In the past few weeks, because of efforts to contain COVID-19, many of us have had to start working from home. Here are some things you can do to make sure you are working as efficiently as possible.
Get set up. Make sure that your work zone is set up properly. Is it ergonomically sound? Does it give you privacy and let you look and feel professional? You may continue adjusting your surroundings, but the sooner you can focus on getting work done, the better.
Get comfortable with videoconferencing. The next best thing to being there is videoconferencing. Think about what functionality you need. Do participants need to see one another? Do you need breakout rooms? What about security?
Test your setup, and get the camera at an appropriate level and angle. Look at the camera as much as possible. This takes practice but makes you appear more engaged. Clean up not only what is visible in the background when you are on camera but also your personal appearance.
Learn to lead meetings remotely. If you’re leading a virtual meeting, share the agenda, know the desired outcomes, and make sure to invite the right people. Open the meeting room early, and let people chat for a few minutes before getting down to business. If needed, remind participants that the screen is not a show they are passively watching; they are expected to participate. Use the chat function for side conversations. Often people who would not speak up in person will type into a chat box.
Navigate online communications. You may be communicating more with your colleagues through texts and instant messages. But it can be hard to read someone’s tone through such electronic means. For example, a text may be perceived as demanding an immediate response, but that may not be the sender’s intent. If you’re unsure about anything, pick up the phone. People are actually answering their phones again, craving connection, and that “unknown number” calling you might be a colleague or a potential customer.
Instant messaging can connect your team or be a source of interruption. Set policies for appropriate use, and make sure they are being followed. If desired, create separate channels for personal discussions to build team spirit, but discontinue or delete those that degenerate.
Set boundaries. While most communication should take place during working hours, try to be flexible, and don’t be judgmental of colleagues who have different priorities. Work and personal lives are blending at unprecedented levels, and a 7:00 p.m. conversation may be required. At the same time, just because work is always nearby, don’t feel that you should be working all the time. Ignore nonurgent work messages until the next day.
Most importantly in these unprecedented times, reset your expectations. Assume that everyone is doing their best to be productive with the resources and responsibilities currently at their disposal, and be supportive and nonjudgmental.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first issue of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).