#NativeNerd: Best practices for working virtually due to COVID-19
Considering the state of affairs in our world about a coronavirus pandemic, and concerns about avoiding crowds, many companies are allowing, or even mandating employees to work from home or any other virtual workspace.
As a journalist that has freelanced for many years, and as a former sports, pow wows and arts and entertainment editor that has managed a team of freelancers, written articles, conducted interviews, hosted media presentations, provided services as a public speaker, written four books, hosted a radio program and much, much, much more — and done all of it virtually and from my satellite office and home office.
I have a wealth of experience to offer my best practices in working virtually.
Working from a home office or satellite location can certainly be a double-edged sword. While there is no office banter to keep you engaged in a common focus or task, the lack of ‘someone looking over your shoulder’ is in its essence can contribute to a lack of having to show accountability.
In an office with other employees:
PRO - You are driven by a sense of competitive accountability
PRO - You are compelled to demonstrate progress at a group level
PRO - You can easily share the status of your accomplishments by lifting your head out of the cubicle for a moment
CON - It is easy to get distracted/influenced by non-driven fellow employees
CON - It is harder to focus in a busy or noisy environment
CON - It is easy to get caught up in the counterproductive office drama
In a home or virtual office:
PRO - No distractions
PRO - You set your own pace and workflow
PRO - There is no uniform, commute times, boss looking over your shoulder
CON - No distractions
CON - You set your own pace and workflow
CON - There is no uniform, commute times, boss looking over your shoulder
Notice anything interesting in the two different location pros and cons? Yes, the pros and cons of a home and/or virtual office environment can be your greatest asset as well as your greatest downfall. It is critical that you get a handle on your virtual office workflow to keep things going in a positive direction.
Think of it this way. The coronavirus pandemic, whether the world realizes it or not yet — and for all of its scariness — it is also going to revolutionize a serious part of our workforce.
Here is my prediction. A lot of companies are going to see the same work output, perhaps even more, but their costs associated with these workflows are going to drop. The employee isn’t using company electricity, utilities, telephones, office supplies or other costs associated with sitting in the office.
Many employers are going to realize that if they can just trust their employees, their profits are going to increase.
So this said, if you get a handle on a new and improved process and save your employer money, you just might be creating a full-time virtual gig for yourself.
So all said, here are my best practices for working virtually that has really helped me streamline my process and help me to feel like I am an asset to my workforce and company team.
Practice #1 - Get a prioritized list of items: schedule in place immediately
One of my biggest early struggles as a freelance journalist for Indian Country Today was creating my own sense of discipline when no one was looking over my shoulder to hold me accountable.
One of the most common things I hear from other people is “I would never be able to work form a virtual office, I don’t have that kind of discipline.”
Truth be told, I do have that type of discipline, but it took me years to get everything in check on my own. My dad always told me “check yourself,” so I am glad to say that I am listening to his simple but great advice.
So how do I put together a schedule? A daily list of priorities.
Every day, without fail, I take some time to asses my list of priorities for the day. This, in my experience, has consistently been the most important and productive thing I can do. I can tell unequivocally on the days I don’t do this, I lose quite a bit of personal productivity.
When you take some time to list out your priorities, or even your tasks for the day, week or month, it gives your mind a break, in that you no longer have to hold onto it. Writing it down releases it from the anxiety-ridden bondage of our brains.
Once you have the list of activities, write down a number based on which is the most important to get done.
This is massively important — not just for your workflow, but as a life lesson — attack the task you want to do least, first. The one that makes you groan with anxiety? Do everything in your power to attack it first and foremost, and believe me, you will rise to the top.
Once you finish that task, move onto the next. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Practice #2 - Learn everything you can about “The Cloud” and use it
Long gone are the days of sending an email with three or four pictures at a time because you can’t have too many files attached to just one email.
In my view, It would be incredibly beneficial to learn everything you need to know about “The Cloud.”
The cloud is simply the world of online files. Imagine a giant room of computers somewhere that holds all of the files, online documents, online photos and more. You can share these files with a friend, coworker and/or business associate with one link instead of trying to send 20 files.
The cloud is exactly like your computer, with files, folders and more. These files are not just stored on your computer, there are stored in the virtual world known as the cloud.
Here is a way I will explain it. Imagine you and three of your friends are sitting in a circle. You each can share a folder with each other by putting the folder into the circle. It will stay in the circle, but as long as you give permission, you can all look at your shared folders.
Once you share the folder, you can add files or remove them. They all update automatically.
If your friend one day is not your friend anymore, you can revoke permission on the folder or delete it.
This is the same concept with Google Docs - a text document you can share and update together with a friend at the same time (stop sending updated word documents back and forth) as well as Google Sheets, a virtual spreadsheet.
You can read further and see videos on cloud-based techniques in a previous #NativeNerd column.
Do the best you can to learn it. It isn’t going away anytime soon, if ever, and more and more people are using it every day. Those that know it the best are going to excel. So join the knowledgeable workforce that are making good use of the cloud.
