How to work from home — with tips from colleagues who already do it

A peek inside a recent Slack chat at Poynter

March 25, 2020
Category: Business & Work

Today, for the first time I can remember, no one had to say “get closer to the phone” at Poynter’s Monday morning meeting. That weekly refrain is for the benefit of the people who work remotely or in other cities. But today, we all video-conferenced in.

It’s an adjustment, Poynter’s president, Neil Brown, said in our call. And he’s right — for the majority of my colleagues, it is. But for a few of us, the only adjustment is having more people around the house than normal.

Today, a few of us talked in Slack about how to work from home. I’ve done it since 2007. My colleague Ahsante Bean, editor and program manager for video strategy, has worked from home off and on for four years. PolitiFact’s Miriam Valverde has worked from home for about four years. And the International Fact-Checking Network’s associate director, Cristina Tardáguila, recently started figuring this out after attending Investigative Reporters and Editor’s annual conference, where an attendee later tested positive with the coronavirus, and then self-isolating for two weeks.

Here’s what our Slack chat with our colleagues looked like. It’s been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Related: How to work from home with kids around

Kristen Hare: Hi everyone! I missed seeing your faces in person today but happy to see you on Zoom. A few of us already work from home almost exclusively, and I’m hoping we can help make this transition easier for you.

So.

What questions do you have for us? We’ll be your WFH experts!

Mel Grau, marketing communications writer: Instead of typing “WFH” (which I’m now asked to do in a variety of places, including at least two Slack channels), I often accidentally type “WTF.” I fear my quick typing betrays my mood. But really. How do you stay positive as an extrovert when you’re alone all day?

Ren LaForme, interim managing editor: I was literally just going to ask this. Who will listen to my off-topic rants?!

Hare: SLACK WILL SAVE YOU! Most of you are in some form of regular communication with me on Slack. I rant. I joke. I send GIFs. It helps. Also, just like you do at work, communicate your whereabouts. ’Grabbing lunch!” “BRB” “Going into a call.” Overcommunicate.

Bean: I also like scheduling virtual coffee dates! Even if it’s just 15 minutes, it’s a nice way to quickly connect. I also try to start any 1-1 meetings with a little personal catch up, since I know I won’t have that casual 1-1 time otherwise.

Related: Sign up for our daily briefing for journalists, Covering COVID-19

Doris Truong, director of training and diversity: Did you set up Google Voice or another service so sources don’t have your home (or cell) number?

Hare: I have not, and I just use my cell. I do not mind making my number show as unknown.

Valverde: I did use a Google voice number, it helped me screen who was calling, especially given the volume of daily spam calls. I also liked that Google texted transcripts of the voice messages whenever I was unable to answer a call. (I now have a dedicated cell number for work.)

Kelly McBride, senior vice president and chair of Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership: How do you convey to the people you live with that they really should not interrupt you?

Hare: It’s just like your work family — your body language says a lot. My kids know if they see or hear me on the phone, they should wait. It usually works. If it’s important and I need silence, I announce that and shut the door. Think about your office behavior and how you can mirror that. Door open usually means c’mon in.

Bean: Being able to close the door definitely helps! I don’t have a separate office space, but I wound up putting my desk in a corner of my bedroom for this reason. If the door is closed, I need the privacy and focus.

Valverde: Give them a heads up when you plan to have a conference call or video chat, that way they can prepare to leave the room if they’ll be doing something that’s loud or disruptive.

McBride: I need a door. This came on so fast, I don’t have an office. I have a dining room that doesn’t have a door.

Truong: I need much better sitting-all-day chairs, apparently. I’ve been looking for options (after hours).

Hare: Books and stools make for good standing desk hacks!

Bean: I realized the other day that my dresser is the perfect height for a standing desk (if I clear it a bit) so I’m pretty excited.

Hare: I also recommend you think of your home the way you think of your workplace — you don’t sit in the same place all day at work (I hope), so don’t do that at home. Move around. Use the kitchen for meetings and the living room for interviews. Figure out which spaces serve different purposes.

Related: Poynter announces free News University Courses to help journalism educators and students

Josie Hollingsworth, audience engagement editor, PolitiFact: How many plants in the office is too many plants?

Bean: You can never have too many plants (as long as you remember to water them all)!

LaForme: Yeah, there’s definitely no such thing. One benefit, besides their oxygen-providing goodness: They don’t seem to mind my off-topic rants too much.

Truong: How do you know when to log off?

Bean: I try to keep regular business hours (9:30ish until 6 p.m. ish), so when the 5 p.m. hour hits I make a mental note that it’s time to wind my tasks down. However, I’m naturally a night owl, so I can get into a great mental flow at 5 p.m.. If that’s the case, then I’ll let myself work through the task until I either 1) finish 2) hit another obligation or 3) hit an energy slump around 8 p.m. And then I’ll try to balance by working a little less the next day. I’ve found it helpful to observe my natural energy fluctuations and work with an awareness of them. Making virtual hangout dates with friends has been great for giving me an obligation to get to after work (whereas before I’d often go to an event or happy hour).

LaForme: I’m wondering if you expert home-workers might leave us with a tip or piece of advice? Maybe something we might not expect?

Tardáguila: I am a big workaholic (I confess) and I could list a bunch of things I don’t recommend you do (because I often do and regret): 1) Don’t start working from your bed, with your phone. Make sure you have breakfast and get the house ready so you won’t need to stop. 2) Don’t sit in the same place all day long. If the sofa is good in the morning, it might be really hot there in the afternoon when the sun is high. 3) Don’t eat with your phone on your side. Let your family enjoy your company. Making sure you know when to stop is crucial. So I created daily achievement lists. Once I reach the end of the list, I consider my working day over. (This doesn’t mean I will stop working. But it will mean I could without feeling guilty). Be nice to yourself when creating the list.

Bean: I love loungewear and am honestly not a huge fan of pants, so I’m not going to say you have to dress like you’re coming into the office. But I do think it’s helpful to change out of whatever you usually use to sleep or lounge into “during the day” clothes. It’s a helpful mental marker for me that “my work day is starting — I am publicly available” and “my work day is ending — this is personal time”. Even if that means changing from one pair of pajama shorts to another (with something presentable up top).

Tardáguila: I have just given a Skype interview. All fancy from waist up. Makeup + hair. Waist down = shorts, flipflops.

Hare: Co-sign: Don’t wear your PJs all day!

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org. She can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare