How to Work From Home Effectively

Remote work is here to stay & we need to make it work for us in a productive & healthy manner

By: Carlos Castan 

Well, we are in for about 1 year into this Covid Pandemic so far, and from listening to all the healthcare experts, it looks like we will still need to be cautious in the foreseeable future even if we get the vaccine. We still need to try to live with some resemblance to normal life at home and get our work done remotely. Below are some practical and healthy tips to help us get through this challenging period in our lives.

Remote work has been on the rise across the U.S. for years, but the coronavirus pandemic significantly accelerated the shift to remote work. This is especially the case for industries and roles that don’t require employees to work in person. “People have learned that this is more possible in roles that they didn’t think it was possible in before,” says Sara Sutton, chief executive and founder of FlexJobs, a career website for telecommuting, flexible, freelance, and part-time jobs. She says getting workers set up to be able to work remotely at any time is like an insurance policy for employers in case they find themselves in a similar situation in the future. “I don’t think there’s any organization that is going to realize they should leave this opportunity on the table.”

According to a summer 2020 survey of nearly 800 employers by workplace consulting firm Mercer, 94% of employers said productivity among remote workers either improved or was unchanged.

Despite the rising application and popularity of hybrid work-from-home policies, some employers and employees alike struggle to adjust to certain elements of remote work. There are several key ways in which you can maximize your productivity, lower your stress and make the most of your work-from-home experience. 

  1. Claim your space.

If you live in a tiny city apartment or a crowded house full of roommates, children, or a working spouse, you may feel your options are limited, but it is important to identify a space where you feel you can be focused, productive and comfortable. 

There are no catchall rules for certain spaces you absolutely should or should not work in—which is good news for those who can barely cram a bed and a couple of chairs into a studio apartment. Rather than ruling out certain parts of your living area, it is more important to find a space that is tailored to your specific needs, says Ms. Sutton, who has been working from home for 14 years. “Depending on what your personality is, think about what kind of work environment sets you up for success,” Ms. Sutton says.

Which of the following helps you work successfully?

Try ranking these from most to least important:

  • A clean workspace.
  • A nice view.
  • Natural light from a window.
  • Being comfortable.
  • Having a desk.
  • A quiet space.
  • A co-working space.

Think about where you do your best work and try to find a space in your home that meets two or three of your top priorities. Also, consider whether changing your workspace often helps you work more productively or whether having a single dedicated workspace is better for you.

Ideally, this space will be in some way distinct from the places where you spend your non-work hours. This will help create a physical separation between your work and personal activities. If you can’t do that, use small objects that will help you create the mental shift from play to work, whether it is an inspiring photo or your favorite coffee mug.

“Even if you’re working at your kitchen table because it’s your only option,” says Ms. Sutton, “I try to put little touchstones of things that help get me in that mindset.”

  1. Find your routine and stick to it.

You may not miss those long, arduous commutes to the office, but they can provide a consistent way to mentally prepare for the workday and decompress when it is over.

If you are used to having a commute, try to recreate the most important features of your morning routine before you start work at home. Do you like reading the news on your train ride? Listening to a podcast in the car? Stretching your legs on a walk to the office? Grabbing a bite at a coffee shop near your workplace? Identify the most important elements of your pre-and postwork routines and stick to them. Avoid the temptation to roll out of bed and start working right away. Set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier than your start time so you don’t miss out on your breakfast, exercise, podcast, or whatever daily activity helps you ease into your day.

Steven Vargas, an artist, and journalist based in Los Angeles, says he writes lists every morning to help him set goals for the workday. “When I feel lost or insecure about my career, which happens from time to time, being stuck in my apartment, I look back at my list of accomplishments to remind myself that although things feel difficult, I have the strength and ability to do anything I set my mind to,” says Mr. Vargas. 

The same goes for your postwork routine, says Caroline Webb, a behavioral economist and former McKinsey partner, who decompresses by sitting on the couch with her husband at the end of each workday and sharing three good things that happened during the day.

