How Leaders Work Virtually

As a consultant, coach, trainer, and writer, I have been working virtually for 29 years. While I travel to my clients’ offices and conduct programs with groups of people, much of my work takes place in my home office. Through the years I have read books, attended workshops, and mostly exchanged advice with my peers about how to successfully work virtually. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Create space

Take the time now, before you have been strongly encouraged to work from home, to create a workable space. This may be easy if you have a larger home with a home office, but for others, it’s going to be a corner of a room that has multiple purposes. If you are sharing your home with a roommate or partner who may also be working from home, you will more than likely need two spaces. My dear friend Carol has been working from home for years, and she worked out of her large closet, literally. It actually was a great space as it had a window, a door, and an abundance of room.

Make it a safe space

Make the space ergonomically comfortable. Check out your posture when you are typing on your computer. Use books and other props to make sure that your screen is set at an appropriate height and that you can type comfortably.

What will visitors to your space see?

By tomorrow, you may find yourself on a video conference from your home. When you turn on your camera, what will your colleagues see? I have a client whose home workspace is next to a door. What a surprise we all had when the door opened during our video conference and his partner walked by, thankfully, draped in a towel. This is not the image you are trying to create professionally.

It is appropriate for your colleagues to see that you are working from home. Just select the parts of your home you are ready to see on the evening news.

Structure your day similarly to your typical schedule

If your alarm is set for 5:40am every week day, don’t change it! You already have a structure in place and it’s important to keep it. Wake up as you always have. You likely have time built in to your day for commuting, which brings me to my next point.

Use previous commuting time wisely

If you typically work out in the morning, continue. If your gym is closed, take your routine outside. If you are a city dweller, find some green space and use it for jumping rope, stretching, or perhaps to get in a jog.  

If you are not a morning person or the thought of exercising first thing is not appealing, then you have newfound time for meditation. At times of change, meditation is even more important.

Lay out your clothes

While it is okay to dress more casually at home than you would in an office, continue to get dressed — ‘yes’ to casual but ‘no’ to pajamas and ratty T-shirts. Wear clothes that you would be comfortable wearing on casual Fridays. If you are accustomed to shaving, continue shaving. If you style your hair and wear make-up, keep the routine, even if you are on conference calls rather than video calls. Your body and brain need to remember that you are working. And of course, wash your hands!

Next, go to work

Go to your newly created desk, and structure your workday just as you would in an office. If you are a teacher, you will be conducting your classes virtually. If you are an office worker, you will be in meetings. In my experience, employees who are busy and productive at work will be busy and productive working virtually. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. That annoying colleague who never responds to emails and is sitting around playing Candy Crush will probably do the same at home. Those work habits aren’t likely to change during Coronavirus.

At lunch, take a break

Just like you can’t effectively work without breaks at the office, take a designated lunch break when working from home. 

Keep your appointment times

No one can see you racing down the hall to fill your water bottle, so if you are late, they may assume something is wrong with the technology. It’s important that you start your virtual meetings on time. Since you and your colleagues may not be accustomed to the software needed for virtual meetings, I recommend that you sign in early, about 8 minutes early, and welcome early arrivals by chatting. Everyone working virtually misses the social interaction.

Take a review

As the afternoon draws to a close, review your priorities and schedule for tomorrow. Confirm any appointments that need confirmation and note any conflicts. Notice all that you accomplished today!

Clock out

Stop working. It’s easy to become a workaholic when you work from home, but stop. Please stop. Stop sending emails, stop messaging, and let your brain rest. Step away from your computer and force yourself to do something different. And get a good night’s sleep. Remember, your alarm will ring again at 5:40am.

What are your best tips for working remotely?

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