Following my first day at First Person, it took weeks of practice and setting personal boundaries to keep myself from reaching burnout early in my career. I measured success by leaving my work at work. Before COVID-19, my workday started when I set foot on the elevator of our office building and it ended when I closed the infinite internet browser tabs and safely stored my computer in my backpack. The moment I stepped out of the building, my shift was over, I “clocked out”, and I was free to do as I please.
But what do I do now that my home office is also my kitchen table?
The 2020 book Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work For You by Karen Mangia will serve as my guide to navigate working in a new environment. Below are my top ten takeaways!
1: Invest in my space.
No, not the early 2000s social networking platform. “My space” refers to my new working from home environment. Since reading chapters one and two, I now strive to create a space that inspires me. This looks like using my planner to stay organized and to add a pop of color, listening to relaxing music, and finding a spot with plenty of natural sunlight. I’ve also thought about upgrading my office supplies like an ergonomic keyboard or a standing desk to promote productivity. If you’re like the author, perhaps a treadmill desk may work best for you.
A budget-friendly way to invest in my workspace is to create boundaries. I learned that my home office “needs to be a distinct, dedicated area” because “boundaries are the key to success” and “good fences make good neighbors” (21). This means abandoning the habit of replying to emails while lounging on the couch and instead, transforming my kitchen table to a place for completing FirstPerson tasks. This quote serves as an ongoing reminder to why boundaries are important: “Work is a guest in your home. It only shows up where it’s invited. You control the invitation. If you don’t want work creeping into your family time or fun time, don’t let it. A separate space (even a section of your space) is the first step. But don’t stop there” (13).
2: Break it down.
How will my manager know I’m working? Do I respond to this email or to that Slack message first? How can I go on a walk now if I have so much to do?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed working outside the office. One solution Mangia recommends is to make your bed every day— yes, your childhood chore may just be the secret to setting your day up for success. By accomplishing the first task of the day, everything else will seem more manageable. And this routine will signal to your brain to prepare for the workday ahead.
I can apply this same logic when approaching my work responsibilities. “Break up that boulder into smaller pieces and get others to help you reach the top of the mountain” (102). After reading chapter seven, I have a greater understanding of the power of delegation and collaboration. I will challenge myself to communicate my needs in order to yield high quality results and to avoid burnout.
A takeaway from chapter eight is to relate the word “innovation” with problem solving (115). The businesses described in the text claim innovation by creating new processes and restructuring their business model to adapt to working during a global pandemic. I learned about the concept of “fun-ification” and how organizations incorporate it into virtual events (111-112). ”Fun-ification” rewards people for taking the actions you want them to take— such as attending the event, sharing content, interacting with event exhibitors, and more.
After reading this chapter, I reflected on opportunities for innovation in my role at First Person. Here are a few helpful questions (from page 115) to inspire your own problem solving:
- Are you clear on the problem you’re trying to solve?
- Are you resolving a human problem, or falling in love with a technical problem?
- What will your customers gain? How about your team? Is there compassion in your solution?
- What does “service at the highest level” mean to you, right now?
4: Put more effort into presentations.
To ensure a successful virtual meeting, it’s important to approach presentations with more care. Now more than ever, it may be tempting to hop on the virtual call minutes before the starting time. But I learned that’s not a best practice, especially if I’m a presenter.
Virtual presentations require more preparation work and more performance during the presentation. Preparation work looks like:
- choosing the right tool for the presentation
- establishing a moderator
- testing technology
- rehearsing with your team
- preparing a discussion prompt
- adjusting the camera angle or setting up a high-quality camera
- connecting to a high-quality audio system
- adding a background image
- sending an agenda before the meeting
To execute the meeting, I can adopt The 3-Minute Rule and Triple D method, terms coined by television producer Brant Pinvidic. The 3-Minute Rule, focuses on cutting out everything you want to say, and focus on what needs to be said (53).
The Triple D method focuses on concision:
- Have a Directive
- Be Direct
- Be the Director
5: Pick up the phone.
Not everything has to be a video conference. If possible, call or text them.
Takeaway #4 emphasizes the importance of putting in a considerable time of preparation into every video call. Although this is important, the book also encourages readers to vary the methods of communication. During my work from home experience, I’ve learned that a simple call goes a long way. I’ve found success by following these steps:
- First, before I dial my coworker’s number, I check their calendar for an opening.
