Planning and Prep: Creating Work From Home Success

Through our Tuesday TouchPoints series, we are sharing a diverse set of content we hope will be helpful to those managing through volatility, working from home, or just connecting. 

By HPA Senior Advisor Bob Kaplan

With a little planning and preparation, working from home can be the best of times. Without the planning and preparation, it can be the worst of times.  For the past five years I have been working from home and have learned what to do to make it easy and how to avoid some of the most common frustrations.

With the increasing prevalence of shelter-in-place orders and the need for social distancing causing a massive shift to a remote working environment, I thought I would share some tips and hopefully spare you some of the lessons I have learned the hard way.

The framework basically comes down to three things:

  1. Be professional;
  2. Build a nest at home – but keep it simple; and
  3. Stay connected

Be professional

While your location has changed, nothing else about your work should.  The quality of your work product and your interactions with colleagues, clients and customers must remain above reproach.  There are several practical, simple steps you can take to make sure you come across as professional.

  • Embrace video calls (camera always on!) – People pay much more attention on a video call and are more accountable, and it allows you to maintain a human connection. Think about what you will wear on video calls and keep your attire simple but professional (unless you are trying to convey a different culture).  Think about the background that you are projecting on a video call and make sure it is not distracting from you.  Watch CNBC and you will see a variety of good and bad broadcast backgrounds now that their anchors and guests are working remotely – and they are professionals!
  • Make sure you have quality audio – Nothing is as distracting as a noisy or echoey audio connection. The source of the problem, if there is one, can be the room or your equipment.  If it is an equipment problem, get a USB microphone or headset to use with your computer.  Room problems can usually be fixed by moving closer or further away from walls
  • Keep personal and business equipment separate if at all possible – Keeping your business and personal computers and phones separate keeps things like an embarrassing shopping site (or worse) from appearing on your desk top during a video call, or your wife’s name appearing as the caller when you make calls out

 Build a nest at home – but keep it simple

You want to be as organized as possible in your new working environment and have a technology platform to help you stay connected, productive and secure.  Keep your working environment and technology platform as simple as you can since you will be responsible for trouble shooting any problems.

  • Find a permanent, dedicated space that you can use on a regular basis – Having a dedicated workspace allows you to have a place for work that is separate from your home life. This intentional separation is important no matter how big or small your space might be!
  • Build a technology platform that allows you to stay connected and productive – I’ve found that the following tools and tips have served me well over the past five years:
    • Have plenty of internet and WiFi bandwidth in your home, especially with a move to video calls
    • Deploy and test the software applications you will be using on a regular basis – Zoom, WebEx, etc. – so you are familiar with how they work and not fumbling during a meeting
    • Make sure you turn on and use all the security features on your home networks. VPN software (virtual private network) can be used for an extra layer of internet security
    • Back up everything, ideally with both a cloud back up service and an on-premise hard drive. Suspenders and a belt approach? Yes, but better than having my pants fall down!

Stay connected

Staying connected on both a personal and professional level to your co-workers, teams and clients is one of the keys to being happy and productive when working from home.  It doesn’t matter if a team is 2 people or 10,000.

  • Communicate, communicate, (over)communicateErr on the side of overcommunication and provide transparency and clarity on the business as co-workers are picking up fewer signals on what is going on at the company when they’re not all physically together. A team needs to stay aligned and connected in order to ensure that the “machine of the company” is moving together
  • Gather semi-regularly, in addition to more frequent check-ins – There will be less casual “water cooler” conversations and less problem solving as a team when working from home, and this can be a big adjustment. Keep that social and collaborative aspect going with informal video calls, weekly all hands meetings, or cross-functional “virtual whiteboarding” sessions
  • Maintain the human bond – Working from home can be isolating at times, so up your game on being expressive and inclusive and increase social interactions. With personal and professional worlds colliding in an unprecedented way, it’s also important to have empathy for the challenges and pressures your team and clients are facing.

A little planning and a focus on staying connected can make your work from home life much more productive and enjoyable.  I have no tips for what to do about barking dogs or toddlers (don’t let this happen to you!)  Or is this the new normal? Only time will tell. Good luck!

Bob Kaplan is an HPA Senior Advisor with over 35 years of experience as a senior executive and management consultant. A former Managing Partner at BCG and Senior Partner at McKinsey, Bob currently counsels CEOs and other senior executives on strategy and organizational issues, primarily within the technology, media, financial services, and utility sectors. Bob has held senior executive positions such as acting CEO and acting CTO for multiple companies, including: Motif Inc., ITM Software, Silicon Valley Bank, Netliant, and Alibris.