The Golden Rules of Home Office

As Corona Virus is upon us, many of us are working from home. Here are our top tips, as a fully remote team.

von Sofia Jacobi, March 29, 2020
Golden Rules Home Office

Which rules should I follow and what should I pay attention to? Since we - the tbd* team - have all been working remotely (i.e. from home or from CoWorking Spaces) since the end of last year, we have (virtually) put together the golden rules for remote work, or working in a home office:

You need a plan...

If you think that for home office you just need to provide employees with laptops and then send them home, you are mistaken. Working from different locations requires precise planning and consideration. 

  1. Define a set of rules. These should include guidelines on how to communicate about taking a lunch break, which (flexible) working hours apply and when and how to contact the rest of the team.
  2. Create a schedule for virtual meetings. Because you can't just walk into your colleague's room to discuss something, it is important to set up regular (virtual) meetings to ensure the exchange of information. For example, we have a 20 minute "Daily Meeting" every day, in which we discuss all kinds of things without fixed rules, and a 60 minute "Weekly Meeting", which follows an agenda and in which we make and communicate key decisions.
  3. If you don't already have a knowledge management system, now is the time! Create and maintain a digital filing cabinet on a cloud platform like Google Drive or Dropbox. You can't just walk into the office anymore to find an invoice or other information.

Communication is the be-all and end-all

A large part of our communication is through gestures and facial expressions - that's tough for home office. So it makes sense to familiarize your team with new ways and means of digital communication. That also ensures that employees don't feel too lonely at home. One way to achieve this is by:

  • More meetings (via tele- or video-conference) than in the office. Usually you might only have meetings in the office when a project is due or you are planning one. If the team works remotely, it makes sense to increase the number of meetings. Why? Because you can reach a solution faster in a face-to-face conversation than in endless email conversations.
  • Digital coffee breaks. There are many who claim that the really important decisions are made over a beer after work. And quite honestly: what would work be without the conversations at the coffee machine? That's why it's important to pay attention to interpersonal communication that is independent of work, even when working from home. So why not have a coffee or a beer together in front of the webcam and talk to each other while doing so?
  • Telephone/ video conference > Chat/ email. How often do we we send a message that is completely misunderstood by the recipients? Often. That is because we humans need facial expressions to be able to judge messages correctly. If these are missing, we tend to over- or misinterpret. That is why it is also important to be explicit in your communication. Don't expect people to read between the lines and double check how the person has understood what you are trying to tell them simply by asking them.
  • Bring in fun (and emojis). To better express emotions and sensitivities in correspondence, use emojis or gifs. These illustrate in a silly way how we feel and may help to keep the mood cheerful (despite quarantine).

The office at home

At current rental prices, few people can afford the privilege of a fully equipped study. These tips make it easier to work on the computer at home:

  • Create a clearly defined workplace. In order to keep an overview, it sometimes helps to create a clearly separated area in which to work. Then no one will be bothered if objects are left lying around until the next day. Of course, a desk is best suited for this purpose, but half of the kitchen table can also be temporarily moved to the workplace.
  • Don't forget the breaks. A great danger of remote work or working from home for a short period of time is that you give up or forget about breaks due to stress. Therefore it can be helpful to set a clear time for yourself or the whole team.
  • It is also important to switch off the computer at the end of the day. As with breaks, there is a danger that the time boundaries between work and private life will disappear. This may be ok if you want to hang out your laundry in between, but it can become stressful if you regularly sit on the sofa until half past 8 in the evening to "get something ready for work". So it can be helpful to clearly define your working hours and to really switch off the computer at the end of these hours.
  • Reward yourself. In home office, there is no one to pat you on the back or clap you on the back when you have achieved something great. Therefore: Reward yourself! Be it with a piece of cake or by telling your colleagues about your heroic deed in a virtual meeting and thus getting the recognition you deserve.

Helpful technique and tools

Over time, as a completely remote team, we have found some software and tools that make our lives (and our communication) easier and more efficient. This is not an advertisement, just a list of the digital infrastructure we use. There are probably many other great brands and companies that make fabulous products. 

Video conferencing programs.
We use Zoom, which allows you to open up different "rooms" where users can talk in small groups separately to the rest of the group. You can also record everything and send files and links to each other in the integrated chat.

Chat program.
It would be a horror to do all conversations via email or in formal meetings, so you need a chat program when working in home office. We use a program called Slack, which has the advantage that you can create a "channel" (like chatroom) for every topic. It also allows you to set a status, for example to show your colleagues that you are on a break and therefore cannot answer. We have also recently limited times to use the chat so that we can also do "deep work" without distractions. 

Cloud services.
To store and share data, work together on documents or create a knowledge management system, a cloud service such as Google Drive or Dropbox is indispensable.

Scanner for mobile phones.
Not everyone has a scanner at home, but sometimes important documents need to be sent around or added to the knowledge management system. There are a few apps that makes scanning actually even quite fun, and automatically converts the files into practical black-and-white PDF files. Nobody would ever know you did it with your phone!