Work from home is not a new concept, but it is one you are hearing more about this month due to COVID-19 and precautions companies are taking to prevent the spread of illness. While remote work is the norm for some, it is uncharted territory for others who are navigating these changes personally, professionally, and as team leaders.

To help you make work from home work for you, and for your team, HBS Career Coaches Mo Fong and Eileen Stephan are sharing their recommendations. Fong, HBS Career Coach and Sr. Director at Google, typically works with her team in the office but has transitioned with all of her colleagues to work from home due to COVID-19. Stephan has worked remotely since 2001 in various roles in banking, recruiting, and education and was the first ever remote employee at Morgan Stanley. Their two different experiences highlight all of the nuances to consider when working from home including technology, establishing routines, health and wellness, and communication.


One of the major reasons so many companies can consider work from home plans right now is the available technology.

“It’s not like in the early 2000s when we didn’t have shared calendars and you had to communicate your schedule well in advance, now everyone has shared calendars. If you don’t, this is the time to start so colleagues can have insight into each other’s days,” says Stephan. Technology tools like shared calendars, videoconferencing through Zoom or Skype, chats, and texting, not to mention the ease of unplugging your laptop and bringing it home, make work from home manageable.

However, not everyone is going to be comfortable with these technologies right away and Stephan stresses the importance of being patient with others as they tackle the learning curve. Also, if you haven’t used videoconferencing or chat previously, familiarize yourself and set up a test. This is particularly relevant for videoconferencing tools so that you can see how your surroundings appear on camera and understand the various functions.

Another watch out – technology overload. When working from home you have access to even more technology than in the office. It’s important to set up your work space so that you have access to the technology you need, and not the technology that will distract you. Fong encourages her team to avoid multitasking and to call each other out if they appear distracted.

Effective Routines

A critical component to successful work from home is establishing a schedule and routine. Think about your typical work day and what routines and schedules you want to keep, and which new routines you need to establish.

For example, Fong makes sure to follow her same routine of getting her water or coffee before diving into her packed schedule of meetings that she is now keeping via phone and videoconference. However, what is missing are the micro-movements of working in the office, including simple things like changing conference rooms. To accommodate this, Fong has reminders set to get up from her desk at regular intervals and to make sure she’s drinking enough water.

Stephan echoes this point and emphasizes how important little breaks can be for your day so that you aren’t at your computer from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep. She also stresses the importance of setting scaffolding around your workday. “There may be significant demands on people to work longer in the current situation, but if your company is business as usual while you work remotely, stop work at 5 or 6. Try not to be become one with your phone and computer.”

Health and Wellness

As a manager, Fong has her team at the top of mind as Google has made this temporary transition.

“Sometimes work from home can cause stress for employees because they don’t have the proper set up, are taking care of others, or have roommates also working from home. Work is not everything about a person’s life, so it’s important to make sure your team is mentally well,” she notes.

To do that, make sure your team has the support structures they need, from colleagues, friends, or family. Also think about how you can establish community remotely, for instance using video instead of phone calls and creating regular check-ins. Work from home can be an ideal setup for some, and for others it can be socially isolating so it’s important to manage that head on.

Appropriate ergonomic setups are also important for effective and healthy work from home environments. Working from the couch can be appealing, but it is not the ideal long term solution. Therefore, it’s important for managers to check in with their teams, and for individuals setting up their own work from home spaces to create an area that works for them. Fong suggests, “Not every company will be able to reimburse you for additional equipment like a monitor or appropriate desk space at home, but ergonomics are important and if you can, invest in yourself.”

Another work from home hurdle for some is healthy food. You may typically work in an office environment that offers meals or snacks on site so you aren’t used to keeping certain items in your home. Or you may have healthy food options nearby your office, but not close enough to your home to grab a quick lunch. “Stock up on the food and beverage items you’ll need so that you can maintain your physical health as well and don’t find yourself stuck with the same peanut butter and jelly every day,” Stephan recommends.


Communication is key in any business environment, but it takes on a new level of importance in a work from home environment. “You can’t just walk down the hall right now. Setting up meetings and videoconferences helps, but you also need to manage real time conversations and set up the infrastructure and norms for using chat, text, and phone calls,” says Fong.

You will also need to be clear about your team and individual objective and how you are going to achieve results. Objectives may need to be altered in some business environments because priorities have shifted, so make sure that your entire team is on the same page.

The management style Fong implements in the office works well remotely as well and offers structure when there is less in person interaction. “I check in with my team members on a weekly basis using the PPP framework. Progress, Plans, Problem areas.” With this method, Fong has insight into what her team is working on, how they are getting the work done, and what they need help with. She also finds that this encourages her team to be open about when their plates are full and when they are looking for additional challenges.

Anxiety levels are high right now, but open lines of communication can help offer support, ease concerns, and keep a business moving. Use the communication tools at your disposal, be creative and flexible, and bring your team together as a community from a distance.