I started a new job at Fuze a little over a month ago. I recall sitting on the sofa the weekend before, thinking to myself: how will I navigate this completely unknown space on top of the fact that I am doing it from my desk at home?
It’s natural to find ourselves in this mental space as we navigate working from home: we’re entering a new, unknown situation and we feel the need to prove ourselves. In a physical office, navigating these new circumstances would be easier. We would meet people face to face, find your desk, be able to pull a co-worker aside and ask questions, have lunch together and find other people who share your interests over a snack break.
Fully remote, none of these opportunities are easily available— at first glance. It almost feels like we’re playing chess with half the pieces. I realized that I was focusing too much on what I didn’t know, and not enough on the information I did have. So I shifted my energy to what I could understand and control, and went from there. I asked questions, and absorbed information as best I could.
Fast forward to now: I feel engaged with work, involved with my team, and secure in the commitments I make to my co-workers and superiors. Here are some of the things that made a world of difference:
Create a Space for Work
If you’re working from home, carve out an area that you can use only when working — ideally, this is a room you can turn into a home office, but there are other options that work. It could be a corner in the living room, the dining room table, or something else. You should avoid the bedroom (as you’ll associate the room with working, instead of resting), and find a place you can go that allows you to get into the right headspace for work.
I had the chance to invest in my own home office and got a standing desk. Being new, it brought something fresh and exciting to the experience of working. I also bought a new paper notebook, that I use to jot down every important thought I have... instead of scrambling to open a note file on my computer. Taking notes helps me focus on the subject at hand, and allows me to review what I wrote later if I need it.
Find what works for you, and invest in it — even if it’s just investing emotionally. You’re taking control over the way you experience work; it takes up half of your waking hours, so you might as well make it gratifying and exciting.
Build Healthy Time Management Habits
We’re used to our work hours being book-ended, usually by the commute between home and workplace. When those transitional moments aren’t available, and our work desk is ten paces away from the TV, the boundaries between work and rest become blurry, and work tends to spill over into our home lives quite easily.
Working from home — and especially starting out at a new company where I felt compelled to prove my worth — I found that I would subconsciously rationalise extending my working hours, to push just a little bit further. From previous experience, I knew that in the long term this would take a toll on the motivation I feel towards work, and I would fall back into old habits of overworking.
So, even though the company culture doesn’t prescribe a work schedule, I created my own — making sure I would overlap with my co-workers’ work schedule in different time zones, while finding time for solo focus work in the mornings. I also set personal boundaries. The Fuze app has a Quiet Mode: outside work hours, it reminds you that your notifications will be silenced until the next morning, and lets your co-workers know you won’t see the message right away. I treat those “notifications off” alerts as a cut-off point for work.
If we’re walking away from the computer feeling that there was more to be done, that doesn’t mean we didn’t do enough; there will always be more work, otherwise we wouldn’t have a job. But that next item left on the to-do list means we’ll feel a bit more motivated to seize the day tomorrow when we’re back. For my solo focus time — which I allocate for exploratory work that doesn’t depend on other people, so I have no meetings during this time — I made an effort to keep my focus and maintain healthy habits, like stretching and drinking water.
For that, I adopted the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of uninterrupted work, with five-minute breaks. Before starting, I make a concrete to-do list, prioritise it and tackle it. Once the timer goes off, I stop what I’m doing and take a break. I do the same after five minutes: the bell rings, and I resume work again.
Make the Most of What you’re Given
My first day at Fuze started with an onboarding session that framed the work Fuze does in a model that I love: Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why”. I immediately understood the company’s core mission, and the way it tackles the problems it sets out to solve.
But not everything has to have a formal framework: getting to know my co-workers — and not being afraid to make light-hearted comments, or ask tons of questions — allowed me to create a rapport with them that eases us into conversations that I need to have to have success in my role. For those just starting new roles, remember: you were hired because of who you are and inhibiting that actually dulls what you bring to the table.
In any new role, there are questions that are pivotal to be asked: namely, what is expected of you in the first few weeks and months, so that you know what your priorities should be. I was lucky to have a structured document created by my manager waiting for me during my first week that we then reviewed together. However, the discovery process that followed allowed me to feel a sense of agency over the knowledge I eventually gained, and pushed me to connect with other people.
Once you know your high-level expectations, list out everything that comes to your mind as to-do items. Once you’ve captured all those ideas, categorize them as “Do right now” “Pick up when possible” “For when I have free time”. When looking for something to do, always start from that top category. I review my list daily, and shuffle things around, adding stuff often — and proudly crossing items off. Be warned: this list will never go away. And that’s okay. Success won’t be measured by the lack of to-do items, since every day on the job means more stuff to do. Success is what you’ve accomplished when you plan ahead and work smarter instead of harder.
Starting a new role at a new company can be overwhelming: reclaiming control over the way I perceived this personal process not only helped me to feel more comfortable when asking for help, but also allowed me to find the resources I needed: other people that sat down with me and patiently guided me through processes and policies, documentation I could read in my own time, and training that helped me get up to speed.
I realised that working remotely is definitely a different set of circumstances than I was used to — especially when it came to onboarding — but these circumstances aren’t necessarily worse. Try making a few changes in the way you tackle your work day, and keep the ones that work. You’re only bringing the baggage you choose to carry into the role: pack the good stuff, and drop the stuff that didn’t work. Your new co-workers will only get to know and enjoy the improvements you’ve made, as will you.
Plus, while working remotely I can spend the day with my cats. It’s a win-win.