Working from home has transformed the IT and the Cybersecurity Industry, some for the better, and some for the worse. Humans are mainly social beings. Lunches used to be part of doing business. Meeting new people in conference halls could change your view on a particular topic or spark your curiosity in a new field. Now, there is a nostalgic sense to all of that. Things have deteriorated to the extent that we even recall the time spent in traffic as something pleasant. However, it doesn’t all have to be bleak. There are actually a number of steps you can take to ensure that working from home will be a positive and productive experience.
Firstly, there should be very strict guidelines on how not to burn yourself out working from home. One way to achieve this is by keeping your calendar up to date, which will make the streamline process of booking meetings much easier. Since you do not need to commute anymore, you may now have to switch among multiple customers, whereas in the past, you had several days in a row to spend with one customer. Your calendars should also mark your personal appointments as BUSY to make sure nothing gets booked on top of them. That is, in many cases your calendars can get booked by the Project Management (PM) team. If they are up to date, PMs will not need to email or message back and forth to find out when you are available- they can just check your calendar and book accordingly. Furthermore, when working with customer project management teams, it is best to provide them with your availability beforehand to avoid double or triple booking, which will save you and your customers time. To make sure information gathering is done in an optimal way, you need to avoid back to back meetings with different customers. This will enable the information to better digest and will give you the opportunity to approach the next meeting with a clear mind.
Secondly, it is important to find time to reflect on your day or to decompress. In other words, it is imperative to clear your mind, and have a better work mood that will translate to better outcomes with your customers. Since you have now lost the organic reflection time on the flight back home where you used to review notes and summarise the work you did for a customer, you can simulate a similar experience by blocking half of the day or even the entire day to just spend time on a customer summary and not start a new engagement right away. In addition, it is a good idea to find time for physical exercise, go for a walk, meditate, or do any other activities that will not require staring at the screen. It is also crucial to take breaks between meetings to stretch or walk around the house or condo. If your main tool is your brain, you need to sharpen it to be the best at what you do. It may seem that such activities are just a waste of time, and you can do more work instead of taking breaks. However, this is where notions of quality versus quantity come into effect. Did you know that high-end woodworkers spend the majority of their time sharpening their tools rather than working? It might be timely for you to adopt such measures.
Thirdly, to connect better with people over video meetings you can do the following; do some research on the individuals you will be meeting with, e.g., check their LinkedIn profile, any articles they might have written, what their company does, etc. I am sure all of you have read Deal Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People’. If not, I think you should. You want to find clues or topics for conversations that are not directly work related, the reason for which is that the majority of people welcome outside-of-work interactions. Have your camera ON during a video call, make sure your home office looks appealing, dress appropriately for the call, etc. Don’t be shy about asking people to turn on their cameras at the next meeting. Open the meeting a bit earlier; this will give you the time to talk about the weather, the news, or whatever you may see in your interlocutor’s home office. I have a green screen behind me, and it’s always a conversation starter; why do I have it, where to get one or how to light it up correctly? In addition, be present, actively listen to people, and take notes on what they are telling you about themselves. This way, when you open the next meeting in advance, you can talk about the topics you remember from the last time. There is one last point that I see people neglect, including myself, which has to do with the positioning of your web camera. Place your camera in such a way that when you speak, people can see your face and eyes and will have a better way to connect with you. If the camera is on the side and you look into their faces, they will see the side of your face while you will have a full-face view of them.
Lastly, for you to be efficient at what you do, you need to continually keep your knowledge up to date. To achieve this, you might want to stay connected with your peers and with the bigger outside world. Don't be shy to book virtual coffee or luncheons with friends from the industry. I do this all the time, and my colleagues and I often eat and talk in front of the camera- something my mom would not probably approve of, thank god she is not on Linkedin! You can have a recurring meeting with certain people to ensure you will not forget to book future meetings. Other ways of staying up to date include, checking articles on LinkedIn, reading about new topics and engaging and commenting on the articles. Also, some other ways are attending virtual meet-ups to discuss topics of interest or starting your own show, podcast, meetup and drinking virtual beer. I started a Security Architecture Podcast with a friend last May, and I also run bi-weekly meetups with Russian speaking professionals in the cybersecurity field.
In brief, one very important part of being human is having the ability to adapt and finding ways to see the benefits you can obtain from a current situation as opposed to complaining about the way things were before. I still remember how everyone hated traffic or waking up at 4:00 AM to catch a 6:00 AM flight for a travel day. I do miss the good old days of traveling to work, but I am doing my best to adapt to the current situation!