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Happy Together: Keeping the Boss Satisfied From Home

Everything changes when the boss isn’t just down the hallway. With corporate teams now spread all over the place working from home, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are checking in with your manager on a regular basis. Keeping the big guy or gal happy is vital–particularly right now during the C-19 crisis, with so much of these working arrangements new to so many people. Everyone is scrambling to keep operations as normal as possible in these extraordinary times. Do your part to be a solution, not a problem.

The biggest responsibility you have is, well, being responsible. Although many are working from home out of sheer necessity at the moment, remember that remote working involves trust. It’s a privilege. So start by establishing your hours of availability. Let your supervisor know when and how you are working. Maybe this will just mirror office hours. Maybe this will involve a switch to deadlines and focused work that is not as heavily linked to a 9-5 schedule. Just be sure that you are all on the same page here.

Remember that you are still working as part of a team. In addition to completing tasks, whether on deadline or as part of regular office hours, you need to be there for your fellow workers. When you are all in an office together working a set schedule, this is as easy as walking down the hall or picking up the phone. When you are all at home, you need to pay more attention to messages and organize communications. You don’t want to be the guy who leaves people hanging for hours or even days on answers to questions, requests for a resource, and so forth.

With that said, you also have to establish some boundaries with the boss. One of the big potential pitfalls of working from home is trading in the old 9-5 for a 24-7 where you are expected to be available around the clock. If you are working from home for the first time, be sure to talk all of this out with your supervisor. Working times and responsibilities need to be clarified to everyone. Otherwise, things will go off the rails.

Keep things personable whenever possible. Working from home makes it easier to compartmentalize and separate the two worlds of life and workplace. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, as out of sight can be out of mind. Remain visible as a person, especially to your superiors. Don’t just fade into the background as the face on the occasional video call and the name on emails. Your career may well depend on it.

Go into the office whenever possible. Don’t head in unnecessarily, especially right now given the C-19 restrictions in effect across much of North America. But don’t be a stranger. Stop over for in-person meetings, take somebody out to lunch, and so forth. Use virtual methods to maintain office relationships, too. Have video chats that are not strictly about work matters. Pick up the phone instead of sending emails. That sort of thing.

All of the above really breaks down to three simple words that you need to follow when working remotely: Don’t isolate yourself. That can be easier said than done during a pandemic lockdown, but it’s vital to make it clear that you are still a key member of the office team, even when that office may be at your home.

Cheers!

Talking the Talk

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Communication.

That single word is the key to the establishment of every successful relationship, which of course underpins every successful workplace. If you aren’t getting along with your boss, or have even had some strained casual conversations with coworkers — anyone else bombed a joke so badly that you worried about HR being called in? asking for a friend — chances are awfully good it’s because you weren’t communicating.

I first started working from home in 1997. It was a freelance writing and editing position in the electronic entertainment field (gaming, mostly). I did this for over 20 years on a full-time basis for virtually every magazine or website in the field, as well as a tech book publisher. 

My first gig was working as an editor for a UK-based site called Games Domain, probably the first pro gaming site on the net. We had writers all over the world. I had a diverse crew contributing to my section of the website from the US, the UK, Israel, and Switzerland. All were professionals in various fields. One was an investment banker (who has since gone on to become a neurosurgeon). Another was a university professor who specialized in the history of medicine. So, I’m not talking about Cheetos-scarfing dudes on mom’s basement couch.

We all were smart. We all shared common interests and even backgrounds. We all still fought like hell. As an editor, it was my job to dole out assignments, edit the articles (mostly game reviews, but also opinion pieces, previews, and corporate profiles), and get them posted online. But my main role was bringing people together. That wasn’t easy when we were all strangers in real life. Battles erupted over everything from first-person versus third-person voice to a memorable scrap about referring to (in a derogatory way!) Klaus Barbie of all people in a soccer piece.

But we got through it. We simply resolved to communicate more. To get to know one another as more than just email addresses. I started email threads that turned into longstanding conversations ranging well beyond games and work duties and into who we were as people. That led to understanding. Patience. One pointed argument that turned into one guy (not me, honest) crying tears of gratitude over how much we had come together as friends as well as coworkers. All of this led to a vastly improved work environment where we truly enjoyed each other’s virtual company and created some great editorial content for the site.

