Pandemic caution has generated a surge in companies asking their employees to work from home (WFH). As a remote employee and then self-employed contractor, I have worked from home full-time for more than 6 years, so I want to share some tips that will make your WFH presence more professional and productive. You need to think of this much differently than the occasional work-from-home day. This could go on for quite a while, so invest some time getting yourself set up to succeed.
Offices and office furniture is designed around ergonomics, giving workers a desk with room for your laptop, display, external keyboard & mouse/trackpad, and a chair with good lumbar support and position adjustments so you can sit with the keyboard and display at the proper heights for your body. Professional office furniture is expensive, so most people don't have this at home. Given the mid- to unknown-term of this current pandemic, it's worth it to buy/rent/borrow furniture that will help you be productive for a full day's work, day after day. If you're used to using a display monitor at work, get one for your home as well, because a laptop that's at the right height for you to type is at the wrong height for you to use as your monitor long-term.
We live in a teleconference world now, so get used to the idea that you must use your webcam. Joining a web conference with your webcam off is like sitting under the table at a meeting — sure, you can hear and be heard, but people really need to see you if you want to make an impact and make your presence known. That means you probably have to change out of your PJs and run a comb through your hair. Just do it.
OK, now that I convinced you to turn on your webcam, there are a few things you need to consider and adjust so you'll look great.
Location and Angle
You want your webcam at a height even with your forehead and located on the screen you're viewing when you're on the conference. If your webcam is on your laptop sitting on your desk, but you're using a large display monitor, the webcam shot is going to have a bad angle looking up your nostrils from the side angle with the ceiling in the background. That's not your best look, and it will look to others on the web conference that you are looking away from them and the meeting.
If you use a display, mount an inexpensive webcam on the top of that monitor. If you must use your laptop, use a shoe box or stack of books to elevate the laptop to eye level during the conference. And think about what's in the background—your co-workers don't really want to see your unmade bed and pile of dirty clothes over in the corner.
Lightning and Sound
Webcams have automatic irises that try to get the best average exposure. That mean if you have a bright light or window in the background, you'll be silhouetted like a witness protection testimony, so avoid bright things behind you. Next, think about the windows and lights in your office. Try to get balanced light across your face, and ideally, not from straight overhead. If you have a window lighting you brightly from one side, add a lamp on the other side of the desk.
You don't have much control of sound, since it's likely to default to your laptop mic, but if you use a display that has a microphone (or the webcam you mounted on the display) then go into the settings of your web conference software and select to use the display's webcam and mic.
There's an old joke that when you are self-employed and work at home, you only have to work half a day; the challenge is figuring out which 12 hours that is. Working from home blurs the boundaries between work and home life.
If you're new to working from home, you may initially think you'll spend fewer hours working. My experience, though, is that with work always accessible, it's hard not to work longer hours. Figure out what's right for you and your responsibilities, then try to stick to work hours that will provide you with a good routine.
I'm eager to hear from you if you have feedback and tips on this topic for others.