Are you one of the multitudes worldwide who has found yourself working from home (WFH)? Lots of folk already do it successfully, such as freelance writers and artists, and those with small on-line businesses. Some major companies, especially IT ones, have used remote working for some time. Providing they have high standards of communication and collaboration, it means that they can attract some of the best people in their industry because they can support them in various locations where they live or choose to work. However, it can be a minefield for the uninitiated, so here is a guide and tips I have learnt along the way. Come on a journey with me.
There is a lot of variation in where, how and when we communicate. You probably had unscheduled meetings or "chats" (at your desk in open-plan offices, or in the communal kitchen), or interruptions from colleagues. There are definite pros and cons to WFH such as inclusion and input from other team members; making last-minute decisions, and remember it's more efficient to pre-plan (e.g. weekly meetings). However, beware of meeting over-kill. Ensure that meetings are planned and efficient.
The alternative to physical meetings is video conference, Skype and chat rooms. Just make sure everyone relevant is invited (or others may feel left out: FIMO). Outcomes are most important, so choose the best environment and optimal time. Ask yourself: can updates be emailed instead of a meeting?
Skype for Business is my preferred way to call, conference or instant message. It can handle calls with just two peeps or up to 250 participants. Conference calls are better so everyone can see one another, not just hear them as there are differences between a phone call and face to face chat or Skyping. I advise that you keep written records of meetings and don't forget to share and/or disseminate key messages. Although Zoom has become popular, I don't recommend it because of security concerns.
Trello is Project Management software which can be used by different teams or different locations working on and collaborating on common projects. It's cloud collaboration with visibility 24/7 regardless of times worked. It is ideal for differing time zones, such as in international companies with teams in different countries.
Yammer is a social network for informal conversations, collaboration and knowledge. I use it to give and get feedback on ideas. brainstorm with colleagues globally, and create a dialogue with colleagues. Like Facebook for business. Please note that WhatsApp is not suitable for business use as it's really for personal use only (and its terms and conditions specifically prohibit business use).
There are the vestiges of the belief that remote workers are slackers. Sure, some bosses may think that if they can't see someone sitting at their desk doing work, that they're not getting anything done. But if you keep focused on your goals and deadlines your productivity won't be called into question. It is all about outcomes. It is up to your boss to communicate their expectations and have regular check-ins (weekly, daily or whatever is appropriate for your type of work). It is up to you to provide regular status updates and to articulate any problems as you encounter them.
Lightbulb Moment (May Cross)
Top Tips 1. Set yourself strict working hours (maybe the same as when you don't work from home). Let your co-workers, friends, neighbours and family know what your work hours are to stop people thinking that you are available at any time of the day – or night. You're not available to answer that quick work question at all times. Even if you are working at the dining room table, ensure that the kids know that you are not at their beck and call for everything just because you are physically present. Working from home means that you get up and go to work every day like everybody else – but you just have a much shorter commute.
2. Never work from bed! Not that you can't be just as productive from bed, but it is best to delineate work from sleeping so that they don't overlap and affect the quality of either your work, or more importantly, your sleep patterns. Try to keep a work-life separation.
3. Ensure that you take regular breaks. Of course, you are not only entitled to take a scheduled lunch break, you MUST take one. A lot has been recently published about the health dangers of being sedentary – it's said to be just as bad as smoking. We perhaps take for granted our commute to work, the walk to the coffee machine or cafe, the work lunchroom or to meeting rooms. If you no longer have these short walks in your workday because you work from home, build regular breaks and exercise into your day. For example, morning and afternoon tea breaks where you can go for a short bike ride or walk (and perhaps phone a friend while you are walking). I don't keep a water bottle on my desk at home to keep hydrated, I just use a water glass so that I have to go to the kitchen more often to fill it. That way, I don't have hours at the desk without getting up and stretching. Keeping up your physical workouts or other regular exercise routine is also very important to your health and wellbeing.
Stay Hydrated (May Cross)
4. As you no longer have casual hallway/lunchroom stop-and-chats, bring a personal note into your phone calls or video meetings. Ask how your teammates are doing, about their families and hobbies, or any other area of interest you have in common, just as you probably would when you greet them each day.
5. I like that I don't have to dress up in corporate clothes when working from home and can wear gym gear and a blue face masque if I please. However, one of my friends still dresses up beautifully, in her business suits, with heels, jewellery, full make-up and elaborate hair-do even though she now works from home. She said it is her normal routine and gives her a sense of "going to work" even though she just has to walk into her home office. So do what works best for you. It might also depend on whether you have to appear on video links!
I have done it in the past, but during the last few months I was fortunate enough not to have to as I don't find it a pleasurable task. I like to be talking to others during the day. Plus when I was at home I thought too much about the washing to bring in or take out and what to cook for dinner. Great article though. Susan