EdReports.org started its work in 2014 with a plan to operate as a national organization with a virtual work environment. To date, we have employees based in 19 states and more than 600 educator reviewers located in 48 states and the District of Columbia. During this unprecedented time of global upheaval in response to COVID-19 we recognize that many people have questions about how to successfully transition from a brick and mortar office to a virtual workplace. 

Over the past five years we have listened to and learned from our staff members about how to adjust and succeed in a remote environment. We regularly collect their advice and share them with new staff as they begin working with us virtually as one of several onboarding supports. We thought they may be helpful in this moment to support those who are working virtually for the first time. We hope that this resource can contribute in supporting the field to press on with its important work while navigating the ever-changing landscape we currently live in. 

Structure Your Day

Working remotely can sometimes feel overwhelming because there is no longer a clear demarcation between the office and home. We recommend putting routines in place right from the beginning and communicating them to others in your household. Find a routine that works for you and try to stick to it. With a little time, this routine will become your “new normal” and others will adjust to it. 

“Working from home provides a lot of flexibility which is amazing—I get to work when I’m at my best (i.e. I love early mornings). However, you need to ensure you have a cut off time and that you actually cut off from work. It’s really easy to work all day and night when you work from home. If you stick to cutting yourself off you can ensure you have some balance.”

“Have dedicated time for lunch and a couple small breaks in the day. You will blink and the day is gone and all you’ve done is sit in front of your computer.”

“Put routines in place right from the beginning. I try to wake up early and take the dog for a walk and then get some housework done so that I can focus on work during normal work hours.”

“The most surprising thing about working from home is how easy it can be to get into bad patterns. Whether it’s working all day and through dinner, not drinking enough water, sitting all day, or skipping that workout class to get just a little more work done, there’s no one at work to help you regulate yourself. You have to set clear rules/boundaries and not let the convenience of working from home lull you into ignoring your own needs. I use calendar holds, reminders, phone alarms, and post-its to help reinforce rules/boundaries for myself.”

Establish A Work Space

We know many people don’t have the luxury of having a separate home office space. To the best of your abilities strive to set up a space that allows you to be most productive

“Create a dedicated workspace. I made a home office using my kitchen table/nook area. I sometimes work from my couch, but it’s nice to start the day at my ‘home office.’”

“I was really concerned because I don’t have dedicated office space in my apartment; however, with the laptop and by printing fewer items than I would in my old office… it has been okay in terms of keeping my space clean and not letting the office space overrun the life space. I recommend keeping your paper recycling close so you can throw things away and not build stacks.”

“Have a comfortable space to work BUT try to get out of that space occasionally and see the other parts of your house. You can go crazy looking at the same wall for eight hours a day. Go somewhere where there’s a lot of light or you can see the foliage.”

“Create a positive workspace. I personally can’t work anywhere as effectively as my little corner of happiness where everything is organized and has a place. I suggest a large screen, nice keyboard/mouse, and good chair.”

Modify How You Work With Others

Working remotely means it’s not as simple to drop into a colleague’s office or cubicle when you have a question. Conducting complex meetings in a conference room also changes when transitioned to a virtual conference room. Take some simple steps to better notify your colleagues of your availability, and modify how you conduct or participate in virtual meetings. 

“Be ready to share your calendar with others and look at others’ calendars when you need to meet with them.”

“Prioritize video meetings when possible and when it makes sense with your meeting partner.  That has really helped to build personal connections when we are not physically close to each other.”

“Communication is key! Be in touch with your team on a regular basis to track projects and to catch up socially. Use video meetings to have opportunities for ‘water cooler time’. Just sending silly gifs or catching up on lives outside of work is important.”

“Working on big, complex projects remotely or getting comprehensive feedback can be a challenge. Anticipate that projects could take longer to complete and require more discipline in meetings to get the nitty gritty work done.”

Anticipate Distractions 

There are so many benefits to working remotely but also distractions as you navigate a space that primarily functions as a home for families, partners, and pets. We are all in this together. Strive for flexibility, patience, and empathy to support one another during this challenging time. 

“I love being able to see my family more now that I’m working from home—but I also hear them more. Part of creating boundaries is to let your family know that just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re always available. This has been really hard with young children, but they eventually get used to the idea that mom is working and can’t play.”

“People can easily make assumptions about what working from home looks like on the day to day.  I’ve had to be more firm in reminding those around me that I have a set work schedule that I’ve created.  This means that I’m not available to wait for a repair person or pick up the car from the shop.”

“It’s very easy to get distracted by non-work things then end up working late into the evenings. The kids and dog need way more attention than I realized, sometimes at the most inopportune times. Establishing a clear routine and schedule does help—so does having compassionate colleagues who understand the realities of working from home.”

“My two biggest interruptions have been my children—fur and human. For the fur children, I keep a stash of treats on my desk to throw them if I am on a call and need them to be quiet/go away. For my human children, we’ve talked about my workspace as being just like my office when I used to head into the city.”

Build and Sustain Team Culture 

Many EdReports staff have shared the difficulties of staying connected to colleagues in a virtual environment and sometimes having feelings of isolation. Although sharing conversations via video chat or phone is not the same as meeting in person, there are strategies you can apply to feel connected to colleagues and build personal and professional camaraderie. 

“You really need to make an effort to get to know your colleagues because there is no water cooler for casual conversations. There are certain expectations when working remotely such as striving to always turn your video camera on when on the phone. It truly changes the dynamic of the conversation to see someone’s expressions.”

“Reach out when feeling isolated—to both work colleagues and ‘in real life’ friends. They probably miss you too!”

“Get to know your co-workers on a personal level. Because we aren’t physically located in the same office, there tends to be less of the natural sharing that would occur when you work next to someone. Be more purposeful about reaching out to people outside of your immediate team.”

“Don’t be afraid to have a sense of humor. Our ‘all staff’ Zoom group makes me smile or laugh several times a week. Join the conversation and share your own personal side.”

For more tips and specific guidance on working virtually we recommend this blog from Education First on Making the Most of “Going Virtual” in Response to COVID-19