By Tom Nixon, Certified Volunteer Mentor, SCORE of Southeast Michigan

Small business owners have had a new reality thrust upon them, as entrepreneurs everywhere suddenly find themselves working from home in the virtual company they likely started out in when they founded their venture—the proverbial kitchen table, as it were.

To say that there will be an adjustment period is an understatement.

But as someone who, myself, faced a similar adjustment only nine months ago, I’m here to tell you that it can be done. What today seems awkward, disruptive and counterproductive can tomorrow be regarded as “the new normal,” welcomed (in a way) and perhaps even preferable in certain regards. No, we would certainly never wish for the circumstances that necessitated these new remote working situations, but we can’t deny reality. And this reality won’t entirely halt the work that needs to be done, so the quicker we adapt and optimize, the we all hope for the best and speediest resolution to the underlying crisis.

From prior recent experience, here is my best advice on how you can most smoothly make the transition from your comfortable work routine and environment to today’s “new normal.”

Adopt Technology

Technology has never been more accessible, easily mastered nor more powerful than it is today. If the notion of Web meetings, virtual conferences or online webinars is foreign or intimidating to you, fear not. I’m sure most people have already been participants in such e-meetings, but perhaps the thought of scheduling or moderating them gives you pause, if such tasks are currently being managed by administrative support. Well, lean in...things have gotten a whole lot easier. 

If your company (or you personally) are using the G Suite of office apps, a Google Hangout (video conference) is literally a click away (both for the scheduler and for the participants)...and there’s no additional cost to schedule, host or record meetings. My marketing firm uses Zoom, a “freemium” corporate video conferencing solution, which is equally simple to schedule, host and record meetings (some functionality comes at a subscription cost). And you’ve probably used Skype or Apple FaceTime already, so you know how easy those are.

The point is to embrace these technologies, not cower from them. If you’re uncomfortable using them, spend some time with the video tutorials that are easily accessible on Google and YouTube. The technology is easily mastered, and once it is, it opens up a new way of life that you’ll want to work into your daily routine—long after this temporary adjustment period is behind us.

Make Your Bed (or Stick to a Routine)

If you’re not familiar with why U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven believes that “making your bed” can help you change the world, watch this inspiring speech. The upshot is that we need to begin our days with small wins, which will lead to big wins as the days, weeks and years go by. But it also underscores the importance of routine discipline. With no one watching, it might be tempting to sleep in a little longer, go without a shave or shower, or stay in your pajamas as long as there are no video conferences to be conducted. The experts will tell you to avoid such temptations. Get up early, as you would any other work day, and stay disciplined about how you approach your daily itinerary. Conduct your morning hygiene ritual, as normal. “Dress for the job you want,” as they say. And yes...maybe even make your bed.

A Room of One's Own

Author Virginia Woolf wrote an entire book about the importance of both literal and figurative solitude when it comes to doing great work. Though freedom will allow it, I advise against working from wherever you’re able to open a laptop. For one, distractions will run rampant if you have children and a co-working spouse in the house, and they will eat away at your concentration and productivity. You need quiet, you need space...and as illustrated above, you need routine. Find or fashion a room in your house that can be especially (or ideally, exclusively) delineated as your office. 

I recommend against setting up a workstation in an area of your home that will serve dual purposes, such as the kitchen table or in your bedroom in front of the T.V. For one, you need to construct physical and mental space between “the office” and “home,” and dual-purposing common areas will make that challenging, if not impossible. Secondly, your work is likely a source of stress and anxiety from time to time. Do your best to avoid enabling that work anxiety to bleed into your home and personal life. That “room of one’s own” approach to establishing boundaries will help you to keep work at work, and home at home.

Look For—And Embrace—the Silver Linings

With everything, there are tradeoffs. And as difficult as this might be to recognize now, there are some benefits to working at a virtual company. The first is time management. Take stock: How long is your commute to and from the office? Whatever that time is, you’ve just found that much more time to dedicate to important tasks. Or consider how much of your day is time spent in meetings, and how many of those meetings are truly critical to your day. This new reality just might recalibrate your thinking on that. And even if it doesn’t, have you ever noticed how much shorter teleconferences or Web meetings are compared to their in-person counterparts? While this is not entirely optimal in all situations nor forever, small talk, banter and other time-depleters are largely foregone in virtual meetings, which makes them more productive in a time-to-action ratio calculus.

Lastly, be honest: How much of your day is consumed with lunch breaks, coffee breaks, idle “watercooler” chat, short colleague visits and other distractions? If you don’t know, you’ll likely soon realize once that time is eliminated from your daily routine. What I found during my own transition is that I could do much more work in far less just took me a while to figure that out.

Be Patient

Which leads me to patience. Here is my cautionary plea: Don’t try to assess whether this is working after one day. Or even one week. When I joined Harrington, the agency had been a virtual working environment for six years already. What seemed perfectly normal to everyone else was entirely foreign to me. And I had early doubts as to whether I’d ever adjust. In fact, I found myself seeking out co-working environments and other office accommodations outside the home, just to “get back to normal.” That’s when two veterans of working from home counseled me separately, “Give it some time.” They both individually remarked, “It took me about a year to adjust. But now I love it.”

Well, hopefully we’re not still doing this a year from now (though, I will be!), but the plea for patience applies. I’m here to tell you, it didn’t take a year from me to adjust. And now that I have (and for me, the adjustment would be permanent), I wouldn’t have it any other way. The tradeoffs I’ve made in isolation and “never leaving the office” have been worth it, when I assess the productivity gains and adoption of technologies that allow me to serve a client anywhere in the world, without hesitation or prejudice against the limitations of geography and time. 

Hang in there. It won’t come overnight, but you’ll start to recognize the silver linings. And whatever you think of your new reality today, I promise you’ll think differently of it down the road.

Go Company-Wide

Your company should be scheduling training sessions, publishing user guides, and distributing tools and resources for the late adopters among its ranks. Don’t assume that because your staff is made up of intelligent people that they have natural mastery over modern technology platforms. The more that small businesses can do to centralize resources and facilitate the transition period for its team members, the quicker and more fully will it be serving the needs of its customers and valued employees.

Review and Reassess

As dispiriting and disruptive as this new reality is for us, our clients and our colleagues, the challenges that arise should be documented and considered so that they can be addressed long-term. Perhaps some cracks are emerging, such as difficulty allowing remote access to the firm VPN, or the fact that attorneys and legal support teams have different access credentials than administrative staff, forcing some in the short term to report to the office while others are granted remote status. Or perhaps you will just now discover both individual and company-wide technology aversions.

While not every issue that arises can be remedied immediately, situations such as the one in which we currently find ourselves do present opportunities to address previously unforeseen vulnerabilities and limitations. Make sure you are recording these opportunities so that they do get addressed before the next crisis presents itself.

About the Author

Tom Nixon is a Certified Volunteer Mentor with the Southeast Michigan chapter of SCORE, as well as a principal with HARRINGTON, a content marketing firm for professionals. He hosts his own podcast, The Thought Leadership Project, weekly.

Key Topics

Tips for Adapting to the New Remote Working Reality