There is no magic technological solution to the communication question. We solved this problem back in 1997, when the net was so new and so dial-uppy that all we really had was email, dammit, and we made do with that when we weren’t walking to school uphill through four feet of snow in bare feet. Hell, even the glory days of ICQ were still a couple of years in the future. 

Talk. Online or off or both. Same concept, same end results. Get to know and understand one another. With modern tech like Zoom and other videoconferencing options bringing the workplace right into your home office, there is no excuse for not getting to know one another, to not forging solid working relationships even if you never meet your coworkers in person. 

We did it in 1997. You can do it in 2020. 

Cheers!

Newbies! Five Top Tips for Working from Home for the First Time

Who likes lists? Apparently everybody. Every other article on the web seems to have been crunched into a list of the best ways to change your oil, depilate your nether regions, bake brownies, or whatever. So here are SLX’s top five tips for those working from home for the very first time: 

1. Scheduling

At the top of the charts with a bullet is maintaining a schedule. Working from home can easily go one of two bad ways if you don’t set limits and schedule your time 

Those two bad options? Getting consumed by your work and making sweet love to your desktop PC and/or phone 24/7. Or the other extreme, which is hitting up matinee movies or the gym (well, not right now with C-19, but one can dream…) when you should be checking in with the bossman. 

So maintain regular work hours as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be 9-5. But keep a routine. It will keep you sane. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with coworkers and managers. You’re working from home, you’re not an indentured servant. 

That said, this will be your biggest challenge when working from home. I’ve been mostly working from home for over 20 years, and it is an eternal dilemma, especially when working on deadline. Be kind to yourself if you lapse, but get back up on the horse as soon as possible.

2. Compartmentalizing

Never let working from home take over your home. Designate a work space, whether you create a formal home office or set up in a kitchen nook. Keep it separate from your home spaces as much as possible. Otherwise, you’ll soon find that work is creeping into every aspect of your life, from having dinner with the family to when you’re trying to Netflix and chill in the evenings.

At the same time, feel free to move around on occasion to avoid going stir crazy. I take some Zoom calls in my office, others in my sunroom just to mix things up and get some much-needed vitamin D. I’m also looking forward to getting out on my deck when the weather improves. Just keep those locales temporary by not establishing a permanent work presence in them. Remember that computers, notebooks, etc. live in your office. They just occasionally vacation elsewhere.

3. Work Communicating

Proper communicating is vital to successfully working from home. You cannot do enough of it. Be sure to check in frequently with managers and coworkers. Set meeting times so you hook up for a quick chat via video-conferencing, even if you don’t have a set agenda or are working on a specific project that requires feedback or supervision

Face time is still important. Talking is still important. Even when working from home, the human connection is crucial if you want to make a workplace effective and productive. Make sure that you build and maintain personal relationships so that you are real coworkers, not just names on emails and Slack messages.

4. Personal Communicating

One of the best and worst things about working from home is the lack of interpersonal relationships in the office. Sure, you dodge that guy who wants to tell you about cutting the lawn on the weekend. But you also miss out on fun little interactions that make office life enjoyable and human.

Take the time each and every day to reach out to someone, either a coworker or a friend from outside of the workplace. This is particularly important for those who live alone, but it’s also key if home with a spouse and kids, as a sense of isolation can creep up on you when you’re focusing on a black screen for most of the day…even in a house full of people.

5. Me Timing

One of the big pluses about working at home is freedom. So don’t chain yourself to a desk. Power walk around the block or hit the stationary bike. Go out for lunch (again, one can dream…) in a local café, or take lunch to a nearby park. Hook up with a nearby friend for a coffee or a chat. I know that living here in the St. Lawrence River Region, there are loads of great options to get out and enjoy the riverside, even if I have just 20 minutes for a quick walk.

Of course, your mileage may vary. Feel free to post what works for you either here or on the SLX Remote Work Tips and Tricks Facebook page.

Cheers!

