Work from Home: How to Make the Most of Today’s New Normal
With today’s current health crisis, work from home (WFH) has become the temporary new normal for many non-essential businesses. Since February, 46% of American businesses have implemented remote-work policies as a way of keeping employees safe due to the coronavirus pandemic. But even as companies rush to put these policies in place, they must also operate as “business as usual” to get the job done.
As a company that already put some guardrails in place to support case-specific telecommuting, ProSight has been able to seamlessly transition to an all-remote policy as a response to the times. Starting in mid-March, we instituted a complete work from home policy across our offices in New Jersey, New York, California, and Florida. To assist other companies in navigating this sea change to business operations, we’ve turned to a few of our longtime remote employees for some of their insights and best practices around working from home.
Establish the Right Infrastructure
Jared Scheer, Senior Help Desk Analyst with ProSight, was working fulltime in the Morristown, NJ, office for two years before becoming a remote employee upon moving to Florida. “The company’s policy is that everyone has a laptop to bring home with them. The laptop allows us to be more mobile. We also use a VPN that connects to the company’s infrastructure, which allows everyone to do their jobs to the best of their ability.”
A robust company network and the right hardware make all the difference in how productive remote employees can be right off the bat. In ProSight’s case, a dedicated laptop and additional job-specific hardware help employees replicate their in-office setup at home.
“Make sure you have a good internet connection, and sit as close as possible to your WiFi device.”
When Senior Claims Specialist Lisa Kim made the personal decision to relocate to Arizona a year into her ProSight tenure, she approached her manager. Since Lisa had already proven herself as a hardworking employee, she was given the opportunity to work from the Grand Canyon State as a fulltime remote employee. To ensure she could handle claims cases as efficiently as before, Lisa made sure she had all the tools she needed. This included a laptop, printer, scanner, and two monitors. “In Claims, you really need two screens to work off of,” she explained. “IT also gave me Softphone so I can take phone calls from my computer.”
Likewise, Jared’s remote setup consists of a laptop, multiple monitors, and dock. “And I have another computer running BlueJeans all day,” he adds, which was his suggestion to maintain a daily connection. Through the video conferencing capabilities of BlueJeans, Jared is visible on screen in the Morristown, NJ, office so he can regularly interact with the rest of the IT team. “I feel like I’m in the Jersey office. I’m part of the group, just a computer version.”
BlueJeans is one of many software tools that a company can use to keep their employees connected while working remotely. Other programs like Microsoft Teams, Skype, and increasingly Slack help employees keep the lines of communication open.
As a Help Desk Analyst, Jared is also in the unique position of seeing the key challenges that “newbie” remote workers face with their computer setup. Number 1 on that list is internet speed—which has nothing to do with company infrastructure and everything to do with home setup. His advice? “Make sure you have a good internet connection, preferably 5G, and sit as close as possible to your WiFi device. The faster the internet service you have, the better you’ll be able to connect to your VPN and corporate network.”
Set a Schedule that Works for You
When working remotely, employees gain back the time they would normally spend commuting to the office. But what they lose are the unconscious signals a commute provides in terms of gearing up for the day ahead or winding down on the way home.
Having spent most of her career in a remote capacity, Business Development Executive Kate Kennedy has demonstrated her unwavering professionalism—whether she’s working from home, hotel, plane, or train. She contributes much of her success to tried-and-true tactics she’s developed over the years to get in work mode. “I still wake up and get ready like I’m going to work,” she says. Then, she heads to her home office, which is an essential part of signaling that she’s in work mode. “Having a dedicated workspace is so important,” Kate explains. “When my door is shut, it means I’m working. No one can come inside. This is my time for video or conference calls.”
“Having a dedicated workspace is so important. When my door is shut, it means I’m working. No one can come inside.”
To stay in work mode throughout the day, Kate relies on personal “anchors” that work for her. “Mid-morning, I take a break, then I drink herbal tea throughout the afternoon,” she explains. “It’s part of my ‘work’ plan. Keeps me hydrated and subconsciously signals that I’m working.”
Every employee’s remote schedule is unique to their job and situation. “Even working from home, my days are never the same,” says Kate. “It’s not just 9-5 or 8-6. But the things I do to gear up for my day are generally the same. You need to find what works for you.”
Ditto for Lisa. As a Claims Specialist, she needs to be flexible with her schedule to overlap with the people she needs to speak with, like insureds and attorneys. “Because I’m dealing with different time zones, I work my schedule around when I need to be available,” she explains. “This is a huge advantage as a remote employee.”
Amy Richardson, VP of Underwriting Technology & Operations (and longtime remote employee), completely agrees. “As long as the work is getting done, that’s all that matters. We all know what the key working times are. Sometimes being in an office forces you into a rigid schedule, which may not be your peak.”
Build Balance Into Your Day
One of the biggest misconceptions about working from home is that employees are not as productive as in the office. However, numerous studies prove that the very opposite is true.
“I tend to work more, and I work more efficiently,” says Kate. “I use an organizational system to keep track of my action items. Having a digital To Do list is key to how I work.”
Lisa adds, “As a Claims Adjustor, I really need to focus. It’s even better working from home because there are no distractions. I find that I’m even more productive.”
But there’s a fine line between being uber productive and running yourself ragged. Amy points out, “The danger in working from home is there’s no stopping sign.” This means it could be very easy for remote employees to sit down at their computer in the morning—then keep going and going and going like the old Energizer bunny.
So, how can remote employees find balance?
Lisa advises scheduling in breaks throughout the day. “At 10:30, I always take a stretch break. I’ll take a 10-minute walk outside. I schedule in lunch. Taking breaks helps you think better.”
“I always take a stretch break. I’ll take a 10-minute walk outside. I schedule in lunch. Taking breaks helps you think better.”
Amy also suggests something as simple as looking away from your computer screen. “Take a look out the window, walk away for a little bit.”
“It’s important to step away,” agrees Kate. “Sometimes you get lost in what you’re doing. You don’t realize how much time has passed. Your anchors must also remind you to take some time out.”
Stay Connected with Your Team
As a remote manager with three direct reports and a team of thirty-five, Amy has proven time and again that she’s an effective, inspiring leader. Key to her management style is daily communication to maintain employee morale and a group connection.
“I’m available whenever my team needs me,” Amy says. “We’re talking and texting and messaging every day. Really strong communication back and forth is the main key to managing remotely.”
And, if your team consists of both remote and on-site employees, it’s important to recognize your coworkers conferencing into meetings. “Everyone needs to use video. I want to see them” says Amy. “And people onsite need to remember to address the people on the screen. Engage them.”
“I’m available whenever my team needs me. Really strong communication back and forth is the main key to managing remotely.”
It’s this type of thoughtful communication that builds cohesive remote teams—but keep in mind that not every meeting needs to revolve around work. During this fully-remote time, Amy has scheduled twice weekly meetings with her team to create a sense of community. “We do something fun. Like show and tell. Introduce your pet or kids or spouse,” she suggests. “I hosted a Happy Hour for the team. We drank coffee, tea, wine, beer. We had great conversations that weren’t work related. This is our little work family. I want to engage and socialize since we can’t get out with our friends.”
With supportive infrastructure, inspiring management, and employees who thrive in challenging situations, ProSight is keeping business humming as we navigate today’s fully-remote work environment. Our team culture has helped prepare us for success, wherever we work. Together, we’re delivering the consistent service and business expertise our customers expect—and deserve.