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Being a Kind Colleague at Home


Like many of you, my family has been thrust into working from home 100% of the time. I’m extremely grateful to have a job where I can work from home and feel fortunate to be surrounded by people I love. However, right now my family is working and learning at home, alongside each other in our small, two-bedroom house and while I love them, the struggle is real.

In the beginning, I was excited to set up workstations for all of us in separate places around the house. We have a shared calendar on the wall, a shared Outlook calendar for conference call times — aka “quiet time” — as well as cool new storage bins and color-coded organizers. My enthusiasm for our “cool” new space waned in the weeks that followed. Inevitably, at some point in the workday, someone starts singing along to the song they’re listening to on their headphones, or cursing the bad Wi-Fi, or talking a little too loudly on Zoom; my ability to concentrate is shot.

We rotate in and out of the “good” office space now, and tiptoe around corners during the day. Our normal roles are blurred. We’re struggling to find time for self-care and meaningful togetherness. We can’t come home and complain about our work environment because we are now, at times, the culprits of each other’s daily work angst. It occurs to me that being a kind colleague is more important than ever.

Part of being a kind colleague is having empathy for those around you, whether you’re working virtually or alongside one another at home. We are all doing the best we can do on any given day.

I was a stay-at-home mom for years and my heart goes out to anyone struggling to entertain and teach their young children at home right now. Same goes for those trying to manage aging parents or ill relatives, navigating deteriorating relationships amidst constant togetherness, or any number of difficulties that each of us now faces in our new reality.

We’re all going to have to work together, quite literally, for the foreseeable future. I recently started viewing my housemates (now my workmates) as just that – pretending that each day we spend during working hours is no different than if we were colleagues sharing formal office space. Making this mental shift has been helpful for everyone, and we’re all making a greater effort to be considerate colleagues. Here are some of our favorite office etiquette tips adapted for home:

Create a Beautiful Workspace and Use It

To the best of your ability, create a beautiful space to work in, whatever that means for you. For me it means natural light, a clear workspace, plants, and supplies I need to stay organized. Everything that was on my office desk is now on my home office desk. It makes me feel comfortable and ready to tackle the day. If you can create separate workspaces for every person in your home that needs one, all the better. Avoid hogging shared living spaces and stick to your designated home office space during work time.

Share Your Space

When working in a shared office, consider that other people also need to feel comfortable in that space. Just because you don’t mind leaving out dirty dishes doesn’t mean that your colleagues will feel the same. Would you walk the length of the hallways at work to take a call? Blast your favorite music loud enough for others to hear? Treat your home workspace like your actual workspace. Keep it tidy and organized even if this isn’t your norm. Adhere to a schedule, especially when it comes to quiet time. Pretend you’re sharing a cubicle with a fellow employee and your evaluation would be partially based on how well you interacted with one another.

Respect Other People’s Boundaries

Even if you can’t get enough of each other’s company, be mindful of your new work-from-home buddies and their need to get work done. Be considerate of their time. You’re all working on deadlines, whether it’s submitting a work proposal, turning in a homework assignment, dialing into a regularly scheduled meeting, or taking care of others in your home who need you. Try to stagger virtual meetings when possible and limit the noise you’re making in the house when others around you are on important video/phone calls. Work in shifts if necessary, so that everyone gets a turn at work time, caregiving time, and alone time. If you have small kids at home this becomes particularly challenging. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. Communicate to your work-from-home colleagues (and your boss) when things are too challenging and see what you can shift to make things better.

Say You’re Sorry When It’s Warranted

It’s mature and thoughtful to apologize for your mistakes, even with your kids. If you said or did something that was uncalled for, say sorry. If you had your facts mixed up, say, “You’re right, and thanks for correcting me,” and learn from it. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit when you’re wrong, but rather a sign of inner strength and humility.

Be Polite

Having good manners means going out of your way to make other people feel at ease and respected. It may sound simple, but this is a hard one for many people. A well-placed “please” or “thank you” can go a long way. Learn to say, “How can I help you?” rather than, “Can I help you?” Send thank-you notes to your work-at-home “colleagues” when they go above and beyond. Check in and ask them how they’re doing. If you’re struggling, they’re probably struggling, too. If this isn’t your norm, practice now and keep it up when you return to the workplace.

Think Before You Speak/Act

If you’re having a bad day, don’t make it worse by being rude to the people you now have to work alongside every day. Treat your new work-from-home colleagues with the same respect and thoughtfulness as you would your regular colleagues, even if you don’t feel like doing so. It’s the hallmark of emotional intelligence. Remember, we’re all under pressure and all doing our best, and this may only be temporary.

Have Fun!

One of my favorite offices had a giant whiteboard where people would doodle and answer a silly “question of the week”. I’ve replaced our wall calendar at home with a white board and we’ve started doing this. Think about things that you’ve enjoyed in previous work environments and create this for yourself and your “colleagues” at home.

Take Time for Self-Care

We’ve all heard this a million times, but it’s worth repeating. What does self-care mean right now? For me it means solitude to think, write, and create during the workday. I’m happiest with my “office” door closed, deeply engaged in my work, saving the bulk of my energy for calls with clients. What does it mean for your work environment? Ask your work-from-home “colleagues” for what you need. If you’re able to carve out alone time, do it. Working from home doesn’t mean working 24/7. Make time to meditate, practice a hobby, or generally recharge for the week ahead.

As author Nancy Daley recommends, try reflecting on your “to be” list rather than your “to do” list to ease the anxiety of feeling “on” all the time.

Overall, treat your new home-office colleagues as you would your regular office colleagues, or dare I say, “like family.” It might make all the difference in the mental health of your home as we navigate the unknowns of the future work environment.