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10 Tips for Successful Telecommuting

If the threat of COVID-19 has you working from home, you’re not alone. Here’s how to stay productive while practicing “social distancing.”

By Tory Hoen

With the spread of COVID-19, many of us are working from home for the foreseeable future. Normally, the opportunity to work remotely means taking it easy and staying in your pajamas until 3pm. But in the age of COVID-19, it means lots and lots of video meetings—and a shared determination to stay productive, professional, and connected while we’re away from the office.

Below, we asked a few professionals to share their tips and tricks for successful telecommuting, both on and off screen. (And yes, they learned some of these lessons the hard way.)


Enjoy your non-commute.

“Instead of just starting work earlier or ending later, intentionally replace your normal commute time with something productive but not work-related. Take a walk, do yoga, or read a book,” says Valerie, a communications manager at a bank. For some people, not commuting means gaining one to two hours a day—make the most of them.


Keep some semblance of routine.

“When we’re working remotely, my co-workers and I say hello and goodbye like we would if we were in the office. We do this via Slack, and people usually reply with a quick ‘Mornin’’ or an emoji or timely meme. In the evening, we ‘wave’ goodbye digitally. It seems silly, but it’s also a way to assert your office hours and have people leave you alone at a certain time,” says Meredith, an editor at a media company. 


Get dressed, or at least half-dressed.

When it comes to WFH dress codes, feel free to dress like no one’s watching—except for when they are. The best practice for video calls is “business on top, comfy on the bottom.” Our knits are both cozy and presentable (we’ll be living in the Choe top for now); and our Foster and Oshima pants are as soft as yoga pants. For a more formal call or video presentation, throw on a jardigan over the washable Rowling top, and impress your colleagues from afar.


Set the scene (and don’t talk to your boss from bed).

A few minutes before a video call, set the scene, and make sure there’s nothing scandalous or distracting in the background. “I know everyone has different home situations, but a few of my co-workers have been sitting in bed or showing their bed in the background during video calls, which I find very… intimate. I’d personally advocate against that,” says Hannah, a product manager at a tech company. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a plain wall.


Give your co-habitants a heads-up.

If you’re home with roommates or family members, let them know when you’ll be on-camera with your co-workers. “My colleague was once on a video call and his wife walked behind him in a bathrobe, but he didn’t realize because he was looking at another screen. The people he was talking to weren’t quite sure how to say, ‘Um, please warn your wife not to take her bathrobe off,’” says Danielle, an operations director at a nonprofit. 


Watch your posture.

You’re still putting in full days, so while it might be tempting to work from the fetal position in bed, it’s worth thinking about how you can stay both comfortable and productive throughout the day. “Invest in a good desk chair, or just create a setup that isn’t the same as your online-shopping posture. It’s important to help you get into a productive headspace,” says Rachel, a project manager at a real estate firm.


Plan for pet-related shenanigans.

No one minds when your adorable pup pokes his head into the corner of a screen (in fact, this is a real crowd-pleaser). But in general, pets are not known for their professionalism. Make sure to walk and/or feed your pets so they don’t whine or demand your attention when you’re in the middle of a video presentation. “My two cats once conducted an all-out Jiu Jitsu match, complete with loud yowls, while I was on a video chat with a new client. I had to get up and lock them in another room before we could continue,” says Tamara, a brand consultant. 


Create vocal space.

It can be hard to jump in and get your point across on video calls, with all the awkward lags and silences. If you notice someone in your meeting has been trying to say something but not had a clear inroad, help them out by saying, ‘Hey X, what did you want to say?’” says Jessie, a marketing manager.


Encourage remote team spirit.

It can be easy to drift and under-communicate if you’re not used to working remotely, so I set up a daily ritual for my team. We do a quick in-person standup, meaning we all hop on video together and do a funny icebreaker. This way, there are signs of life and you can create that ‘desk-side banter’ that happens naturally in the office. Other teams at my company have virtual drinks, where they just hang out and have a beer on video like you would at a normal happy hour,” says Melissa, Head of Research at an e-commerce company. Today, we had enough people on a Google Meet hangout that we formed a perfect Brady Bunch screen. We tried to recreate the opening credits (including staring at the corners). It was a big fail but very funny.”


Take a nap.

Seriously, when was the last time you took a nap during a weekday? Now’s your chance.

Written By

Tory Hoen

Tory Hoen is the author of the novel The Arc. She spent five years as the Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur (where she founded The M Dash!) and has written for New York Magazine, Vogue Fortune, Bon Appétit, and Condé Nast Traveler.

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