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Abby Salameh tells how to stay RIA productive amid teens, TikTok and the drooling dogs

The Hightower exec is banished to a New Jersey burb, determined to be a stuck-at-home mom with a Manhattan-office output

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 – 10:08 PM by Guest Columnist Abby Salameh
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Abby Salameh: It doesn’t matter how good you look on that Zoom or WebEx Team call if your husband, wife, kids or roommate accidentally walk into view looking like unkempt creatures from the black lagoon!

Brooke's Note: Abby Salameh is pretty much the Ask Abby of RIABiz except better because I usually don't have to ask her to write. From her home 2,904 miles away, she will periodically sense the need for a voice to speak up on a topic of pressing interest to RIAs and writes a column to fulfill that need. This symbiosis has spanned multiple understanding employers of hers who are forewarned that we will ask her writings to blur the edges of work and non-work and to get past the hard surfaces of business seriousness. This column is vintage Abby at a time when the seriousness of a pandemic's effects on our lives is surpassed only by the absurdity we see when we look about ourselves and ask: Is this really my life?

It’s been about a week since I swapped my office in Manhattan for my home office in suburban New Jersey, and my new coworkers are already driving me crazy.

The teenagers seem determined to become TikTok and Instagram influencers; the French bulldogs are exhausted from multiple walks a day, and my husband has already chowed down on the vast majority of our quarantine snack pile. 

As COVID-19 sweeps across the globe, those lucky enough to have jobs that can be done from home have been thrust into full-time telecommuting. And while the idea of remote work seemed like a dream just a few short weeks ago, let me assure you, the reality is much less glamorous.

Business casual has been replaced by workout chic (finally getting use out of my lululemons!), and just a few days in, many of us are longing for an in-person conversation with someone (anyone!) outside of our immediate family. 

But for now, this is life.

To keep your practice in good working order as the pandemic rages on, it’s important to find ways to stay sane and productive from the increasingly claustrophobic confines of your home.

And as someone who has spent the better part of my career working remotely due to either travel or having offices in multiple cities, I am somewhat more prepared than your average Jane.  

Here are some of my best practices for telecommuting:

  • Shower, get dressed, do your hair/makeup: 

While I freely admit to living in my leggings, I’m still taking the time every morning to do my hair and makeup and put on a comfortable, video-friendly shirt and a fresh pair of lulus. That time in front of the mirror may seem frivolous, but it’s been a part of my routine for as long as I’ve been working, and setting it aside now would, I fear, leave me feeling unmoored.

Plus, appearing professional is essential right now for staying healthy, feeling like you’re actually at work, and for keeping the people around you happy. This is just as true at home as it is in an office setting.

Try to keep your family doing the same thing. After all, it doesn’t matter how good you look on that Zoom or WebEx Team call if your husband, wife, kids or roommate accidentally walk into view looking like unkempt creatures from the black lagoon!

  • Embrace the power of schedules.

As I said, routines are important. While it’s imperative, right now, to practice safe social distancing from friends, family and strangers, that doesn’t mean embracing the life of a complete recluse.

If the days of the week are beginning to blend together, it’s time to give yourself some structure. Consider starting and ending at the same time each day—as if you were in the office.

Simulate a commute by taking a walk every morning and evening. This will help you separate professional time and personal time and detach both emotionally and physically at the end of the day.

I, personally, have been getting up the same time I normally would, working out, showering and starting my day as if I actually planned to leave the house. 

  • Take a lunch break. 

As you would in the office, take time away from your work to have lunch. Fueling your body for the day is just as important now as it was before. You can also use this time to take a walk, listen to a podcast, or read a book.

If you’re used to hitting the gym on your lunch break, do a quick YouTube workout.  Give yourself some physical distance from your workspace by taking this time for yourself and your family.

I have been trying to sit down for lunch with my kids every day, and we have been taking family walks with the dogs whenever we can. This has been enormously helpful both to clear my head and to keep everyone – especially the puppies – from bouncing off the walls. 

  • Don’t get too comfortable.

When your office is the comfort of your home, it’s tempting to spend all day in bed. But believe me: this will not benefit your psyche one bit. You don’t want to start associating your bedroom with the stress of work.

So setting up a dedicated work space, be it in a guest room, at a desk in the living room, or even on your back porch, can help keep a definitive gap between your work life and your home life. If you can keep your work in a place with a closed door – all the better! 

