Working from home? Stay focused with these tips


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Working from home is the new normal for many of us. As skilled professionals, we are all called to do our part, but now we are doing it in a familiar environment used in a different way. I spoke with Megan Costigan, the human resources consultant for Notre Dame International (NDI) and Joya Helmuth, NDI’s senior director for global operations about working from home.

Joya, who previously traveled to London about once a month, is well-versed in moving between work environments. But now she, like her London and U.S. teams, is quarantined at home and staying connected to each other is vital. Zoom, the remote conference service, is her life, as she describes it. If you supervise a work team, Joya has these suggestions for successful Zoom meetings:

  • Start your day with a team meeting, and kick it off with an icebreaker. One of Joya’s campus team members has come up with questions such as, ‘What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?’ Or, ‘If there is one skill you think everybody should have, what would it be?’ These icebreakers help to ease everyone into the meeting and help people get to know each other a little better.
  • Go around the virtual room and let each team member report in on what they are doing, where they can use input from other team members, and what their challenges are.
  • Conduct a one-on-one, 15-minute check-in with team members. Joya started out with meetings every day but has reduced her one-on-ones to three times a week.
  • Be conscious of your surroundings when you Zoom. While Joya’s team is a dog-loving group (for the most part), and they frequently join meetings, they can often be heard in the background, so consider muting yourself, particularly when you are meeting in a large group.
  • Remember to have some fun. Joya’s campus team has been using tropical backgrounds when they meet over Zoom. If that sounds like something your manager would go for, click here to learn how to use backgrounds.

Megan’s tips will keep us grounded yet moving forward in a healthy remote working environment:

  • Get out and take a walk. Your body is used to walking between campus buildings or even just within a building. it's important to get up and move. “I appreciate my walks between buildings as an opportunity for reflection in between meetings, and so finding a way to do that remotely is important to me.”
  • Establish a routine and create boundaries. “It's tempting to leave the computer on and continue to check email, but I find it helpful to establish a way that you close your day that virtually replicates physically leaving the office.” To the degree possible, keep your remote office separate from your living space. 
  • Listen to music. “As someone who lives alone, working remotely means it's very quiet versus the everyday sounds of the office. I find listening to music helps alleviate the silence and is a fun advantage to working remotely — I can listen to whatever I want, as loud as I want without risk of disturbing my coworkers.”
  • Continue to experiment with what works including technology. “We're in this for a few weeks, and so we need to be flexible and agile with how we approach the situation. This is a great opportunity to hone your skills with the different collaboration tools available — Jabble, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.”

Finally, if you find yourself sharing your space with other adults working remotely and kids learning remotely, here’s what is working for me and my family:

  • Establish quiet hours for work, school and sleep. (In our house, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. is the no-fly zone for work and school, 10:30 p.m. for sleep.)
  • Check calendars each day for when someone needs to meet online or record a video for work or school. We do an “On the air,” or “I’m going live in 5…” announcement so everyone is aware. We also notify everyone when the meeting/video recording is over.
  • When possible, schedule meals, such as lunches and dinner, together for a pleasant work break.
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    Frasier and Gertie


  • Set up designated work areas and spaces for each individual as well as flex spaces. For example the dining room might be a work area, but it is the one place where everyone records live videos or meets in Zoom conferences. Bedrooms and closed doors can be quiet sanctuaries for focused work when needed.
  • Keep your work in a briefcase, file box or container so it can quickly move with you should you choose to camp out in a different space in the house.
  • Make sure to celebrate family time at night with dinner, games, movies and family walks. 
  • Remember, whether we are together or apart, we are all in this together. 

About the writer: Natalie Davis Miller is the managing editor of NDWorks. Her new work mates are her husband, two dogs (pictured), two daughters, and a daughter’s boyfriend.