Working from home: 6 lessons learned that can help leaders in the long run

While you're telecommuting due to the COVID-19 outbreak, be aware of what you're learning about various tools and techniques that will also be helpful when work returns to normal.

How businesses can bolster connectivity for telecommuters during the coronavirus pandemic

I had always considered myself a capable remote worker. After all, I don't really have a permanent office anywhere other than my home setup, and I have been productive everywhere from airplane seats, to corners of client warehouses, to the two workstations I have set up at home. 

Despite solving the "remote" aspect of my work, I did not realize that most weeks involved dozens or even hundreds of in-person interactions. Reducing those interactions due to the coronavirus, and also having the other four members of my family omnipresent in my home office, has created an entirely new dynamic.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

During challenging situations, we often are so focused on mitigating the crisis that we overlook the valuable and hard-won lessons we've learned along the way that are likely applicable in the long-term, too. Here are six lessons I've learned about working from home.

1. Jump-start your day

Going into this forced experiment, I didn't realize how much simple rituals that marked the start of the workday positioned me for a great or subpar day. Coffee with a colleague, a morning run, or a robust breakfast (an easy item when on the road and having access to a restaurant) were simple things that both marked the start of the workday and put me in the right frame of mind.

I've had to replicate and replace many of those activities, and found my routines quickly breaking down due to a variety of factors. Many of these rituals have become habitual so their loss was almost unnoticed until I started asking myself why my mornings felt "off." The morning "jump-start" is far more important than I'd realized, and something that should be attended to, planned, and embraced rather than assumed to occur automatically.

2. Set yourself up for serenity

We're in a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and I've found it has affected me in unforeseen ways. For example, seeing stripped grocery store shelves and being unable to source basic necessities like toilet paper for my family has left me surprisingly ill at ease. As leaders, we usually feel like captains of our own ships, being able to marshal resources and unconventional solutions to any problem; however, I'm now unable to solve seemingly simple problems. Being able to understand what you can and cannot affect and minimizing the impact of the latter upon your psyche is a skill I've had to actively cultivate.

3. Provide yourself options

I always thought I was good at dealing with multiple conflicting priorities and distractions, but that was until my "coworkers" suddenly included a 10-, 7-, and 4-year-old. The best solution I've found that can be applied long-term is spending time in the morning planning blocks of work that require various levels of time and attention to complete. If things are a little crazy, shorter or more rote tasks can be easily interrupted when someone needs something, while a block when everyone is quiet and focused might prompt me to shift gears to another task. Shifting more complex work into the evening when the kids are in bed, or alternating "focus shifts" with my wife has been helpful.

4. Balance your contact points

One interesting phenomenon I've noticed in my line of work is that without travel and the frequent ad hoc interactions that come with being at a client or company office, people have a lot more time for phone calls. In some cases, my team members have become awash in calls to the point that they feel unable to do much of anything else, while other team members feel completely isolated without very regular interaction. Each of us seems to require a different level of interaction, and having the self-knowledge to assess your own needs, as well as tease out from your team whether you're connecting too much or too little, is a skill that I'm going to be focusing on developing.

5. Be "tech curious"

I've quickly discovered that I've been using 50% or less of the capabilities of the tools that my company offers for collaboration and communication, despite being a fairly savvy technologist. Even my iPhone has surprised me with tricks like group FaceTime and built-in document scanning. It's tempting to try to find new and exciting tools rather than exploring the ones you have, but you likely have all manner of features and functions that you've never noticed. Take a moment during calls or videoconferences with your team to see if anyone has discovered anything new and helpful, and allow them to demonstrate it to the team.

6. Keep a journal

Keep track of the tools, techniques, and challenges you've had while working remotely. Something as simple as more efficient planning and communications are broadly applicable when this crisis passes, as I assume it soon will. Hopefully, not only will the social distancing efforts slow the spread of COVID-19, but also provide some long-term lessons that make you a better leader.

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