Work From Home Best Practices

Not all of us are used to working from home. Most of us are used to the hustle and bustle at the office, the faint smell of coffee brewing in the pantry, and the lunch-breaks that we spend on catching up with friends at work. Without these routines that helped us stay productive, working from home can become quite challenging. 

To help all of us who are facing this for the first time, Alan Berkson, the global director of community outreach and analyst relations at Freshworks, and our very own work-from-home veteran, shared some tried and trusted techniques on adapting to this new style of working. 

Alan, how are you doing? How’s it going so far?

What should I say I’m doing as well as can be expected. No, I’m doing well. I’ve been working home for a long time. So that’s not new for me.

You’ve been working from home for a long time now. What got you started there? What’s the story behind that?

Well, it’s kind of out of necessity. I have the unique distinction of being the first person hired by Freshworks outside of Chennai. So I’m based in New York, and we didn’t have an office in New York. So basically, that was when I started working from home. It’s going to be seven years of working from home for me in June.

What are some tips and tricks to keep in mind as a first-timer working from home? 

So, the first thing I will say for anybody who’s doing this for the first time, is that it’s hard. And if it feels hard, it is hard. You’ve got to learn some new skills. It’s like anything you do for the first time. For instance, when you are working out for the first time, your muscles would be sore for a while. 

Likewise, you have to learn how to manage your time differently. You have to learn how to manage communications. Also, there are productivity factors or psychological factors that come into play. You’re alone most of the time, and you have to get used to managing your interactions with your colleagues remotely.

One of the things I actually found a little bit difficult was that at work, we organically take breaks, go talk to colleagues, talk to friends, but when you’re at home, it’s just like one huge stretch of just work. So how do you deal with that? 

You have to be a little bit more disciplined when you’re working from home. It’s one of the things that I always talk to people about when they do it for the first time. Part of it is what I call ‘creating your rules of engagement’.

Rule 1 – Keep your calendar up to date

When you’re in the office, people know when you’re working and when you’re not. However, when you’re at home, people don’t. So what can you do as an individual to help do that? One of the things that I always suggest is to make sure your calendar is up to date. Make sure you put your personal time on your calendar. If somebody needs to book a meeting with you, they’re not going to come over and tap you on the shoulder and say ‘hey, can we talk now?’. Instead, they’re going to look at your calendar, and if they see a free spot, they’ll fill it. 

So, make sure you block your calendar for lunch, or when you’re taking a walk. Since a lot of people are now in a situation where they have their children at home, if you need to spend some time with them, you can put that in as well. It depends on your employer, but you may have to spend time during the day doing stuff and then maybe do some more work at night when you’ve got more opportunities. So start by highlighting when you are accessible. At Freshworks, we also use Slack to let each other know when we are available by updating our statuses with our work hours. 

Rule 2 – Create a workspace at home

You need to also think about how you define being at work. I have dedicated some space at home that I use for work alone. So I know when I walk into my home office, I’m at work. My family too knows that when I’m here, I’m at work. And that helps you with your discipline. 

It also helps you change your mindset. Normally, if you’re a commuter, you walk out of the house and your brain starts to go into work mode, you start to think about what you have to do that day. And then on your way home, your brain gets out of work mode. You don’t have those transitions at home. So you have to really think more about how you are going to define that. Just put in your work hours in your calendar and make sure that your family is aware of it as well. 

What are some of the apps and tools that you think are must haves if you’re working from home? 

– Microphone and headphones 

First off, having good headphones and a microphone is really important. You’re going to do a lot of video calls and I will say that the quality of the audio is much more important than the quality of the video. Also, make sure you have a quiet place in your home for video calls. 

– Note-taking applications

One of the things that you have in the office that you don’t have at home is access to information that you take for granted. So I think it’s important to have a note-taking app. It could be a Google Doc, or it could be Evernote. This helps you know where to find stuff and be able to keep track of conversations that you have with your colleagues. In the office, you might just tap somebody on the shoulder and say – hey, where is this or how do I do this? However, you may be working at 9pm (if it is that kind of a day) and your other coworker who you only work with might not be working around that time. So, to avoid this, have a really good note-taking app.

– Collaboration tools

I think having communication tools in terms of chat such as WhatsApp or Slack, and a good video conferencing tool helps when you need to get on calls with multiple people. For some organizations, it’s harder to use some of their tools because they might be based on premise. In that case, you could probably work with a VPN. At Freshworks, we’re born in the cloud, so we’ve got all our tools on the cloud

– Time zone apps

Since I have nine time zones that I have to deal with on a daily basis, I have an app, a cool one, that shows me different time zones. 

Anything else that you’d like to share before we wind up?

One thing I will point out, as a key factor for working from home is that isolation is a big challenge at home. And one of the habits I have is, engaging in hallway conversations when you are just walking around. I randomly reach out to people at Freshworks and say – hey, can we talk for 20 minutes? With no agenda because I just want to chat. I recommend doing that. 

Another tip I’ll give, which I think is on the positive side:

Everybody who was working in an office had a commute. Your commute might have been 15 minutes each way. I live in the New York City area, it could be you know, an hour and a half each way. But you have 30 to 60 minutes a day that you just have been given back. My suggestion is – use that time for yourself and be disciplined about using it for yourself. Whether it’s just meditating, listening to music, rediscovering a passion you had, and or finding a new hobby – learning how to play an instrument or learning a new language, whatever it is, do it for yourself. Working from home is not always rainbows and unicorns. It’s got challenges such as isolation and fatigue. You tend to work more. So, you have to make sure that you take care of yourself, especially now, you want to keep your immune system up, you know, take care of yourself.

Key Takeaways 

  1. Be disciplined about working from home – keep your calendar up to date with your work hours, your work schedule including all the breaks you take. It also helps to maintain a dedicated space for work.
  2. Make sure you have the right tools for collaboration, video conferencing, and taking notes. It goes without saying that you need a good pair of headphones and a microphone.
  3. Stay in touch with your colleagues to fight the feeling of being isolated. Since you’re saving the time spent on commuting, use that time to rediscover a passion, or learn something new, or to meditate or even listen to music.

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