Best Practices for Working at Home
Well, here we are in COVID-19 for what I will call “shutdown week two.” I know this goes out all over the world, but I’ll update on my situation. Then I have some thoughts about yours. The Kansas City metro area and surrounding counties have gone into a “shelter in place” order. Essentially, they mean “stay home.” If your business is classified as “nonessential,” your offices are ordered to be closed and your employees, if possible, must work from home.
For me, the “work from home” part isn’t a huge change. I gave up my office about seven years ago when I realized I wasn’t in it nearly enough to justify the rent. For many, however, that’s going to be a big change. If you’re a road warrior, a call center salesperson, a manager, etc., it may be a brave new world for you – so that’s the topic of this week’s Navigator. We’re going to talk about best practices for working at home, and for dealing with “crisis selling.”
Have a good workspace
This is first and foremost one of the best practices of working from home. Everyone’s definition of “a good workspace” is different, of course, but here’s mine. First, you should have a decent desk or table, something that makes you feel like you are “at work.” Keep it clean of anything that isn’t work-related. Second, you should be able to shut the door to shut out distractions. Full disclosure – the Sales Navigator World Headquarters is an office in a spare bedroom. But I have a nice desk, file cabinets, a bookshelf with sales books, a storage cabinet with office supplies, and other equipment for my business. There’s nothing in my office that suggests “man cave.” If you feel like you are going to work, you will work.
Another best practice for working at home is to get dressed each morning. This might seem obvious, but it’s not. And, I know a lot of people can be productive in their pajamas. I’m not one of them. Now, that doesn’t mean that I put on a suit and tie for my home office. However, it does mean that I wear a nicely pressed shirt with khakis or my best jeans at a minimum. When I’m doing a webcam meeting, I’ll have on slacks and a dress shirt. And if you are on a webcam meeting, never forget that whatever is in your camera can be seen.
Funny story. I was on a webinar that was supposed to be a webcam meeting. But the client’s video tech wasn’t letting them see me. So, I did it strictly on audio, which was fine. Halfway in, we agreed to take a fifteen-minute break. I got up and grabbed a protein bar, during the break. Just as I sat back down and took a big chomp of the bar, confident that I was unseen, they got their tech working. It was good for a laugh – but if I had it to do over again, I’d have eaten off-camera.
If you’re a road warrior like I was, the hardest thing about being office-bound is the perceived lack of freedom. I always used my time between sales calls to mentally recharge – windshield time was my mental break. When you’re in an office, flying solo, you have to create your own mental breaks. Don’t be afraid to do so. I get up and go play with my dogs, or do some other physical activity for 15 to 20 minutes when I need to. Then I sit back down and work. I take a normal hour for lunch. At the moment I’m either going and getting take-out from a restaurant near me (if the weather is nice, I might go to a nearby park and eat at a picnic table), or I’m whipping up something good in my own kitchen (I can also navigate a stove pretty well). Either way, I’m having a quality food and mind break midday.
Quit when it’s quitting time
One of the hardest aspects of working at home (or being self-employed, for that matter) is knowing when to shut it off. Work/life balance is important, and the temptation is to work long past when you normally would. In the short term, that’s productive; in the long term, it’s not healthy. One of the things that I do is that, just like I have a task list in my office, I have a punch list of things to do on my cars – and I try to get items knocked out on those after work. That’s my “me time,” and it really does help.
Most of all, do what you can do
I talked with a realtor friend this morning. He had four showings yesterday, put in two offers (one of which he anticipates will be accepted without question), and has two closings today. He’s still doing business. If you can do business, do it. Make no mistake; as I always used to tell my salespeople, “Someone WILL buy what we are selling, today, in our market. Whether you will be the seller or not depends greatly on your action or inaction right now.” Don’t be afraid to make the sales calls.
One key to selling right now is to be respectful of your customers’ wishes. All of us are a bit nervous and distracted right now. Some more and some less. Some of your customers will view a sales call from you as a welcome distraction, and some won’t. When I showed up for that successful sales call on September 12, 2001, I first explained to my customer that, since I wasn’t a law enforcement officer, soldier, or firefighter, the only thing I could do was my job – but if he was uncomfortable or offended by a sales call, I’d happily leave and postpone. Instead, he looked at it as a distraction, we had a two-hour meeting, and we did business. I had other customers who just wanted to chat with no sales pressure, and I accommodated that as well (and am doing so right now). Just be respectful, do no harm, and you’ll be fine.
This might be a great time to work on those projects that got put off due to day-to-day needs. If you can’t fill your day with customer work, what can you fill it with that will make you stronger after this is over? I’m going through my website, page by page, and retuning copy. I’ve also had a couple of presentations I’ve been wanting to do – and now I’m drafting the outlines.
If you’re used to a face-to-face management environment, this is a big switch for you. First, follow the above advice. Second, and most importantly, you need to resist the temptation to micromanage and crack the whip on your people. Increase communication somewhat, but don’t bury your people. For instance, if you’re not already talking to them daily, don’t institute daily conferences unless they request them (a check-in call every couple of days is fine). Keep your normal sales meeting time, but do it virtually. Be available, but don’t smother. If you trusted your people before, trust them now. People will remember the things you did or didn’t do when life returns to normal.
We CAN make the best out of this situation. And this WILL be over. Follow the best practices for working at home listed above. There’s no reason to pause our businesses or our lives right now; those who keep moving forward will be far ahead of those who go into a cocoon.