. They provide variety and fun. Just don’t overindulge because sugar depresses your body's immune function, and you owe it to yourself and others to stay healthy.
Stay hydrated. Drink water and healthy beverages regularly. Be mindful of stimulants and their debilitating effect upon you during this stressful time. Your immune system recharges itself as you sleep. Sleep researchers advocate at least seven hours of sleep each night for optimal alertness and mental sharpness. Don't cheat this bodily need. Plus, your emotional intelligence (EQ) skills perform at a far higher level, the more sleep that you get.
Set aside time for yourself. Dive into a new hobby that you have not been able to do in the past. Develop your professional and leadership skills by participating in webinars, podcasts, and ted talks. Take up yoga, try aerobic and stamina building exercises, and look into other health enhancing activities. Devote time for personal mindfulness through meditation, religious practices, or thoughtful reflection. Look for ways to serve and uplift others, because it will benefit everyone involved.
7. Moderate Your Exposure to the News
Challenge: We are saturated with news. The pandemic and its effect on every aspect of our lives dominates all forms of the media. It is easy to become overwhelmed by this onslaught.
Solution: Even if you are a news junkie, be cautious with getting excessive exposure to too much news because of its negative nature. This is especially applicable in a situation like we are now facing—a pandemic where many are losing lives, losing jobs, and fear is gripping the world. This constant messaging adds to anxiety and stress. Limit your exposure to news items so that you are at least informed, but keep the majority of your focus on staying positive as you concentrate on your work assignments and your family's needs.
Fuel your outlook with encouraging sources so that others receive a positive and hopeful attitude from you. Send signals and messages to others that are upbeat. Your positive demeanor will offset their fears and doubts.
8. Reach Out to Others
Challenge: In this world-wide crisis, everyone is trying to balance concerns and priorities with fears and uncertainties. These include much more than just work issues. Many of these concerns are deeply emotional because they impact loved ones in health or financial areas. We all need the reassurance and understanding of knowing that somebody cares. It is easy to feel isolated in our own personal world.
Solution: As you well know, technology allows you to connect with others via screen and voice calls. Take advantage of these tools not just for work issues, but for you as their leader to check in with your people about their well-being. This applies to them both personally and to their families during this time of crisis. Letting them know you sincerely care and that you are reaching out to them sends a much needed and very positive message of encouragement and inspiration. At the very least, employ texts, emails, and other messaging to let them know you care. As a daily goal, consider reaching out to different people in a supportive and caring way just to see how they are. Let them know you are thinking of them. Check in on them to make sure that they and their families have everything they need to be healthy and successful. Stay in touch. This does not take much time. These efforts go a long way in the mind of others. Consider one of my favorite leadership gems: “We judge ourselves by our intentions. Others judge us by our actions!” In other words, don’t just think it. Do it!
9. Be Visible to Your People
Challenge: Not being physically present with your team and direct reports can cause disconnection and misunderstandings.
Solution: You cannot be physically present with your associates during this time of enforced home exile, so take full advantage of face-to-face screen time as often as possible. It is far more effective and reinforcing than texting, emailing or even phoning in maintaining connections and emotional support. It enables non-verbal expressions to be seen and moods to be felt. Current technology makes your visibility as a leader easy. Granted, most of us don't like seeing ourselves on the screen, but it is essential that our teams and direct reports see us regularly. They can feel your spirit and attitude as they see and hear you--let them see your reassuring and supportive eyes looking at them often. That will do more to calm them than you realize.
10. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
Challenge: Keeping the need to connect at the top of your daily to-do list while juggling all that is required of you in meeting the needs of peers, direct reports, associates, your boss, AND your family.
Solution: Use a variety of methods. Inventory your key relationships and determine who needs your contact and how frequently. Keep in mind that information, once commonly transferred by connecting at the office, is not happening now. You need to share more clarifying information than was required before to make sure everyone feels that they are on the same page.
Stay in close touch with those who need you most. Brief messages can do wonders. Keep all employees in the loop. Let your team and direct reports know what you learn about the status of the organization, new changes, and updated procedures and policies. This is a period of rapid change. Include people and keep them up to date - openly sharing this information reduces rumor and gossip. People invent information when left out of the loop, and what they invent is often far worse than the actual. Combat rumors and misinformation. Give people the gift of clear and accurate information as often as possible.
Another appropriate leadership gem to consider is: “The more serious the situation, the more information your team needs.” It is your responsibility to disseminate that information and provide the vital context to those affected. Answer to them the perennial question that everyone has when facing change: “How does this impact me?”
Following these ten behaviors yourself and sharing them with the countless other leaders who find themselves working primarily from home, will help you assess where you are in your transition to your home workspace. You must not feel as if you are alone. This stunning and sudden situation is impacting the entire world.
No one knows how long this dramatic shift of work-life will last, but as long as it does, you must adapt to the change and lead the way for your team. This requires far greater awareness of their needs, and how you can best meet those needs. Everyone is different. This means that a situational approach is the best method for you to employ. Recognize these differences and apply as individually needed.
The same pertains to your family members. The influence that you have on your work team and your family cannot be overstated. Having an honest discussion with yourself and your family about your work arrangement, responsibilities, and challenges will have significant benefits to your overall health, happiness, and success as a dedicated leader.
- Recognize that this entire situation gives you the opportunity to prove to yourself and others how adaptable, flexible and resilient you are as you confront one of the biggest life changing circumstances of your professional and personal life.
- Anything done virtually requires far more communication, empathy and patience than the physically present connections that you may have had before.
- Apply another of my leadership gems to what you are now facing: “The biggest test is HOW you respond!”
- Most leaders underestimate the power of their own sphere of influence. Your attitude is contagious. Let your team and family know you are facing these challenges together.
- As you are trying hard to communicate with your work associates and your family, seriously consider this appropriate leadership gem: “The single biggest hurdle to effective communication is the assumption that it has taken place”.