Best Practices for Working from Home – for Workers


WFH – Work from Home – is the latest acronym and hashtag in the ever-changing world of collaboration, and it’s pushing a lot of businesses and their workers into new territory very quickly. This post follows a two-part series where I reviewed some leading pros and cons of remote working, but there is much more to talk about when figuring out how to work from home.

A good starting point is to learn from those who have been working this way for years, but you’ll quickly find this mode of working isn’t for everybody, so any lessons learned here may not apply across the board for your organization, or say, a particular line of business or department that you think can shift to this model fairly easily.

To whatever extent you want or need to get your employees working remotely, it’s important to remember there’s no way to know if this will be a short-term maneuver to keep them safe with a form of social distancing – or if this will morph into the new status quo. One determinant of that will be the efficacy of this model, and the better you can plan for it, the better the results will be.

You’re probably figuring this out on the fly, and won’t have much time to think things through, so to help with that planning, I’m going to address four best practices in this two-part series – two for home-based workers below, and two for IT in the follow-on post.

These posts just scratch the surface for WFH best practices, and as remote work has suddenly become a top focus for businesses, new ones are emerging all the time. It’s futile to try and adopt them all, so my intent here is for IT decision-makers to think broadly about the implications, and recognize the need for ongoing monitoring of WFH best practices.

Best Practice #1: Provide the right tools

This will be more pressing for those who have not worked from home before, but given how important this has suddenly become for businesses, it’s the starting point for everyone. There’s a long list of tools to consider that would require several posts to cover, and for expediency, you should think about two basic technology categories – hardware and software.

Hardware pertains to what’s in front of the home worker in his/her workspace. At minimum that would be a reasonably current personal computer, and a smartphone that can be used for business. A desk phone is highly preferable – but not 100% essential these days – especially for workers who are heavy users of telephony. Most home-based workers will already have these pieces, but if not, the business may need to provide them or possibly upgrade what’s being used now.

Beyond those basics, you’ll need to think about peripherals, and you might be surprised to learn how broad the options are becoming. Headsets would be most widely-used peripheral, but there is a growing variety of speakerphones, USB speakers, HD webcams and video monitors. While initially developed for office-based use, there’s a new wave coming now for home-based work settings.

Software is the other category, and that takes us to the ever-growing universe of collaboration platforms, along with standalone applications and services like VoIP, video calling, messaging, file storage/sharing, etc. This is another deep topic, and the starting point is to decide whether to extend what’s used in the office in the home, or let remote workers use what they’re comfortable with. There’s a fine balance to strike here, as IT needs them to stay productive at home, but that could be problematic if your in-house applications aren’t easy to use, or lack the features needed for remote settings.

Best Practice #2: Plan out the workspace

This may not be top-of-mind for IT decision makers since it’s out-of-sight, but the workspace environment needs to be carefully considered. Not every remote worker will have the luxury of a private, quiet, dedicated space, and first-timers may not realize how much of an imposition this can be until it happens. There can be a lot of competition for their attention if working in close quarters, especially with young families and active pets to contend with.

No matter how good the tools are from above, there are many factors related to the workspace that can undermine work from home productivity. If using a landline, a low-end phone will have poor audio quality and limited features. IT must also consider the environment, especially lighting, noise levels and acoustics. Any of these can prove problematic for video sessions or any forms of real-time customer-facing communication.

There’s quite a bit more to consider, such as broadband capacity, who else in the home will be sharing bandwidth, whether the landline is being used for home and work, and quality of wireless reception. Another consideration would be the time of day or night these employees are expected to work, and if their home office space would be disruptive to others living there outside of normal business hours.

These are just a few examples to illustrate how important it will be to think through the workspace environment. To some extent, this will determine the right tools needed to succeed in this setting, but ultimately, IT must recognize this is also their home. Even if just doing remote work for the short-term, workers need to feel some separation between their job and their home life, and this needs to part of the equation to keep productivity levels high.