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Survival: Keeping it Professional While “WFH”

It’s definitely a love/hate relationship for me these days. Having loved working from a home office for many years, the new “WFH” scenario (the COVID-19 pandemic-induced nickname for work from home) has its great and not-so-great days. As a stereotypical introvert, it’s difficult to believe that I actually miss real, in-person interactions! With the pandemic likely to linger well into 2021, WFH has become an even more daunting reality. Some companies have gone full-tilt WFH, while others are going with a hybrid model.

Unlike myself and a few entrepreneurial professional friends, many workers were tossed into the concept of WFH with minimal or no guidance from their employers about working remotely. With few options and little time to consider other alternatives in a crisis situation, both companies and workers began learning how to get the job done in a new way. Often on their own, they’ve been figuring out how to make this new way of working and doing business plausible. Some find it doable and likable, and others not.

WFH requires a strategy to work productively and professionally while balancing home life and other demands. Here are four tried and true, and four COVID-19 inspired, suggestions to implement or fine-tune your strategy.

WFH Tried and True Lessons

  • Define Physical Boundaries—Create a dedicated workspace that looks and functions like a professional office space and helps you avoid home distractions (whenever possible). Use a well-designed plan for placing furniture, fixtures and needed equipment. An organized physical space yields many rewards.
  • Stick to a Schedule—Set consistent office hours and make them a habit. Plan a schedule that can be easily followed by you, those in your home, coworkers and customers. Decide how to avoid the trap of being “available 24-7,” even if you’re working across time zones.
  • Remain Businesslike—Keep all of your communications professional, whether you’re using phone, text, email or video conferencing. This is especially important when people don’t have the usual nonverbal cues present in an in-person interaction.
  • Maintain Appearance and Behavior Standards—Dress for work during your office hours. Select a level of dress that’s in line with the role you play, your company’s brand and your personal brand. Also, remember that you’re at work, so keep your mannerisms, posture and body language professional. Bad habits can develop quickly, and you’ll unconsciously carry them to video meetings and other work events.

WFH COVID-19 Inspired Lessons

  • Take Care of Yourself—Presenting well and putting out good work begin with taking care of yourself. Keep your mind aligned by managing your inner self-talk and your mindset. Set a daily practice to journal your intentions, possibilities and gratitude. Take care of your body with movement/exercise and healthy food.
  • Meet in Unique Ways—If you need to meet in person and can’t due to pandemic restrictions, look for unique ways to meet and conduct business. A colleague of mine recently met with a client outdoors. They went on a hike together, getting business done while also getting some exercise and fresh air.
  • Maintain Connections—Look for ways to still socialize professionally. Build time into professional conference calls or video calls by participating in “after meeting” introductions and social conversations. Remember that lighting to be seen and engaging to be heard have never been more important.
  • Leverage Your Network—Use the existing network of professionals you’ve gathered in your personal Rolodex and LinkedIn contacts list. Connect to say “hello” and ask how they’re doing. They’ll appreciate the call and that you cared enough to touch base. Business will tend to carry on, with questions about what you’re working on, how they can help and potential connections for new business.

The IT giant HP predicts the rise of the “empowered employee,” as technology allows us to continue working in this turbulent time. Despite extreme uncertainty and other challenges, employees and companies are trying to create a new vision for the future of work. Are you in a WFH situation? How are you preparing for the future of work? Please share any additional tips or lessons learned.

Surefire Success for On-Camera Dress

Many a funny meme or GIF exploits the humor of WFH dress and appearance. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so often how people can unwittingly demean themselves when conducting business on camera. Here are a few simple strategies for success.

  • Dress for Your Audience—Think about who you’re meeting with and the goals you have for that meeting. Dress in professional casual attire at minimum and consider how those you’re meeting with will likely be dressed.
  • Choose Garment Specifics—Choose medium to dark tones in flattering undertones, in colors such as cool blues, natural tones and pastels. To avoid technical display issues, avoid busy patterns, white, red and all-black outfits. Semi-fitted to fitted waist-up garments, like collared shirts, V-neck tops and sweaters, and layered cardigans or jackets will keep your look clean and classic.
  • Complete Your Look—Use simple jewelry and grooming techniques. Avoid the sway of dangling earrings or bling. Apply natural, yet defined, make-up that has slightly deeper tones than you usually wear. Gentlemen, if you’re the keynote or guest presenter, powder your nose, cheeks, forehead and head (if bald) to cut any glare.
  • Be Seen—Lighting is the key to this. Avoid glare, bright light and shadows. Use mixed lighting undertones reflected off the ceiling along with facing a window for the soft, natural light it provides. For up-close camera views/demonstrations, a ring light might work.

A sweatshirt is fine for chats with friends. But to help maintain your professional success, take a few minutes to look like you mean business on camera.

Kelly Duggan is an executive presence consultant and personal brand strategist. Her certified company is an award-winning member of the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI).

kellyduggan.com