Time Keeps on Ticking

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Time. It’s not only the subject of some of my favourite songs that I love to listen to when ticking away the moments that make up a dull day, it’s crucial to working from home. Time management is absolutely crucial to being successful as a remote worker, as you have to preserve a good work-life balance without going overboard as a workaholic or a slacker.

Honesty time. This has long been a challenge for me. I have always been a self-employed remote worker, typically working on deadlines instead of with any sort of regular routine set around a standard office schedule. I also typically worked freelance, which inevitably led to feast or famine periods where I had loads of work or none at all.

As a result, I became accustomed to binge working. At times, I would go right around the clock. I pulled all-nighters the same way that I did as an undergrad, when I was forever up until dawn to finish papers so that I could slide them under the prof’s office door on deadline day. And there is something exciting about this approach. It’s all or nothing, seat-of-the-pants gotta get the job done!

I’ll always remember working a conference in LA, staying up all night playing cards with friends in Hollywood, getting onto a plane at dawn (crazy turbulence on the flight home, couldn’t sleep a wink), being hauled off to a house party by the friend who was picking me up from the airport (thanks, Mike), and finally going home to edit a tech book on deadline. By the end of all this, I had been up around 48 hours. I don’t know how I got the edit done coherently, but I did. I never heard any complaints about it, at any rate. And their cheque sure cleared. So mission accomplished. 

But I absolutely don’t recommend this way of life now. All-night blitzes are okay and even fun when you’re young and single and can handle it. They aren’t nearly as enjoyable when you’re in your 40s, have a spouse and/or kids, and responsibilities in life beyond simply taking what they’re givin’ ‘cause you’re workin’ for a living.

Remote working is great. It frees you. It inspires you. And it can improve your quality of life, especially if — sales plug alert — you’re working from home in a place like the St. Lawrence River Region, an area that practically forces a superb work-life balance upon you with its wealth of outdoor beauty and recreation. 

But there are some serious caveats. You can easily let work take over your life for lengthy periods of time, which will then force you to take similarly extended breaks when you burn out. Remember that slow and steady always wins this race. Your sanity and physical health will thank you, too.

Basically, don’t be young me. Even if you have the luxury of working on deadlines. Set a schedule. Set some boundaries. Remember that with the change over to remote work for so many of us in the brand new C-19 world, we are all in this for the long haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep that in mind and schedule your time appropriately, so you reach the finish line in health and happiness.

Cheers!

Working Without a Net Thanks to Tech Tools

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One of the trickiest things about working from home is actually also one of the trickiest things about working in an office. Efficiency is a challenge no matter if you’re in a cubicle farm with a dozen co-workers crammed into the stalls around you or you’re logging in from a home office with a cat in your lap and a kid in the kitchen.

When working remotely, though, you might as well consider yourself as something like a tightrope walker. You are truly up in the rare air of the big top without a net below. In an office, you don’t always have to be working at maximum efficiency when it comes to communications, addressing work projects, and so forth. Sure, it helps. But when you’re on site, there are loads of easy options for face-to-face meetings, wandering into the next office for a pep talk, or simply grabbing lunch with your coworkers and coming to grips with a big assignment. Osmosis is a real thing in the office world.

At home, forget it. A lot of the supports of the in-office environment just aren’t available when you are on your own at home. So this means that you need to take advantage of the tech tools on offer for remote workers today.

First up is a good way to facilitate communication. Forget about email and texting. While both may be great for quick queries, they don’t let you really talk, or focus your conversations around a specific task or set of tasks. For this you need something a little more robust, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Hangouts Chat, Discord, or one of the many other popular team messaging programs out there. 

One potential caveat? Letting things get complicated with too many channels or groups. Assess what you’re doing every so often with your team, otherwise these programs can create conversations as convoluted and as impossible to follow as email threads.

Project management software is also vital. What you and your team here will employ will generally be the choice of your employer. Just make sure that you use whatever is provided here. While you of course still have to check in with your manager when working remotely, you need to rely on a digital assistant as well to keep you on track.

Remember, you can’t just wander into the next office to ask a question. So let your project management program guide you. Some of the best bets currently include Asana, Basecamp, Allthings, and nTask, all with varying features and costs.

