Making it Work – Newsletter Editorial
This year started out looking pretty busy. From my home base in the UK, I travelled to Denver for a week’s worth of meetings in early January. Ten days later I was in Japan for the OIDF/J conference and a number of (very enlightening!) working group meetings. 3 weeks after that, I was back to the US for the RSA Conference in San Francisco.
In between Japan and San Francisco, I was tested for COVID-19 in line with the UK guidelines, because I had developed a sore throat a few days after my return from Tokyo. The general consensus from the doctors I worked with was that it was highly unlikely to be anything other than a regular “travelers’ cold”, and so it proved, but I was nevertheless asked to self-isolate at home for the week or so it took to process the test (testing times have improved quite a bit since then).
As I write this, we find ourselves confined to barracks once again, though this time on a national basis. My wife is working from home as best she can, although occasional trips to the office are still needed. Schools here shut down nationally at the end of last week. We are doing our best to provide some structure for the kids, whilst recognizing that we are not teachers. And my busy year is continuing, but in a very different configuration. Much of my independent consulting work is on hold for now; but my role with Identiverse, where I’m responsible for the agenda, has taken on a new urgency as we work to figure out the most effective way to bring the content from the conference to everyone in the absence of an in-person gathering.
In many ways, though, I am fortunate. I have been working from home for many years, and I’ve developed routines and strategies for doing so. Many people now find themselves #wfh for the first time, and it’s challenging. Yes, there are plenty of ‘helpful’ sites around with recommendations for how to set up the perfect home office… but they don’t generally account for the practicalities of real life — a couple of young children who need entertaining; a spouse who also needs to work (and whose work habits are quite different from your own!); slow and glitchy internet; not enough space on the dining table to set everything up; and a manager who is also stressed and who has never tried to manage people remotely! And to top it all off, many of the things we normally do to relax and de-stress are off the table, at least for now; and behind it all, we are of course concerned about family, and friends, and what the future might bring.
Well, I can’t for one moment pretend to have answers for all of that! Marla Hay from our editorial team presents a few nuggets of wisdom of her own later in this newsletter. I’d like here to offer four pieces of advice based on my own experience, which I hope will be helpful both for individuals and for managers.
The risk of overdoing things is surprisingly high, and is not to be underestimated. People tend to focus on the opposite problem — not doing enough — and that’s certainly something to be aware of. But there is a significant difference between the level of concentration when working by yourself, and what you typically experience in a busy office environment. No brief discussions with colleagues at the water cooler; no interrupts at your desk from passing co-workers; no opportunity to go and have an impromptu brainstorming meeting over lunch. For a day or two, it’s fine; it might even be welcome! But maintaining this level of focus for a week or two is ill-advised and counter-productive. A little like embarking on a long bike ride or run: your sustainable pace may initially feel a lot slower than you think reasonable. That’s OK. Better to start slower and speed up later if you find you have the capacity. Even as little as two or three two-hour blocks spread out through the day might be all you can achieve. And remember: what works for one individual doesn’t necessarily work for everyone! Some people do better with a one-day-on, one-day-off pattern.
The next two recommendations should be useful by themselves as well, but will also help with pacing.
For people who already naturally work in a highly organised manner, this will come fairly easily. The challenge for these individuals tends to be ‘trying to fit too much in’. If you aren’t used to working from home, the temptation is to schedule every minute of every day. Resist. You need time to breathe.
For those who don’t — and I count myself amongst this group! — the lack of the enforced discipline that can come from working in person with colleagues, or the distraction-free environment of a plane, train, or café, can be hard to manage. There are plenty of techniques to try: blocking out time in the calendar for a specific task; or for a general group of activities (so allowing you to still be flexible about exactly what you tackle at a given time). Changing your environment at home if you can – maybe working on the sofa for 30 minutes before relocating to the desk for the next 30. Even just changing the music you listen to can help. Some people prefer to use several approaches and cycle between them. But whatever you do, do something, and if it’s not working, try something else. Some kind of structure is crucial to make sure you stay productive.
This one is obvious… sort of. First off, you need to recognize that your colleagues — and your managers, and your direct reports — are all struggling with their own challenges. Work may take longer. People may be less responsive, or become unavailable at short notice. Kids will show up in the background of video calls. Make allowances accordingly and be as supportive as you can.
If you are at home with family, though, you need to remember to be tolerant of their needs as well. It can be really hard for your house-mates (spouse, children, significant other) to adapt to you ‘being at work’ when you’re actually ‘at home’ – especially if you can’t establish some kind of physical separation. You may need to find some way of indicating that distinction that you can all agree on… and then remember that it still won’t always work.
If you are used to working from home normally, you may find yourself with a set of new frustrations: other people now occupy your workspace, and you don’t quite know what to do about it. You may need to reassess your typical daily routine and find alternative ways to manage things.
Finally, be tolerant of yourself. If you are new to this, you are going to have bad days. You’ll have days where you feel like you got nothing done. You’ll have days where you completed all your work tasks, but forgot to do the shopping. And you’ll have great days where everything clicks… and wonder why all your days can’t be like that. Don’t beat yourself up: it’s the same for everyone.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of community. From a work perspective you may want to make an extra effort to stay engaged. Even if you are not normally the sort to join in the #random channel or the newly-established firstname.lastname@example.org distribution list – now is the time to do so. You might also want to look for other peer groups meeting outside of the direct work environment.
But do remember that you also need downtime. Maybe whatever local activity you’re involved in is developing a virtual presence… maybe you can help them! Active cyclist? Try Zwift (or another virtual cycling app of your choice!). Avid book reader? Plenty of virtual book clubs around. Budding mixologist? Online cocktail hours abound.
