Here you will find best practices and tips to ensure you have the best experience working remotely. Learn about best practices for video conferencing and running effective meetings.
Telework tips: Setting up an effective working environment
We have collected best practices and tips in an effort to give employees some ideas for how they can get the best experience in working remotely. A good place to start is to assess your workspace to ensure that you will be successful and feel effective in doing your job. Although not all of these tips will work for everyone, this collection is aimed at helping you get off to a good start and establish a healthy work-life balance.
Prioritize a dedicated and private workspace
If you can, create a dedicated, private space – no matter how small. Working in a quiet place with no (or minimal) distractions can increase concentration and allow you to accomplish your tasks and assignments more efficiently. If a separate room is not an option, consider using a foldable screen to create a quiet space in your home. Develop a plan with your housemates, who may be teleworking or remote learning themselves. Creating a signal for when it is okay to visit may help avoid unwanted interruptions during a teleconference or when you need to really concentrate. For example, you can tell your housemates that you are available for a visit when the sticky note outside your workspace is green.
Dress for work
Some people find they benefit from a “ready-for-work” ritual. Working from home has its benefits and it is easy to jump out of bed and work in your pajamas. Dressing for work helps put you in a work mindset and signals the workday has started.
Ask for what you need
When you start working from home, see what you require to get your job done and request the equipment you need. It is extremely important to start with the right set up so you can be comfortable and effective working with the right equipment, be it a monitor, keyboard, mouse, software, headset or other items. Make sure your home’s internet connection meets your needs for teleconferencing and for your other daily work.
Use good etiquette when teleconferencing
If video conferencing is an option, it is encouraged to turn on your camera to actively engage and display your presence. Prior to the start of the meeting, you can get a sense of how the others see you, and your environment, by using the computer camera on yourself. Mute your microphone when you are not speaking to reduce background noises and disruptions. Choosing appropriate lighting can ensure your colleagues can see you. Sit with your back to a solid surface rather than mirrors, glass walls or windows. Look over your space and think about what you want your colleagues to see. You may also use a background picture from the options available in the virtual meeting application or use the option to blur your background.
Never stop learning
California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) has prepared courses to help employees succeed in teleworking. Courses on CalLearns include:
- Stay Connected with your Coworkers While you Work from Home
- Strategies for Working as a Remote Team
- Strategies to Stay Motivated Working Remotely
These courses provide solid information to assist you while you telework and hone the new skill set you will develop.
Sign up for your department’s information technology security training to help fully understand your responsibility for keeping work-related information secure.
Good communication is always important! In remote work situations, increased communication is a good way to avoid a sense of isolation some feel when removed from an office setting. Think about your communication preference and share that with your supervisor and your coworkers. It might be helpful to increase communication by using multiple channels such as instant messenger, video conferencing, email, and phone. Let others know when you will be unavailable just as you would if you were in the office. Actively participate in team meetings and activities to engage with your coworkers. Effective communication will ensure all tasks and responsibilities are seamlessly and successfully completed on time, and keep you feeling like part of a team.
Remember that a lot of your colleagues are new to teleworking, so try to be understanding as they learn new technologies. Despite challenges, be flexible and stay positive.
Separate work from personal time
Many starting telework find that boundaries can disappear between work and your private life. It helps to maintain your regular work hours and remember to walk away from your workspace for breaks and lunch, giving you the mental break you need. If you need reminders, consider scheduling breaks on your calendar. Also, it is important to work a little physical activity into your breaks by taking a walk, doing some stretching exercises, or a short meditation session. At the end of your workday, you might want to finish with a routine – something to signal the end of the day. It could be as simple as walking your dog, attending a 6 p.m. exercise class, or turning on your favorite tunes. Whatever it is, use it consistently to mark the end of your working day – and don’t return to your home office until your work schedule begins the following day – just as you would if you were working from the office.
Take micro breaks and stretches
Micro breaks of just 30-45 seconds can relieve eye strain when staring at a computer screen all day. Incorporating frequent stretching can also help to reduce discomfort throughout your day.
Physical safety guidelines
Keep cords under control
It is easy for extension cords to become a tangled mess and put you at risk of tripping and falling. You can ensure exposed extension cords, computer cables or other hazards are organized by using cord management clips or desk cord trays. Keep them out of the way to prevent yourself and others from tripping over them. Use electrical outlets that are closest to your workspace to minimize risk. Other suggestions for reducing risk: If you need to use outlets that are located farther away from your workspace, place cord covers over them or use strong tape to fasten them down to help keep the room tidy and safer for you and your housemates.
