Working from home (WFH) isn’t for everyone. It’s hard for me to say that because I’ve loved working this way and have been a champion of it for a decade now.
But I realize that not everyone is built the same way and for some people WFH can be isolating and frustrating. Particularly for contact center agents and supervisors who are used to the camaraderie and the personal connections in the centers.
However, I think part of people’s frustrations with WFH is that they jumped into it during an incredibly stressful time and did so in an environment with little or no experience to pull from. Simply put, people didn’t know what to do and didn’t have any good suggestions.
I’m grateful that I was WFH well before the COVID-19 pandemic and I’ve had the joy of leading remote teams, that are supporting remote agents while being remote myself. Over the years I’ve given a lot of tips and advice to people as they move into their first fully remote position, and I’ve pulled a few of them together in hopes they might help some of you.
1. Be intentional about building relationships.
In a contact center it’s easier to overhear conversations and insert yourself into coworker conversations about the last show you just binged.
However, it’s harder in a remote environment as most of the time meetings are built for X purpose and that purpose often isn’t to share personal details. This means you are missing out on opportunities to hear little bits of personal information about others and share the same information about yourself.
...I think part of people’s frustrations with WFH is that they jumped into it during an incredibly stressful time...
So, the responsibility falls to each remote employee to reach out and build those relationships intentionally. As much as you may want it to, this will not happen naturally. You have to be intentional about scheduling meetings, asking personal questions, and sharing personal information in Slack channels.
2. Control your schedule by scheduling your work.
Make sure you are starting and ending your day at appropriate times. It is easy to continually check in and work at odd hours as a supervisor or manager. As an agent, more organizations are allowing you to self-select into odd hours to help with high volume hours.
If working odd hours works best for your schedule then stick to it. If picking up hours here and then helps, then do it. The problem isn’t odd hours; rather it is allowing work to creep into unscheduled hours and not being able to disconnect. Controlling your schedule means that you stop and start at certain times. If you don’t control your work schedule then your work schedule will control you.
3. Create a separation between work and home with specific patterns.
It’s easier to stick to a specific schedule, and not allow work to keep creeping into unscheduled hours when work happens in specific patterns.
Follow Mister Rogers’ example and have a specific pair of shoes or jacket that you wear just for work. I’ve tried both at different points in my career and it was incredibly helpful! When you have those slippers on you know you shouldn’t be doing laundry and also when they aren’t on you shouldn’t be “just checking email for a quick second”.
Other people appreciate the commute to separate work from home and so they go on a walk to start their day and go on a walk after their workday ends. These bookend activities help them shift their mindsets between work and home and maintain separation.
4. Create separation between work and home with specific spaces.
If possible, dedicate space to your work. This might mean a full room just for your office but for others this might mean a corner in the house.
For many, the challenge comes when they use their kitchen table for eating, work, kids’ homework, and a catchall for anything and everything. The confusion of what that physical space is used for can easily lead to confusion around when work stops and starts. Whatever you can do to create a specific space and time for work will help you maintain healthy boundaries and continued focus during work hours.
5. Invest in your workspace.
Again, not everyone can have dedicated space in their homes for their office. However, if you are, here are some tips to make the most of it.
- Have a door. This not only benefits you when you need to reduce the noise level, but it also helps others in the home know that this particular work activity requires your attention and not to bother you.
- Have a window. Study after study has shown the benefits of sunlight for our mental health. Give yourself the option to look out into nature during your workday to give yourself a small mental boost even while you’re on long customer calls.
- Invest in your chair. Notice how the tip isn’t to have a chair but to invest in a chair. Nothing will zap your energy and cause you to hate your job more than a horrible chair that destroys your body. Treat yourself, and position yourself (literally and metaphorically) to enjoy your job longer, by investing in a quality chair. It may take you a few attempts but don’t settle for something that is “just good enough”.
- Upgrade your surge protector. Most of us start with a surge protector to plug-in all our devices. However, upgrading to a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) will provide battery power to your devices even when the power goes out. Those disconnected calls because of a power-flicker can be a thing of the past!
6. Use Chat/Slack, Teams etc. for quick comments/questions and use email for documentation and delayed responses.
For many people chat will be seen as someone needing their attention now, whereas email can be delayed and scheduled to work another time. It’s also easier to bring other people into the conversation through email and allow them to see the history of the exchange, versus chat where you are starting a new conversation when you add someone.
These channels have been familiar to us for a while now, but many haven’t had to think intentionally about when and why to use one over the other. A communication strategy like this, especially when shared with coworkers, helps create boundaries and expectations around work. Which will help you maintain those healthy boundaries I keep hitting on.