- Next, I schedule a 15-minute meeting saying “Vanessa will call [Name] cell” in the meeting title and in the meeting location. If the person has a meeting right before the phone call, I add “[Name] will call Vanessa”— this way they can call me at their earliest convenience in the event their previous meeting runs over time.
- Finally, I follow up with the person to let them know I scheduled a time for us to touch base. The follow-up can be via email, text message, Slack or other method of communication.
6: Communicate in the household.
I will communicate boundaries with the people I live with. While also being understanding if unexpected visitors enter my workspace. Because at the end of the day, I don’t want to drive away my loved ones.
Clear communication is also important for meeting new people. If I reach out to someone to create a professional connection, I should communicate my intentions. Instead of asking them to meet for virtual coffee (and leaving the agenda ambiguous), it may be helpful to tell them directly why I want to connect with them. When communicating my intentions, I should keep it clear, concise and simplified (143).
7: Middle-level managers drive the organization.
After reading chapter nine, I gained a new perspective on the importance of middle-level managers. “Middle managers are the first line of defense to keep the pulse on how employees are really doing, how they are feeling, how they are adapting, what they’re being able to successfully accomplish. The center is where your organization needs to focus, if you want to develop a sustainable culture of engagement, high performance, and trust” (121).
Middle-level mangers play a critical role in demonstrating company culture. Not only do they balance their own tasks and feelings, but they also hold space for others. Middle managers require additional education and training, and this is important to keep in mind as my team continues to roll out People Team initiatives.
8: Beware of burnout.
It’s not a coincidence the phrase “rituals, routines, and boundaries” occurs throughout the book. People are working longer hours and are more vulnerable to experience burnout. Rituals, routines and boundaries are integral to building the foundation for a successful long-term work-from-home strategy. These practices hold true for companies, teams and company culture (126).
I still have room for improvement when it comes to setting rituals, routines and boundaries. In the past, physical buildings served as boundaries. As a student, I reserved completing my assignments for when I was at the library. At First Person, waving goodbye to my coworkers signaled 5:00pm was quickly approaching and I needed to wrap up my work for the day.
Now working from home, it may be helpful to recreate the walking-out-the-door feeling so I can wrap up my day. To begin, I will start by adding a start and end time for work for one week as a trial. To uncover its effectiveness, it requires sticking to the plan and honoring these boundaries. If I don’t set time boundaries, it’s likely I’ll be burned out by this time next year!
9: Redefine success.
“Choosing how I respond to circumstances— even if those circumstances aren’t exactly what I might want— is really what success looks like” (100).
The reason I’m currently adapting to a new working from home life is because of COVID-19. Since March 2020, I’ve had the privilege of working from the safety of my home. It is important to recognize many people are laid off or are not given the choice to work from home. This is especially true for communities and individuals with marginalized identities.
Connecting the idea of “redefining success” to working from home is that I cannot control everything around me, yet I can control how I respond to it. This lesson is helpful as I redesign an effective, long-term workplace strategy. And I can adopt this outlook when evaluating other professional and personal circumstances.
10: Don’t underestimate yourself or others.
“You can always begin again. You can always restart. There’s always a new path, even if you don’t see it right away” (7).
This quote caused me to reflect on the steps it will take to establish a healthy workplace environment. Naturally, I’ll need to begin with the basics: setting physical and mental boundaries. From there, adopt a routine. (Remember: Rituals, routines and boundaries.) Perhaps making my bed every morning will be the key to my success. In the end, I must be open to trying something new because if it doesn’t go as planned, I can “always restart.”
It’s interesting to see the how my working from home journey has transformed since March 2020. Perhaps Karen Mangia captured it best: “Turns out that we’re all capable of more than we thought possible. That’s true for kids, parents… and companies” (83).
Working From Home: Making the New Normal Work For You by Karen Mangia has served as a resource for my early working from home strategy. A year ago, I would not have predicted I would be working from home for eight months and counting. These past months have presented challenges and new learning opportunities. I’ve grown in my role at First Person while learning to adapt to a new remote working environment.
My days no longer begin with morning commutes or office elevator rides. Instead, the moment I set foot in my designated working from home workspace, my shift starts, I “clock in”, and I am free to do as I please.