“It marks the transition time from work to personal space,” says Ms. Webb, “You are not only giving yourself an immediate boost, but you are also training your mind to be more attentive to other positive things.”

Sticking to a routine will also help prevent you from overworking and help you create a culture of setting healthy boundaries in the workplace, says Ms. Sutton. 

  1. Give yourself a break.

There is a common stigma around remote work that makes some employees, especially overachievers, feel like they have to overcompensate for not being physically present with their colleagues by working longer hours and always being “on.”

According to data from a Gallup survey conducted during the coronavirus pandemic, those working fully remotely are experiencing more burnout than on-site workers.

Don’t forget to give yourself a break: literally and figuratively.

If you can’t rely on an employee break room or your colleagues to invite you to coffee, push yourself to take breaks throughout the day, whether for lunch, a chat with a co-worker, a meditation session, or just a walk. If you are suffering from “Zoom fatigue,” give yourself a break from video calls. It is OK to ask your boss if you can turn your camera off for a while.

Your employer may also offer some activities or ideas to help you take a break and simultaneously bond with your co-workers. These can be a good opportunity to enjoy the social aspects of the workplace you are missing out on. 

Claire Kenney, a marketing communications manager at Evention LLC, a software company focused on automation and the reinvention of office processes, says her company has helped employees with work-life balance through virtual happy hours, book clubs, and “lunch and learn” events. “This month, we plan to host a virtual ugly-sweater-themed holiday party, during which a local bartender will teach our team how to mix different holiday cocktails,” she said.

Give yourself a break in the emotional sense, too. Be kind to yourself and others. Studies show that when people are kind, they have lower levels of stress hormones, are less depressed, less lonely, and happier, in addition to having better cardiovascular health and living longer.

Some technical difficulties with Skype during Ms. Sutton’s interview with this reporter prompted her to talk about the importance of being patient and kind when we run into challenges while working from home.  

“We’re all trying to figure it out and sometimes we run into these hiccups,” she said. “Having a little extra grace and kindness these days goes a long way.”

Always feel free to contact me directly to learn more about the latest communications and collaboration productivity solutions for business.

Carlos Castan | DataWorks LLC


Coronavirus Business Update 7

5 Tips On Working From Home Successfully From The Microsoft Team

By: Carlos Castan 

Just as we all entered the working from home quarantine, the Microsft team put out a very practical guide to getting the work done and balancing personal quality of life.

Working from home or remote work presents its challenges and opportunities. Here are 5 proven tips to help you successfully work from home. These tips are useful whether your remote work is because of challenging times or because you’re a distributed worker.


Working from home tip #1: Have the right tools

You cannot do your job effectively without the right tools. This applies if you go into an office or if you work from your house. Make sure you have the proper tools you need to do your job, including your home office setup and the technology you choose.

Invest in a proper home office setup if you can. The right work environment should include a suitable desk, chairs, monitors, Wi-Fi, and any other hardware you need to get your job done. The perfect home office isn’t always achievable. But, investing in a few small items can make a big difference.

For example, consider purchasing some lighting, microphones, and headphones if you’re routinely on video conference calls. You should also consider purchasing ergonomic accessories like wrist protectors that make the physical act of working at home more comfortable.

Additionally, establish you have the right software tools for the job if you can. Tools like Microsoft Teams were built with remote working in mind by combining chat, meetings, calls, and collaboration all in one place.

Working from home tip #2: Be secure  

Remote workers should take particular care that they’re remaining secure, both physically and digitally.

From a physical perspective, be aware of your surroundings when you’re dealing with sensitive company information. This precaution is especially important if you prefer working in coffee shops or coworking offices. Some best practices include locking your computer when it’s not in use and not discussing sensitive company details on calls in public.

Additionally, you must make sure the tools you use have security in mind. These safeguards should apply to your secure email, a VPN, productivity tools, cloud storage, and any digital tool you use for work. Remember, the average cost for a cybersecurity attack for a small business is $188,000. It pays to factor in security when you’re choosing your tools.

