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Our Top Tips from 12+ Years of Remote Working

NFSN Staff Monday, March 23, 2020

By National Farm to School Network Staff

National Farm to School Network staff are experts in many things… including remote work! Since launching in 2007, NFSN has been a remote-based organization, with the majority of our staff working in home offices from coast to coast and many places in between. At this time, when we know many people with the ability to be able to work from home are being asked to do so, we’d like to offer up some of the tried and tested strategies we use to do our work as a remote team every day. It’s a small gesture in this unprecedented situation, but we hope that these tips might be helpful to those of you who are joining us for the first time in the “work from home” world these coming days and weeks. 

Get dressed (really). For some of you, my advice may be laughably obvious. Whereas others (including some of my co-workers) may feel that I am dead wrong: don’t spend all day working in your pajamas. Take a shower. Shave (if that applies). Put on regular clothes. Regular clothes can mean something as simple as shorts and a t-shirt, but don’t work all day in pajamas or a bathrobe. This basic level of preparedness will help focus you on the work day ahead. -Scott Bunn, Development Director (North Carolina)

Create a dedicated work space. Working in your living space can present some challenges, perhaps most commonly the uncomfortable blurring of lines between the two. I’ve found it helpful to have a dedicated work space that I stick to. I’m lucky to have a specific room for my home office. But, this could also be a desk in a bedroom or your dining room table. I’ve never had success working from the couch, but that might work for you, too! Wherever you set up shop, create a space that will put you in a work mindset. When you sit down in the spot, you’re working. And when you walk away from it, you’re not. If you’re like me, you’ll want to avoid working in the kitchen - it prompts too many snack attacks! -Anna Mullen, Communications Director (Iowa)

Pick up the phone. Email, G-chat, and Slack are all great ways to stay connected and share information with your team. But it’s easy to get stuck in a virtual world and many decisions and conversations are just made easier by talking it out. One five minute phone call can save many back and forth emails and there is the bonus of actual human interaction. A quick work or social chat can brighten your day and remind you that you are not in this alone. -Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager (Missouri)

Schedule time for movement. When I first started working remotely I had this fantasy that I would take multiple mini-exercise breaks throughout the day and I pictured myself in peak physical form. That might work great for some but I believe you still have to schedule it in! I find it's way too easy to push off those mini-breaks if you're engaged in a project, so now I try to exercise first thing in the morning before starting my work day. If I can get extra time for breaks throughout the day that's even better but at least I've already done something active. Also a standing desk setup is super easy to fashion out of all kinds of props you probably have laying around your home, or I have this super affordable and convertible option that helps me quickly switch setups so that I am not just sitting all day. -Tracey Starkovich, Operations and Events Manager (Illinois)

Get outside! The best part of working from home is being able to step outside as time permits, such as walking during a phone call or tending your garden while mulling over a major decision. I personally recommend pulling weeds to work out frustration or resolve a problem! You may not be able to connect with co-workers face-to-face, but connecting with the land is an excellent way to feel whole. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)

Make yourself lunch – and eat it away from your work area. If you're working on the couch, eat at a table. If you're working at a table, eat on your couch. I often eat my lunch standing up in the kitchen or followed by a short walk around the block. Taking mandatory breaks to enjoy food and giving your body and mind a change of scenery is key to maintaining focus during critical work hours - and feeling motivated to get up and do it all again the next day! -Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate (Colorado)

Feedback is critical. Working in an office provides for multiple opportunities for feedback including both verbal and non verbal cues that are necessary for moving projects along. When you are home working alone, you may find yourself wondering if you’ve completed a task as expected or if your work overall is up to par. Supervisors should take more care to give employees feedback on their work, and employees need to feel empowered to speak up about their questions and needs. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)

Set boundaries, and stick to them. When you work from home, it’s easy to let work creep into your home life. A good way to mitigate the constant feeling of being on (and not letting that actually happen) is to set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t just map out your work time, calls, and projects. Also map out when you’re going to exercise, eat lunch, take breaks, and end your workday. Build in time to take care of yourself. Turn off notifications during your off hours. And remember that if you don’t stick to this, it has a ripple effect on your colleagues. Ultimately, we cannot show up as our best selves at work if we do not take care of ourselves as whole people, where work is but one part of who we are. -Helen Dombalis, Executive Director (Colorado)

Monitor morale. In general, and especially while we are feeling the impacts of COVID-19, it’s important to keep a pulse on staff morale. Working remotely can create new and exacerbate existing morale issues. Make dedicated space to address staff concerns on an ongoing basis, whether it be through group video meetings, HR services or one-on-one check ins. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)

Working from home has its benefits too! #1 - flexibility! Don’t hold yourself to unnecessary rules and take advantage of your new work environment. Enjoy having your dog, cat or other pet keep you company during the day. Enjoy more casual office attire. Enjoy moving and stretching throughout the day without feeling self conscious, because no one is watching. Enjoy taking some of your calls al fresco. We find that the more flexible we are with our time and resources, the better we perform.

We know that there are millions of American who are not able to transition their work to the dining room table - including many who work in the food and school systems. This health crisis has put a spotlight on the many inequities in our current economic system that have shown these members of our communities to be disproportionately impacted. Here are some ways you can support them, too

Need more ideas for successful remote working? Drop us a note! We’re happy to help in whatever ways we can. 

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