You’ve probably heard a lot about working from home recently. As the coronavirus pandemic has tightened its grip on the world, the way we work has changed. Previously office-based jobs have been taken remote, people who worked from home very occasionally are now doing it full-time. Maybe you’re even doing it yourself for the first time ever.
Working from home has its advantages. You save time and money that you would have spent on your commute. You can use your breaks to put a load of laundry in, walk the dog, or spend time with your partner. You can even work in your pyjamas, if you want to (though please put on actual clothing before a conference call with clients!)
But, as with everything, there are two sides to the coin and working from home has its downsides. For many of us, the worst thing about it is missing the camaraderie and company we get from our colleagues in the office. Many find that working from home means they struggle to separate work from home life and switch off at the end of the day. Others say they struggle to motivate themselves outside of their usual office environment. And then there’s the question of how you solve a problem when you’re working remotely.
Problems will crop up, as they inevitably do. But follow these tips and you’ll breeze through them in no time.
Try to identify problems early
Fixing problems is almost always easier the earlier on you spot them. So make sure you’re keeping an eye on all your usual projects and responsibilities, and set aside time specifically to check on anything that’s changed as a result of remote working. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t shrug it off – investigate. Keeping focused and keeping an eye on things is the best way to spot small problems quickly. And rectifying small problems quickly is the best way to stop them becoming big problems.
Do your research
If you spot a problem or don’t know how to do something, your first instinct should be to try to solve it yourself if you can. This means knowing where to look for the information, and seeing if you can find it. Being proactive about problem-solving is a hallmark of a strong team member and it’s especially important when you’re working remotely.
This might mean turning to Google, looking in your Employee Handbook or Intranet, checking the manual for a particular piece of equipment or software, or referring back to materials from previous training you’ve done.
If you find the information you need, you can proceed accordingly. If not, continue on to the next steps in whichever order makes sense for the issue you’re having.
Ask the Expert
Chances are, if you’ve been in your job a while, you have a good sense of who the experts are in your team. If someone is the go-to person for a particular issue you’re having, drop them an email or message. Remember to explain clearly and succinctly (in as few words as possible) what the issue is, and what you’ve already attempted to try to solve it.
If there’s a separate team who deal with this sort of issue – for example, an IT Services team for technical problems – this is a good time to reach out to them.
Ask your team for input
Hopefully, if your team are now working remotely, you have some sort of function for keeping in touch as a group. I always recommend Microsoft Teams for this, as you can have different chat groups – say, one for the whole team, then smaller ones for individual project-groups or sub-teams. If you don’t have access to Teams, then a Skype or WhatsApp chat will do.
You might be surprised how quickly you can solve a problem by crowdsourcing input. So ask your team if anyone has encountered this issue before, and how they solved it. Good teamwork is often a part of great problem solving!
Pick up the phone to your boss
A lot of people hate talking on the phone. But with remote working now a reality for a huge majority of previously office-based workers, it’s important to get comfortable with it if you can. If you have tried various steps to resolve an issue, or need further input, then don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to your boss. Even though you’re working remotely, they’re still there to support you and will be only too happy to help – especially if they can see you’ve taken proactive steps to deal with the problem if possible.
Whether you call your boss as necessary, email them first to set up a time to talk, or save any non-urgent issues for your weekly check-in call or team meeting will depend on your particular set-up and what makes sense for your role.
Ask your boss how they’d like you to handle issues
Don’t underestimate the power of just asking your boss what their expectations are.
Here’s a script for you, if you need it:
“In general, while we’re working remotely, would you prefer me to phone you, email you, or save everything non-urgent for our weekly check-ins if I need your input on a problem?”
Lastly, give yourself a break.
Sustained remote working is new to the majority of us. There’s going to be a learning curve, it won’t always be easy, and things won’t necessarily always go perfectly. So cut yourself some slack, have realistic expectations of yourself, and just do your best.