Some examples of platforms on the cloud are Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Dropbox, Fileshare and more.
Practice #3 - Maintain good online habits: The rabbit hole of the internet can be your best friend or worst enemy, but it is easy to maintain or regain control
The internet is not your enemy. It is an amazing resource with access to information that has never been available to us before. It is not the internet that is the enemy, the enemy are all those shiny objects out there in the form of funny little videos, new and beautiful products and of course, that one loudmouth on social media.
There is no real solution here, other than to practice in staying on track. But here is where you can really champion your own behavior.
For example, as a journalist, I have to do countless hours of research on historical, news-oriented and other websites in order to get background on a story. But of course, though I might be looking up the latest Native hip hop artist, the latest news story on a hip hop artist who broke up with his girlfriend and went on a tirade starts to play during my article research.
I can seriously feel empowered by clicking off or away from that video, or away from that new shiny product on sale, or away from that troll on Twitter.
The best revenge for a troll is to forget about them while getting a nod of acknowledging toward your life of success from an actual person.
The empowering thing is just how easy it is to regain control. If you ever catch yourself getting off track or you catch yourself scrolling through Amazon. Bookmark your page, and come back to it later after you are finished with your daily tasks. Seriously, just acknowledge the pattern, and click away.
It feels incredibly empowering to simply say, “I’m stopping this, I have other priorities that are important to me right now.”
Trust me, you can do this, it feels fantastic to gain the control you deserve in walking your own path.
Practice #4 - Don’t jump into emails first, but when you do, handle them immediately
This was probably one of the toughest things for me to stop. Emails are probably one of the biggest time-suckers out there.
My biggest derailing activity is jumping into emails first. I just can’t emphasize enough the importance of setting your priorities first, then getting to the other tasks at hand.
In fact, answering emails should be one of your list items to prioritize. That way, you really can asses what needs to be done first. Now for some people, that might be the backbone of their business model, but prioritizing is key.
When you do get to emails, answer them or handle them completely. If someone says they need an invoice, send it right back, even if it takes a bit more time, otherwise things will get out of control.
This is admittedly a work in progress for even me, but when I employ this suggested practice, I am always grateful to myself for my own helpful efforts to improve my workflow.
Practice #5 - Schedule time for yourself
Every morning I wake up earlier than the time I will begin my workday to spend a little time working for myself. Usually, this just means I will read a bit of an inspirational book for about 15-20 minutes, or maybe I might just sit quietly and listen to music and drink some tea.
This would be different for other people, but the important thing to do is to create a sense of calm and/or perceived sense of upcoming accomplishment.
I stay away from the internet and digital devices as I will already be bombarding myself with them for the remainder of the day.
I make an earnest effort to continue this practice, and it really does set my day off on a pleasant note.
I do tend to overwork, so I also make certain to set aside time to spend with family, friends and of course, good ole me.
Practice #6 - Get up and move around
Working from your home office or virtually can lend itself to inactivity. So just as you might schedule time off, time for lunch or something similar, schedule some time to get up for a few minutes and walk outside, walk the dog or get a bit of exercise.
Yes, this is short but sweet, but the message is a simple one.
Practice #7 - Keep your space tidy
Different people have different work styles, some are messy, some are clean. I tend to be a bit in the middle, but if I get busy, it is easy for my workspace and my office space to become extremely messy.
I have found that there have been times where I faced a bit of a “working-block” in which I felt my productivity was really not what it could be. And there have been some times when I just couldn’t shake it, as if I was just pushing up against an impenetrable wall.
During these times, I have commonly found that my workspace was getting increasingly cluttered. So just as I have scheduled time to work hard, or prioritized certain tasks, I add “clean up my workspace” to the equation on occasion.
I would estimate about once a month I have put a few dedicated hours to cleaning up the disarray, and in my experiences, without fail, my workflow increased tenfold.
Not only that, I felt refreshed and truthfully invigorated. I ask, ‘who doesn’t like to work in a nice clean environment and office space?’
Practice #8 - Act like people are watching you
The integrity of your work should be incredibly important to you, as it is important to me.
Sometimes throughout the day, it is a good practice to ask yourself, ‘How would I be working if my boss was standing over my shoulder right now?’
The thing to remember is that you aren’t going to get into trouble for your response, so answer your self honestly these questions:
1) Are you doing the best you can?
2) Would you pay an employee to do what you are doing?
3) If your children or others were watching you work, would you be setting a good example?
Again, don’t use your questions as a way to punish yourself, use your questions as a way to do better every day.
Practice #9 - Set a stop time
When you are working at home, it is easy to always look at your desk as a place where something needs to get done. But it is important to set a "not-working" time for yourself.
Though you are not in a physical office environment, it can actually become more stressful if you don't ever disconnect.
You can do it!
Follow the #NativeNerd, Vincent Schilling, associate editor for Indian Country Today and a proud movie reviewer.
Also, follow my Indian Country Today #NativeNerd account on Twitter at @ICTNativeNerd
Support Indian Country Today by becoming a member. Click here.