Working from home tip #3: Communicate effectively 

It sounds basic to say, but one of the biggest challenges of working from home is that you’re not in the office. That means you may not hear the hallway conversations, the chatter before and after meetings and you can’t just pop by Jane’s desk for a clarifying question. Your business communication skills are always essential, but especially so when you work remotely.

Leading your business through the storm This guide offers practical tips on how to lead your business through challenging times. Get the guide

It’s vital to communicate with your coworkers or employees in a clear manner. Try not to leave room for ambiguity about your requests, and don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. You can do this via email, chat, or through phone call.

You may have to “over-communicate,” and that can feel awkward for some. But, it’s better to over-communicate at the front-end to ensure there’s alignment.

Working remotely typically means you have the flexibility to handle personal tasks like childcare or doctor’s appointments during the day. Just be sure you’re communicating that to coworkers and employees who rely on you.

You don’t have to divulge every personal detail. Just remember to update your Out of Office messages, as well as your status on any chat system. Your availability and status are especially helpful if others rely on your decisions or approvals to move forward with projects and tasks.

Working from home tip #4: Connect with coworkers  

Your company culture is a decisive factor in attracting and retaining employees. This involves a lot of things like compensation, working conditions, industry, and the day-to-day interactions with employees. That last part can be different for a remote worker.

If you’re working from home, you’ll likely have to make more effort to connect with coworkers and employees. Simple things such as asking how things are going before a meeting starts and being genuinely interested goes a long way. These “small talk” moments can create deeper connections between workers.

Find other opportunities to engage in “water cooler talk” or to appropriately “goof off.” Stay within proper boundaries, of course. But, nobody minds when you talk about the latest football game in the office for a few minutes. Likewise, you can sometimes engage with employees or coworkers through chat rooms about things that aren’t strictly related to work.

Working from home tip #5: Find a proper work-life balance 

There are many great things to working from home: flexibility, no commute, and in some cases, increased productivity. But, one of the downsides is that some find it hard to disconnect from work.

Remember to set boundaries

It’s tempting to work around the clock when your home is your office. But, this can be counterproductive. Studies suggest overwork can lead to less productivity, worse project outcomes, and even adverse health outcomes.

Finding a proper work-life balance is key when you’re working from home. Some tips for maintaining this balance:

  • Making time for exercise or physical movement, if you’re able to
  • Scheduling breaks on your calendar and taking them
  • Indicate your off-line hours in your calendar and chat tools
  • Take time to unwind outside of work: pursue your hobbies, spend time with family, make plans with friends, and occupy yourself with things not work-related

Always feel free to contact me directly to learn more about the latest communications and collaboration productivity solutions for business.

Carlos Castan | DataWorks LLC



Business & Technology December Article

Let’s not forget that just because most of us are working in remote mode, there are still various ways to communicate based on the what we are trying to accomplish when communicating with others. There are different communications mediums that we can use; text, audio, and video. We don’t have to necessarily “Zoom or Teams” all the time. A simple phone call can be a happy medium between a Zoom call and a text message!

See very interesting article below this month from Krithika Varagur | Wall street Journal

​​Nonstop Zooms and video meetings are too taxing. Emails and Slack hold companies together, but written text can never capture the nuance of human conversation. What’s the answer? The humble phone call. “A phone call is in many ways the happy medium,” says Marissa Shuffler, associate professor of organizational psychology at Clemson University. “It’s perfect for one-on-one discussions and has just as much richness as a video call, without overwhelming you with visual information.”