Furniture and equipment
Set up your work location to accommodate necessary computer equipment, office furniture and documents. If possible, arrange furniture and equipment in such a way that it allows you to move easily about and reach what you need. Keep walkways clear so you are not bumping into things and hurting yourself. Ensure that heavy items are securely placed on sturdy stands close to walls.
Have plenty of ventilation
A workspace with poor ventilation can leave you feeling worn out or tired. Working in a stuffy room can lower the air quality in the room. It’s a good idea to make sure you have good air circulation so that you stay cool and your computer equipment does not overheat. Additionally, try to avoid placing your computer equipment in direct or filtered sunlight, as this can contribute to overheating your equipment and your workspace. Use an overhead fan or floor fan, if it helps, to help maintain a comfortable temperature throughout the day.
Prepare for fire safety
You can prevent a fire by taking care to minimize the likelihood of its occurrence. Remove flammable materials from your work area. It’s a good idea to repair or replace electrical cords if they become frayed or cannot adequately handle the electrical current to keep all your equipment running. Using surge protectors for your computer and printers can help avoid a meltdown. Install an operating smoke detector in the workspace. Other ways to reduce risk: place a fire extinguisher nearby, ensuring it is in good working order and ready to use in the event of a fire. Make sure you develop a primary and secondary fire escape plan, just in case. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it is good to be prepared.
Provide good lighting
Adequate lighting – including daylight– is important, especially in the increasingly computer-driven environments in which we all live. The glare and brightness of your screen can cause damage to your vision and eye health over time. Good lighting can also enable you to perform tasks effectively, accurately and healthfully. To reduce glare on the screen, take care to place lighting directly toward the side or behind the line of vision and not in front or above it. Adjust the brightness of your monitor screen so that the level of brightness allows you to easily see what is on the screen, yet does not strain or hurt your eyes.
Create pleasant surroundings
It can be difficult to concentrate on work in the middle of distractions. Many remote workers benefit from maintaining a clearly defined workspace that is clean, organized, and free of clutter. Keep noise levels down by closing windows to keep outside noises such as traffic, pets, and neighbors’ conversations from coming inside. You may want to use a noise diffuser or lay rugs on the floor to help quiet sounds from activities made by other members of the household. Some people find that listening to music on headphones helps them focus.
Plan for ergonomics
Working at the same desk and/or sitting in the same chair for an extended period of time has proven to be bad for our health over time. Review the guidelines and tips in the “Physical safety guidelines” section for creating an ergonomically safe and comfortable teleworking environment.
With the increase in the number of employees working remotely throughout the state, it is a great idea for supervisors and employees to be mindful of communication etiquette. Knowing how to effectively use the tools available to you and how they influence your message is critical to working efficiently. It is well understood that many are working remotely in less than ideal conditions, often with multiple teleworkers and home schoolers in the same location. Here are some helpful tips and best practices to help you be productive whether you are remote or in the office.
Determining the right communication tool
Before you schedule a meeting, you might want to pause and ask yourself whether the topic is best communicated in a meeting. Could the matter be addressed by email or chat? How urgent is the matter?
Check out the spectrum of communication channels available and the benefits of each in the chart below. Please note, regardless of tool, any of your communication with colleagues and stakeholders may be subject to a Public Records Act request.
In-person or video conference meeting
Meetings are appropriate to address matters that are urgent, confidential, complex or for structured group work. Video meetings have the benefit of allowing screen sharing for collaboration.
Phone calls are appropriate for urgent issues that should be addressed quickly. This is also appropriate for confidential and complex information.
Text messages are appropriate for simple messages or questions that are not urgent.
Group chat is appropriate when:
- Discussions are not urgent
- Information is not time-sensitive
- You need to send someone a file
- You need to distribute information to people quickly
- Information is not complex or confidential
Email is appropriate when:
- Person is hard to reach
- Information is not time-sensitive
- You need to send someone a file
- You need to distribute information to a large number of people quickly
- You need a written record of the communication
- Information is not confidential
Holding effective meetings
If you have determined that a meeting is the most appropriate communication channel, planning can go a long way toward ensuring an effective and efficient meeting.
Planning the meeting
In preparation for a meeting, consider the following:
- What is the goal of the meeting?
- Is it intended to inform participants?
- Is the objective to obtain a decision?
- Have you identified the required meeting participants versus information-only participants?
- The objective or expected outcome can assist you in identifying the tools that you need.
- Do you have visuals to share?
- Are you conducting a working session that requires group breakouts?
