March 20, 2020

Productivity tips from a leader who's worked virtually for 16 years

Ceridian's Heather Sneed, a director in Professional Services, provides guidance on everything from workspaces to communications to managing your kids when working at home. Read on for her tips and best practices, based on 16 years of working virtually.

With the global pandemic in full effect due to COVID-19, many employers are sending their employees home to promote the necessary #SocialDistancing that is critical to slowing, and hopefully halting, the spread of this virus. 

For many people, this is a very new concept and you may face struggles with identifying the best approach to have a productive day. This article is intended to share some tips for making the best of your new #workfromhome environment. (Note that for those of us who do this full-time, we like to use the term “virtual,” so you’ll see that term used here.)

Who am I to give advice? Let me give you my background. I work for Ceridian, a provider of human capital management software and services to our North American and Global customers and their employees. At Ceridian, I lead our Project Management team and our Consulting Services Team within the Professional Services organisation. What does all of that mean? Once customers are “live” on our cloud based HCM product (Dayforce), our teams execute project work for our existing customer base such as implementing merger & acquisitions for customers, implementing additional modules within the Dayforce product, and providing several other configuration and technology services.

That doesn’t really mean a lot for purposes in this article, but what IS important is this: I’m approaching my 16 year service anniversary with Ceridian, of which the entire duration has been #virtual. I hope you will take something away from my experience doing this as well as enjoy some of the levity I have included.

 

Your workspace

Not everyone has a dedicated office in their home, but it is ideal to be in a space where the door can be shut. If that is not an option for you, use a quiet part of your home where other family members will not be spending time, given that they are most likely at home with you during this crisis. A room with windows is nice, but not required. Minimize your distractions (e.g. no TV) especially if using #videoconferencing tools.  A space where you are comfortable and can focus is most important.

 

Your routine

Establish a routine where, in general, you are starting and ending your workdays around the same time as if you were in the office. It’s very easy to go back to work every night when you are virtual, which is okay, but you don’t want to get in the habit of doing it every day as you will begin to lose your work life balance. 

Get dressed. I know…you are working from home right now so why not stay in your pajamas all day, right? I will say after 16 years, I find myself working in more of a professional manner if I am dressed. I’m not saying business, or even business casual, but change out of your jammies, baseball caps are okay, and don’t worry about your make up! 

 

Your kids

This could be your biggest challenge – across all ages! My boys are in 8th and 5th grades, so yes, I have been working virtually pre-children. The difference here is that I was able to prepare once my first child was born. Many of you haven’t had that luxury. 

For younger children, I know we are social distancing, but if there is a teenager in your neighborhood that you trust, you could certainly ask them to help out and if you can afford to give them a little bit of money for their work, even better. If not, they may be bored and willing to help even if you can’t pay them! Establish very clear guidelines with the family confirming that they are self-distancing as well and constant handwashing/disinfecting is in place. If that’s not an option, talk to your employer about a possible alternate schedule. 

For older kids, they may be completing curriculum online or they may be on a spring break. Either way, establish a schedule with them (if they are like mine, you will likely have to write it down and post it in multiple places). I will say that given the gravity of the current state of the world, I’m not as concerned about screen time...they can play with their friends through headphones and be nowhere near them at the same time.  My boys still need to complete their chores each day, not necessarily before screen time, but certainly before dinner.  If you have time during breakfast/lunch, offer to make their meal – they will appreciate it more than you know. I know mine (secretly) do!

A door comes in handy if you are in meetings throughout the day (yes, those in the virtual world of work refer to conference calls as “meetings”). It is important that you establish the rules with your children during the workday. Since mine were old enough to be independent, my rule has been “If my door is shut, there shouldn’t be a reason for you to enter unless someone is bleeding, sick, or missing.” This may be a little extreme for kids not used to this, especially given the current state where we know our kids need us now more than ever. An alternative is to have sticky notes on your door that you can rotate as needed when the door is shut. For example: “In meeting, please knock if it cannot wait” or “In meeting, but okay to enter quietly.” My kids know that if my door is not closed, they are more than welcome to come in. 

 

Your communications

It’s easy to live in your own world working virtually, but it’s so important to connect with your colleagues on a regular basis and technology allows us to do that very effectively. A couple of years ago, I started a trend within my own organisation which I called “#StartVideo” and had a lot of colleagues taking advantage of the video capabilities in our teleconferencing software. Unfortunately, it slowly dwindled. However, with more people working from home at Ceridian, our CEO, David Ossip, has asked that we use videoconferencing when meeting to promote staying close and connected.  This. Is. Huge. It connects you with your team, promotes “presence,” and just about eliminates multi-tasking. Do it – and you’ll quickly learn why I recommended that you get dressed every day, since you may be asked to join one and you should be prepared!

You can also take advantage of tools within teleconferencing software such as using “whiteboards” to jot down ideas during meetings which can then be emailed to attendees or using tools like Microsoft’s OneNote to screenshare and capture what was discussed then share that after the meeting as well. 

If emails and IMs aren’t working for you, pick up the phone. I cannot tell you how many times an email thread between team members has been solved with one phone call. You all know this already, but it becomes even more critical when you are working virtually. 

 

Your work-life balance

As mentioned earlier, having a virtual office can interfere with your work life balance, but it doesn’t have to so long as you don’t make it a habit. It can also become lonely if you are used to lunch with colleagues, catching up over morning coffee, or even huddling with your team in a conference room to solution a problem. If so, you can still do this. Jump on a video teleconference, with your coffee and catch up with your colleagues, it’s okay. In just about every meeting I have attended since early March, the topic of COVID-19 and how it is impacting us as individuals has been discussed – but we can share ideas and solutions with each other at the same time.

One tidbit of info I haven’t mentioned yet is that my husband works virtually too. He is employed by CVS Health Corporate, working virtually within the Information Technology Team for the past seven years. It’s our norm. Our kids don’t know any different and we “know” how to do this. 

If you have recently moved to a work from home environment, I hope these tips are helpful for you to be efficient and effective in your new norm, at least for now. Every day I focus on believing that this entire pandemic will be over before we know it. 

Be productive in your new environment, but most importantly, be safe and healthy. 

What are your best practices? Let’s share them and help our new virtual employees make the transition as we continue to #FlattenTheCurve. 

Thank you!

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