For IDPro members: if you didn’t already engage via Slack, now is a good time to do so. And we’ve established a #wfh channel there to share tips and tricks, and frustrations 🙂 It all helps.
This is my final article for the newsletter in my role as newsletter committee Chair. Having been in that post since starting the newsletter 24 issues ago, it’s time for a new hand at the helm. I’m delighted that Jon Lehtinen will be taking over, and I look forward to continuing to contribute where I can as a regular member of the committee. Jon will no doubt be looking for new contributors; and now is a great time to step up.
With that: thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Independent Consultant, Board Member IDPro
10 Tips for Working From Home from IDPro
Thanks to COVID-19, many of us in the Identity industry have shifted to working from home. Although you may be grateful to be in an industry that can work from home, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. As someone who has worked remotely for the last few years, here are a few tips for surviving and thriving while working from home during this uncharted time.
- These are not normal circumstances!
Remember that these are extraordinary times, so working from home may feel harder than it would under ordinary circumstances. Even as a fully remote employee, the last few weeks of work have been hard for me. There’s a pandemic, you can’t see your elderly relatives, your kids may be at home, and people you know may have contracted COVID-19. Give yourself a break. The world is just not particularly conducive to concentrating at the moment. Be kind to yourself and to everyone else, too.
- Find a comfortable space to work.
Ideally, if you can get a room to yourself, awesome. If not, just find a place where you’re comfortable sitting or standing for potentially a few hours at a time. I will try to hit as many of the rules for ergonomic sitting/standing as possible (here’s an example of those: https://www.publichealthnotes.com/ergonomics-and-its-10-principles/). For me, the most important is to look slightly down at my monitor. I have nagging neck issues and this one makes the biggest difference for me.
- Move your work area during the day (if you want to).
When you’re working from home, there aren’t the same natural triggers to move around, like going to a meeting room on a different floor or building, getting lunch out, or visiting with a coworker. Some days, I will realize I’ve been sitting in the same chair, in the same spot, for 10+ hours. Honestly, for me, some days that is 100% fine. But sometimes I feel like I’m going stir crazy and will move meetings to my kitchen or living room. I love it when my co-workers do that as well, because it means we may get an appearance from a pet or kid or two. (And if you’re worried about people experiencing your two/four/no legged family members – don’t be! It’s the best part of every meeting.)
- Get up
Even, or especially, if you don’t/can’t abide by tip #3 – make sure you get up during the day. Because of the aforementioned lack of natural triggers to move around, be sure you’re standing up, stretching, and generally moving around to keep blood flowing and catch any bad working positions before they get significant. I can always tell when I stop to stretch if I’m in a bad position for my neck, and moving around for even a minute or two can tell me I need to change my working position. And, since sitting is the new smoking, getting up intentionally can help stave off those longer term health concerns while you’re working from home. If you can, you may even try creating an environment where you can work in a standing position for periods of time.
- Take breaks (long and short!)
Make sure you structure your day with breaks included. Sometimes I will fill my day with meetings, including scheduling over lunch, or back-to-back-to-back because I’m at home. Schedule breaks into your schedule to hang out with your kids, take a walk (6 feet away from everyone else!), meditate, whatever refreshes your mind/body/spirit. Since my kids are home from school, I’ve also started scheduling small chunks of time to do lessons with them over the course of the day. (Nothing like working and homeschooling during a pandemic for refreshing mind/body/spirit, amirite?)
- Designate eating times
Okay, you know what? I had this in the list because when I first started working from home, I would suddenly find myself in the pantry eating out of a bag of chips, whenever I was thinking about a hard problem or procrastinating a task. Scheduled eating helped me avoid doing that (e.g. lunch at noon, snack at 3). But, right now, forget it, we have enough to worry about. Eat the bag of chips.
- Use your camera
Seeing other people’s faces helps me connect with them and lets them better connect with me. When working from home, seeing others allows you to gauge non-verbal cues, better read emotions, and empathize with the people with whom you’re speaking. I’m not a huge fan of my on-camera appearance, but a couple of improvements I’ve made when I can: use soft, head-on lighting, and position your camera slightly above your head, so it’s aiming down at you. If I’m on my laptop, this means I may set my laptop on a stack of books during the call, so the laptop camera is just above my forehead. Very slimming! 🙂
We’ve started doing happy hours or tea time to stay connected. This is a great way to add social activities that occur during work back to your day and ensure that your work relationships stay/become friendships. It’s also a good way to commiserate and feel less isolated and alone while on quarantine.
- Start and end your day (or find the rhythm that works for you)
Some of you might find that you’re not commuting in the morning for the first time. Rather than devoting that extra time to more work, take the time to have breakfast, hang out with your kids, take the dog for a walk, whatever it is that allows you to contribute to your wellbeing before starting on work. I’ve also found that it’s sometimes hard to stop working at night, since there’s no commute to indicate your day is complete. Try adding in something to demarcate the end of the day – could be a walk, could be as simple as closing your laptop at a certain time. I will tend to change rooms to whatever room my kids are in, which always stops any progress on work! You can also take advantage of working from home to change up your schedule. If you want to spend a few hours with your kids in the afternoon, then hop back on your laptop at night, that’s an option that’s easier to accomplish when your working environment is also your home.
- Don’t stress too much (easier said than done, I know)
Without the microinteractions and hallway conversations that occur during the day, it can be easy to feel isolated and have nagging doubts about your ability, your relationships, and your work. First, that is normal and no one is thinking whatever terrible thing you think they’re thinking (probably.) Second, everyone is in a similar boat now, so all of your colleagues, vendors, customers are feeling more fragile than they were before. At the end of the day, we’re doing great just by getting by. Go easy on yourself. Take care of yourself and each other.
Sr. Director Product Management – Privacy & Data Governance
IDPro is a professional organization for practitioners of Identity and Access Management
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