Lastly, you need an online filing cabinet that everyone uses to track and share files. Chances are awfully good that you were using something like Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, or another cloud system even before you started working from home. But now that you’re not physically present in the office much or even at all, everyone on your team needs to rely on one resource. That way, everyone can be independent and efficient. Once more, remember that you can’t easily talk to your office neighbour if you’re looking for a particular document or image file.

In some ways, relying on tech tools as a remote worker is a little like being able to delegate authority. Be sure to embrace the desktop options that you need to be successful, as even though you may now be working from a home office hundreds or even thousands of miles from the HQ, you can’t afford to act like you’re completely on your own.

Cheers!

Should I Wear Pants? The Secrets of Video Conference Success

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Video conferencing in the age of COVID-19 is both impressive and intimidating. Gone are the days when you could rest assured that your coworkers on the conference call wouldn’t be able to judge your lack of makeup, tangled hair, and dishes piled up on the kitchen counter. Now they want to see you as well as hear you. Thanks a lot, Zoom. 

With that said, it isn’t all bad. Being able to see everyone in a meeting is a net positive, no matter how much you want to hide your slovenly homemaking. Here are five key tips and tricks to getting the most out of video conference meetings: 

1. Be prepared and be on time. This means that you should test your tech (video, sound, and don’t forget about lighting), position your camera properly (please, no up-nostril shots or a view from below like you’re about to ask somebody to put lotion in a basket), and ready everything else you will need during the meeting like notepads and devices. You want to enter the call like you were walking into a real meeting room. Not being prepared for a video conference is just like showing up late in person; it just doesn’t look professional. 

2. And speaking of looking professional, be sure and dress the part. Dress code is typically a little more relaxed for video conferences, so you generally don’t need to throw on a suit (which will likely be seen as overkill, especially if everyone on the call knows that you’re Zooming in from your house). But be sure to ditch the ratty U2 t-shirt, do something with your hair, and maybe even remember to take a moment to shave (not always easy during the razor holiday that is the C-19 crisis).

3. Practice etiquette during the video conference by muting your mike when not speaking and shutting off your camera feed if you need to get up (which can seem rude; also, this way you don’t have to wear pants for the call!). Try and remember to look into the camera when speaking, not the video feed on your monitor. This gives you a more authoritative presence, particularly if you need to make a point. Looking at the camera also means that you’re looking at your coworkers, which removes some of the awkwardness of a video conference and gives it a more conversational feel.

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4. Stay on point. While it can be very tempting to multitask when sitting at the computer, especially if the meeting is wandering into a topic that you’re not personally invested in, this comes off extremely rude. Don’t be the guy who’s constantly checking emails, typing away, or looking at a phone.

5. Finally, don’t go crazy on video-conferencing backgrounds. There is a lot of background overkill going on these days as people set up green screens and have fun with this new normal. Yet even though it’s tempting to play with the background settings so you look like you’re on a beach or on the bridge of the Enterprise, these images and videos can look tacky in business settings. Less is more. Feel free to use something if you want to preserve your privacy, have a messy office, or are concerned about kids or pets wandering in from stage left. Just pick something somewhat professional, like an office or even a snazzy café.

Any other ideas from readers? Please share in the comments here or on our SLX Remote Works Tips and Tricks Facebook page.

Cheers!

Welcome to the New Normal

Sound good? I hope this is what you are experiencing right now. These are times of unprecedented change, bringing chaos to the new economy as well as opportunity, for both corporations and for the average worker. Abandoning the usual 9-5 grind, as so many of us have had to do of late, has been scary, but it has also offered many rewards that improve productivity and personal quality of life.

While we here at SLX have been leading the local chorus about the benefits of remote working — and living, especially right here in a beautiful and affordable area such as the Brockville/St. Lawrence River Region — recent circumstances involving COVID-19 have made it the hottest thing going. Chances are awfully good that you’re reading this from your new office right now, your home office. Maybe you have the dog at your feet. A nice breeze is blowing in from the backyard and you can see the river in the distance. Music is on and you’re sipping your favourite home blend from your favourite mug.

Who hasn’t enjoyed replacing boardroom meetings with Zoom? Reveled in being able to spend an extra hour (or more!) in bed each morning instead of nodding off to the latest podcast behind the wheel of the car? Enjoyed more quality time between writing reports and checking in with the boss? Focused a little more on actual work due to ditching the distractions of Loquacious Lisa in the next office or What I Did On The Weekend Walter in the breakroom?