Giving yourself a physical space to work is especially essential when you’re at home with the whole family. I am lucky enough to have my own home office, fully equipped with a door I can shut firmly.

But it can still be difficult to concentrate with the pressures of running a household suddenly up close and personal. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t run my house like an office. 

Distractions are going to happen – the kids will need help, the dog will puke on the floor, the garage door will start malfunctioning. Dealing with those things doesn’t make you a bad employee.

Be nice to yourself, even if you’re not as productive as you think you should be! Remember that everyone is handling this differently, and it’s OK if you haven’t immediately adjusted to working somewhere other than your office. 

  • Collaborate and connect with tech. 

Whatever you do, don’t underestimate the importance of seeing each other, even over video! (I’ve been catching up with friends around the world whose faces I haven’t seen in years, via FaceTime),

Not only is this good to do in your free time, but video conferencing with clients and employees will do wonders to boost morale and keep feelings of anxiety and isolation at bay.

Information that, just last month, would have been sent via email is now being communicated directly. One benefit is all the virtual face-to-face interaction with clients seems to actually bring us all closer. 

Our team has really taken this to heart. We’ve been hosting virtual happy hours and have set up a running WebEx chat where everyone shares their cutest pet pictures. I think the French bulldogs win by a mile, but I might be biased!

* * *

For managers, working from home during a global crisis presents a special set of challenges. With most schools around the country currently closed, many employees are dealing with childcare on top of their work responsibilities or worrying about the health and safety of loved ones.

As managers, it’s vital for us to be understanding and communicative as we navigate these uncharted waters. Here are some tips for managing remotely:

  • Set expectations up front. 

Many of your employees have likely never worked remotely before, so it’s important to start off by letting them know exactly what you expect from them in terms of working hours, availability to clients, e-mail correspondence, meeting schedules and other general duties. 

Clarify these expectations early and often so that it doesn’t become an issue. Make sure they understand that being at home doesn’t mean they have to be in work mode 24/7.  But it also isn’t an excuse to spend the workday playing Animal Crossing.

Work from home is still work, after all! But holding people accountable and encouraging their own downtime will go far in gaining both trust and loyalty.

  • If you think you’re over-communicating, think again. 

During this time of stress and uncertainty, it’s critical to be in pretty much constant contact with your team, so you can better spot and attend to any issues that may arise.

While coworkers already may be communicating, organically, on company-wide chat platforms like Slack, add some scheduled huddles with your team every day to hold everyone accountable and ensure projects are being completed.

We are hosting frequent check-ins to make sure everyone is happy, feeling good and on board with daily priorities. It’s reassuring to know we can still operate somewhat normally even miles away from one another.   

  • Be trusting and flexible. 

Working remotely requires incredible trust – both on the part of the boss and the employee. As a manager, always assume good intentions and keep a positive outlook.

Understand that not everyone’s circumstances are going to be the same – especially during this very difficult time – and encourage honesty, truthfulness and loyalty. The care and dedication will shine through into your client relationships, and help you to feel a little more secure as well. 

Right now, we should be leading with kindness and understanding. Some days are going to be more productive than others, depending on what’s happening in the lives and homes of those in our virtual workplace, and that is OK!

Pick up the slack where you can and be understanding when the stress of family management, illness or financial strain rears its ugly head. At the end of the day, we are truly all in this together, and we will get out of it by working together, even from afar. 

* * *

As I adjust to my new life of working while simultaneously cleaning up after three messy teenagers, I am suddenly appreciating the definition of multi-tasking.

The fact of the matter is, we don’t know how long this new normal is going to last, or what the world will look when it’s finally over.

While the next few months are going to be tough, learning to be a productive member of the workforce from virtually anywhere is a skill that will serve all of us well long after this has passed.

Like the pandemic, the future of work is likely global, and this can serve as our crash course. Now, excuse me while I go walk the dogs (again).

Abby Salameh is chief marketing officer at Hightower Advisors who evacuated her NYC office tower for a backyard view in Scotch Plains, N.J.

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bill mcguire

bill mcguire

March 27, 2020 — 8:46 PM
Great Advice. Thanks, Abby.
MaryJoan Lake

MaryJoan Lake

March 27, 2020 — 4:27 AM
Solid tips delivered with the right does of humor and honesty! Thanks for keeping us on track, Abby.

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