In March, as the pandemic hit, many offices shifted their workflows into hours of video calls almost overnight. But they quickly realized that video doesn’t work for everything. “It was a process of trial and error, but within a month of going remote, by early April, I found myself doing most of my discovery calls with new clients on the phone rather than Zoom,” says Anna Kareis, a 25-year-old financial adviser in San Antonio who mainly advises other millennials. People tend to tell me their deepest, darkest secrets, and it’s better when they don’t have to make eye contact with me for some of that. And, honestly, sometimes people tell me things I find a bit shocking too, so it’s good for me to be able to hide my reaction.” It’s a surprising shift, she says, because she was once as phone-call-averse as they come. But she’s now at the point that she has also shifted her standing weekly meeting with a career mentor to a phone call. The phone call’s renaissance comes after its near-death at the hands of the infamously phone-phobic millennial generation, who tend to prefer text-based communication to the technology Alexander Graham Bell pioneered in 1876. As smartphones have become ubiquitous, actual phone calls have declined in volume, even in businesses that used to live and die by them. A 2018 study by sales training company ValueSelling Associates found that 48% of sales professionals were scared to make cold calls. The polling company Gallup noted a drop in its call response rate for the Gallup Poll Social Series, a set of public opinion surveys, from 28% in 1997 to 7% in 2017.

But if phone calls were once uncomfortable for young workers, they were displaced by a new world of video-driven cringe this year. The workplace’s mass migration to video revealed virtual meeting rooms to be places for unexpected guests, exasperating muting, frozen screens and the open invitation for strangers to judge your virtual backdrops. The staff of eCommerceFuel, an online community for entrepreneurs, switched to Zoom in the spring, says founder Andrew Youderian, who is based in Tucson, Ariz. “The weird thing was, our team had always been fully remote and we had been doing just fine with phone calls, Slack and Google Docs before the pandemic.” But they got swept up in the Zoom zeitgeist. “Within three weeks, I realized it wasn’t really working for us and I started pushing back on video and shifting back to the phone,” he says. There were immediate benefits. “You get to walk around, you don’t have to worry about what’s in your background.” Now he takes the initiative on client meetings by sending the invite himself, so he can actively suggest a phone call.

By many metrics, phone traffic shot up during the pandemic. FCC chairman Ajit Pai asked cell service providers in March to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, to which over 800 providers responded with provisions including unlimited calling minutes and free or discounted phone service. On April 29, weeks into many major cities’ lockdowns, AT&T reported a 32% uptick in wireless voice minutes and a 94% increase in Wi-Fi calling minutes on its network, compared with an average Wednesday before the pandemic. Susan Blum, a professor who specializes in linguistic anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, says Zoom fatigue was inevitable given how unnatural conversational patterns can get there: “Video calls do not allow any conversational overlap. You can’t say ‘mmm-hmm’ to assent because that would interrupt and put you on screen as the main speaker.” This audio-lag issue evaporates on a regular phone call. Moreover, she adds, “I’m pacing around my room now as I’m talking to you. But if you’re on Zoom, you have to be stationary and looking forward. I had hours and hours of Zoom meetings with my students last week and my neck is killing me!” In light of all this, phone calls have emerged as the better option for one-on-one conversations in the era of remote work. Still, it’s best not to take the phone’s sense of immediacy as an open invitation for constant contact. “Even though I prefer phone calls, I’m usually Slacking my team members to say, ‘Hey, are you available to chat about this?’ ” says Manu Kumar, co-founder of a contact manager app called HiHello in Palo Alto, Calif. It helps to flag why he wants to talk first. “When they don’t know the call topic, that creates a lot of stress,” he says.

Video calls retain other benefits for remote workplaces. Liz Fosslien, San Francisco-based head of content at Humu, a startup that uses AI to “nudge” employees to boost their happiness, still loves how easy it is to screen-share on video chats. Plus, she says, “If you’re going to have a difficult conversation with someone about performance management, I think it’s always better to have your camera on.” A video component also helps people with attention disorders, says Jessica Carilli, a marine scientist who works for the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific in San Diego and has ADHD. “Work from home is horrible for me, period, because of how fragmented my day is—especially with two kids at home,” she says. “I know that I prefer a video call to a phone call, because it’s harder for me to focus on just the audio, and more difficult for me to explain things when I can’t use my hands, or look at the person I’m talking to.” Even for millennials cottoning onto the work call once again, there is a degree of compartmentalization involved. I call clients, even unannounced, much more than I used to. But when it comes to running errands, like setting up a doctor’s appointment, there’s still no way I’m going to pick up the phone,” says Ms. Kareis in San Antonio. “That’s what apps are for.”