Well, get used to it. COVID-19 has ushered in an era of change that isn’t going away anytime soon. While recent census stats pegged the number of people who work full-time from home in the US and Canada at between 5 and 6 per cent, that number has of course exploded over the past month out of sheer necessity. This has fast-forwarded a trend that has been ongoing for the past 20 years, zipping us forward into an era where commuting and cubicles is as relevant as the horse and buggy and the haberdashery.

In the coming weeks and months, SLX will be providing more tips and tricks for the remote worker to help meet the need of this new normal. Our main aim is to encourage you to relocate to the hidden gems that are the communities in Eastern Ontario along the majestic St. Lawrence River. But we also want to be a friendly guide and helping hand to everyone navigating this new work-from-home reality, no matter where you choose to call home. I hope you’ll join us, both literally and figuratively, as we move forward together.

The Price of Trust

Trust is a powerful word culturally even more so in the world of business.   I remember mentioning to a boss of mine once that I did not trust a certain individual in our organization.     They had a curt and direct response that my comment meant that either that person or I had to leave the organization.    The quick explanation was that either the individual was not trustworthy or I was not trusting and neither one of these opinions had a place in the organization.

This might be excessive hyperbole for the opening of a blog, however, employers across the country have needed to take a massive leap of faith and trust in their teams.  Today we have more employees working from home than ever before. If you reflect on the first time either you or a colleague asked to work from home you might remember the reluctance from your boss.   It is possible that they eventually agreed, as long as you were not working from home on a Friday or some other stipulation that implied you were doing this to slack off.

This current crisis has ‘forced’ managers to trust and people are responding accordingly.   It should be no surprise that people are behaving like reliable adults even though they are not in the office.    Managers have proven that are willing to give people more responsibility and give the people the ability to perhaps fail, without supervision.

To those of us who have been living and promoting a remote work life for over a decade, this is no surprise.  This new-found ‘trust’ in their employees will allow companies to embark on a journey providing their teams more autonomy to manage and strategize without top-down oversight.

Remote working is most likely here to stay and trusting one’s employees or co-workers has now morphed into an expectation of performance.      Long gone are the days we thought our co-worker was working from home on a Friday to give themselves a three day weekend.

The Great Remote Worker Experiment

Our business community is now going through what will be ultimately seen as a demarcation point in the way work gets done in Canada, and around the world.     Over the past decade, there has been a gradual increase in the number of workers who work remotely. There have been a variety of economic and social reasons for this, all of which have no bearing on our current situation.   As business leaders, as we move through this crisis, we have the opportunity to evaluate the impact and make longer-term, strategic decisions on how work gets done in our companies. Over the past decade the benefits of remote working have been well documented:

Financial Savings for Employees and Employers

Employees are More Creative

20% Productivity Boost

Lower Attrition Rates

As a business you are focused on impacting the current situation, long-term planning and strategy are not today’s thoughts.   The time will come soon when we need to once again focus on the longer vision. Be prepared to evaluate the impact of remote work, we suspect this forced experiment will expose tremendous long-term positive impact.   Support your employees who are working from home right now and put an analytical lens on the outcomes. What can you measure that will help guide your strategic decisions in the future. Hours worked is no longer a key measure of productivity, creative output is a much more valuable commodity and smart businesses will measure employee output from home differently.  

Say goodbye to office hours, they are not coming back anytime soon

Five Reasons you Should Hire People Who Work From Home

Five Reasons To Hire Remote Workers

As an employer, you might have considered moving some of your team out of the office. Maybe you are having difficulty attracting top talent, your office is bursting at the seams or you just see it as the logical evolution of your business. Instant communication tools are already ubiquitous in the office environment, we have all been in the position where we lean over to the next cubicle and let our co-workers know that we have just ‘Slacked’ that information over to them. Hiring somebody who is already used to working at home and communicating through virtual channels will accelerate your entire office team’s use of these tools.
Here are five of the top reasons you should consider your next hire as somebody who works from home. Read More