7. Be on video as much as possible.
This doesn’t mean you have to dress in a suit every day or always have on makeup, unless you like that sort of thing.
Being on camera shows that you are engaged in the topic and aren’t just multi-tasking on another screen. It also allows the other participants to read your body language and have a little more context to the comments you’re sharing. Lastly, studies have come out showing that there’s a connection between being on camera and being promoted in a remote environment.
For your team, the points you’re trying to make, and for your career, be on camera!
8. Use backgrounds and change them as you would your outfit depending upon the audience.
Using backgrounds is a fantastic way to express your unique personality. You should also consider changing it depending on the audience of your meeting.
In the same way you wouldn’t wear pajamas into the center, unless it was a special day, don’t have fun playful backgrounds with the wrong audience. If you need someone’s full attention on you, then minimize the distractions behind you.
I use industrial-style loft apartments as my background with someone I mentor. Every meeting we spend two to five minutes critiquing the apartment and talking about what we would do differently. Does it help add to the message I’m sharing that day? No. Does it provide a fun icebreaker that the two of us look forward to? Yes.
The key is to know your audience and know when it’s appropriate to have fun and when to be serious.
9. Lean into the unique value of working remotely.
Working remotely doesn’t mean you have to strictly adhere to the same practices and behaviors you did while in the office.
Lean into and make the most of working remotely. That might mean getting a few pets in with the dog or switching laundry on your WFM-approved water break. It might mean working with your HR and IT Security teams to take work with you when you visit family in another state. Work with your leadership and get creative about how you can continue to serve your customers and maximize the remote work perks.
If all you do is the same office behaviors but now in a different location, then you’re missing the unique value of working remotely.
10. Adjust your boundaries as necessary.
These best practices help you maximize your remote experience. However, they are not set in stone and aren’t always applicable.
You may have “Zoom fatigue” and the best thing you can do is stay off-camera. You may find that moving to different spaces in the house gives you a fresh perspective and more energy for your calls.
The key to maximizing your remote experience is to adjust these behaviors and expectations to meet your current needs, not the needs of when you started or two months ago.
At some point, you might need a stronger separation between work and home while at other times those lines will likely become blurred. Just make sure that you’re paying attention to what you and your employer need for you to make the most of your working from home.
11. Plan for outages, disasters, and life events.
When the power, internet, and/or the phones goes down it is the responsibility of the employer for both WFH and in-office employees to have, test, and execute backups and plans.
And we all should have a plan in case of a fire or other disaster that threatens our lives at home, regardless of where we work.
When WFH you need to have a plan that also includes policies and procedures like alerting your supervisor and staying in touch with them (if safely possible) in case of emergencies, like evacuations, or extensive outages.
For employees, never waste valuable time retrieving work equipment and files. They can be replaced; you and your loved ones cannot. And for employers, reroute your customers to unaffected employees; never, EVER expect those who had to evacuate to work from their places of refuge: the stress is too great, and it consumes communications bandwidth needed for emergencies and recovery.
12. Become your own IT help desk.
Similar to the last point, this tip doesn’t get your employer off the hook. Organizations still must provide effective and timely IT support for WFH employees.
With that being said, you’re still going to run into technical issues, and at times even have downtime. Having a few basic IT support steps down will help you stay operational longer or get back up and running faster when you experience downtime. Here are a few things to consider.
- Restart your computer. There is a reason this is the first step every tech support analyst asks us to go through. It refreshes the system memory, helping your system run optimally.
- Update your operating system. Stop delaying your latest update and just plan to have your computer restart during your off hours. Those updates are necessary for security and ease of use.
- Clear your cache and history. If you are doing work on an internet browser it uses cache and cookies to cause websites to load faster. However, sometimes that cache saves old versions of the website that aren’t relevant anymore. Clearing your cache and history may load websites slowly the first time but it makes sure you are loading the most up-to-date website.
- Know your internet connection. You shouldn’t need to reboot your internet often, but you should get comfortable with which device does what. For example, rebooting your Wi-Fi may be different than rebooting your home internet. Know which device needs to be turned off to reset your connection.
Again, organizations should be providing effective and timely help to their work from home employees. But being able to do some basic troubleshooting will help you stay online or get you back quickly when things go south.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some people love the commute, the office lights, the noise of other agents on calls, the real-time adherence (RTA) team tapping you on your shoulder to get out of AUX… I know I’m really selling it. But for the rest of us, we need to make sure that we’re making the most of our remote experience and these few tips should help us accomplish this.
There are dozens of other tips out there that you all have as well, and I’d love to hear about them.