Prepare an agenda that reflects the intended outcome.
Reference Collaboration Tools to identify an appropriate meeting platform for your needs.
Scheduling the meeting
Whenever possible, use video calls over audio-only calls. Video calls are much more efficient as they incorporate participants’ body language and facial expression to facilitate communication. When scheduling the meeting, be sure to provide participants the video link and the call-in number. If a participant cannot join the video portion of the conference, be sure to send any presentation material in advance.
Starting the meeting
- Professionalism – Maintain professionalism and be aware of your appearance. You may find that dressing for the day helps you get into the right mindset for the workday ahead.
- Prepare for your meeting – Check your camera before joining the meeting. Adjust the camera until you are pleased with what you see. If you are able, minimize back lighting by sitting in front of a solid wall rather than a window. Or you may be able to choose a background if it is available with your video conferencing software.
- Be on time – If you are going to be late, let your meeting facilitator know.
- Minimize noise in your environment:
- It is a great practice to mute yourself when you are not speaking to minimize background noise. If you cannot hear someone, use nonverbal signals or the group chat to alert the participant that there are problems with their audio.
- Be aware of other things that might be overheard on the phone, such as pets, family conversations or other phone calls being made at the same time. Try to situate yourself outside hearing distance. Listen for other noises that might have impact on a call, such as traffic, roadwork or lawn mowers. If you are able, find a different location to place your call.
- Introduce yourself – At the start of the meeting, be sure to state your name to help avoid confusion about who is talking. Encourage other meeting participants to do the same. If you are the meeting chair, take roll call and ask that people respond when you say their name.
- Be a good facilitator – As the meeting facilitator, start with relaying meeting logistics such as asking participants to mute their lines when they are not speaking or have them use the chat, instant message, or other such feature to ask questions. Make sure you can hear people clearly right from the start by letting them know when their voice is breaking up or can’t be heard, or if you notice static on the call whenever they speak.
During the meeting
As a meeting participant in larger meetings, consider the following:
- Use the “raise hand” feature, if available, or use the meeting chat to ask questions.
- Use the group chat to queue speakers when conversation is lively.
- Use the group chat for side comments or side chats so as not to derail the meeting.
- Be fully engaged on the call and resist the temptation to complete other tasks, such as email.
As the facilitator, consider the following:
- Ensure that you have the necessary participants to conduct the meeting.
- Consider rescheduling if key players or materials are unavailable.
- Send or attach the agenda.
- Be sure to keep track of the time and end promptly.
- If you find your meeting is going to exceed the scheduled time, be sure to let everyone know. If the team agrees to stay a few extra minutes, express your appreciation by thanking the participants.
Balance work and home
Teleworking through school closures
Working from home with children who are not in school or daycare presents a unique challenge. Here are some tips to support you.
Know your options
Please refer to your department’s Office of Human Resources to see what benefits are available to you during an Emergency Telework situation. Among others, you may be eligible for:
- Employee personal leave (Personal Leave Program (PLP), Professional Development Days (PDD), sick, vacation, etc.)
Please refer to your department’s Office of Human Resources for additional information, as there are some positions exempt from the above leave benefits.
Routines for the win
Set yourself up for success – Schedule activities and establish a routine for yourself and your children.
Communicate with your supervisor
Increase communication with your supervisor to avoid any misunderstandings or issues you may encounter. Suggest a daily five-minute check-in meeting to clarify expectations and obtain feedback.
Have age-appropriate conversations with your children explaining the very unique situation we are all in.
Many people do not reach out to colleagues who are teleworking because they don’t want to bother them. You should feel confident about calling or messaging an employee who is teleworking anytime as if you were working on-site and walk to their office or call them.
Although an occasional or brief interruption may occur when a dependent is present in the home, do your best to keep such interruptions to a minimum in order to avoid disruption to your work.
Adjust work-life balance
Balancing childcare while working can be overwhelming. If you feel you are unable to perform your official duties, please advise your supervisor of the situation and request appropriate leave for that time or determine whether your work schedule can be changed to better accommodate your situation.
Give yourself and your children a little bit of grace. Things aren’t going to get done as quickly as they used to, and they aren’t going to be perfect. Perform your most complex duties during quiet times, such as when children are napping, reading or studying.
Recognize that this is not an easy situation. Ensure you are taking care of your own physical and emotional health. Exercise, eat healthy, and prioritize sleep. Don’t forget that your department’s’ Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can help! This free, confidential program offers a variety of services and is a valuable resource for support and information during difficult times.