Around the world in the last few weeks significantly large elements of the work force have been mandated, either by their employers, or by legislation, or both, to stay at home and work remotely.
Working from Home is the dream of many but not of all and even for those of us who have a strong desire to be able to do so, do we really have a clear understanding and have we really thought about “how do I work from home?”
A New Normal?
I am predicting that when the ‘zombie apocalypse’ finally subsides, and we go back to normal, that we will be going back to a quite different normal than was the case previously. While working from home (WFH) has been a normal feature for some businesses in the last decade, I suspect that this experience will deliver some interesting statistics about productivity and running costs (overheads on large and permanent premises), that I further surmise will give rise to a major rethink about new ways of working (NWOW), for our future workplace landscape
However regardless of whether you we are old hands at the WFH gig, or reluctant, or perhaps joyful forced convertees to the concept, there are some common aspects to consider, in ensuring that we can be productive in WFH mode.
Many will find themselves working from home for the first time, and may be struggling to find ways of remaining on task, in an environment potentially full of home distractions. But there are well proven, tried and tested, things that we can all do, which range from consideration of a dedicated workspace, to the way we think and communicate, as well as how we organise our work routines.
Good Communication Is Key
Whether working for ourselves, managing a team, or being managed by someone else, having a really clear-set of expectations, for communications day to day, is essential to understand what we are doing, what progress is being made and what help, assistance, or guidance, is required to remain on track.
Those who are more used to working in close proximity to the boss and their work colleagues are, in theory, used to easy and mostly effortless communication. A radical rethink is needed when WFH, particularly for those who come from a workplace situation where remote working is unusual.
Managers may not be used to managing at distance or with dispersed teams, the tools that support remote working may not be readily available, or when pressed into service may intimidate and unsettle people.
But even those who regularly WFH or who have been doing so for an extended period, have reported that it can, if not well-prepared, organised and planned, be unstructured and isolating. Research studies have shown that loneliness is the second most reported challenge in WFH. This is equally true of employees or those who are self-employed WFH practitioners. Whether we find ourselves in a position of self-employed WFH, working with customers or clients, a manager, or leader of others, or being managed by someone else, the research shows, that where possible, the richer the communications media, the better for maintaining healthy contact and productivity; so where possible the use of video and shared collaboration tools should be pressed into service.
Have a Real Job Mindset
Attitude and environment play equal parts in creating the ‘real job’ mindset necessary to stay focused and remain productive. There are a number of mental and environmental measure that can easily be put in place and which I have discussed elsewhere in these Blog pages in Things To Think About Working From Home. I won’t go into these in great detail here, because you can jump to the link above and get the detail when convenient, but in essence the things to consider are grouped into 3 mains areas:
- Applications and Productivity T
- Office space
- Dress For Work
- Organised Workspace
- Human Networks
- Specific Work Times
- Expectation Management
- Distance and Separation
Guard Against the Perception of Isolation
We are, by nature, predominantly social animals. So even when equipped with appropriate tools and having created, for ourselves a purpose environment some of us will still struggle to get accustomed to the ‘new normal’ of WFH.
Nicholas Bloom, professor of economics at Stanford University in California a seasoned TED Talker On the subject of remote working, has recognised two distinct types of WFH patterns: short-term or occasional WFH, and permanent or full-time WFH. Says Bloom “It is kind of like comparing light exercise to marathon training,”. Bloom tells us in his TED talk that no more than 5% of the US workforce, confess to being full-time remote workers.
I understand Bloom’s analogy because for the last few years I have worked from home 2-3 time a month and indeed I have found myself to be very productive on those days. This is because I have a plan and I am not being distracted or interrupted as I am often in the open-plan office environment that I am generally used to. However, the concentrated period of driving my whole business unit from my home office has been quite a different experience altogether and I have had to adjust quickly to develop new leadership techniques, adapt my
communications style and channels, and reorder my day to accommodate considerably more remote meetings to stay situationally aware and connected to my colleagues
As I plan to retire in about 13 months and work for myself as a full time consultant and commercial Blogger from home, I have been thinking about what lessons I can take away from this experience, to ensure my own productivity when that time comes.
My colleagues and I on the executive leadership team in my current role have reinvented the working day to revolve around remote meetings, as much as possible utilising face to face channels, as this definitely improves morale. We have even instituted virtual breakfast, virtual coffee, virtual water cooler and the end of the day virtual Pub or beer call.
Above All Maintain Morale
The circumstances under which people have found themselves WFH at short notice, and largely unprepared, will undoubtedly have caused many of us some stressful challenge. This will in no way have been helped any, by the ever present negative headlines, worries about sick or elderly friends and or family, managing at homeschooling and catering for a family, living under the same roof, for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for a month or more.
Answering work emails and staying focused on meetings and objectives in what is still the working day, albeit in a foreign working environment can be challenging. However, the more effort invested in communicating widely, the better the chance we have of not feeling isolated, and therefor avoiding classic isolation related depression.
Maximum, online, face-to-face interactions, by video calling, regular manager and team leader casual check-ins, in particular to those employees who live alone, and who might be more susceptible to feelings of isolation, along with regular, ‘no agenda’ meetings, like virtual coffee or water cooler chats helps to ‘normalise the day as much as is possible.
Under these circumstances there is no such thing as too much communication. It is the latter that makes people feel connected and it the latter means by which managers, team leaders, executives and coworkers alike maintain good spirits amongst each other and a happy workforce is generally a productive workforce
WFH Working For Ourselves
Most of the discussion here has been about the challenges faced by those forced to WFH by the Pandemic situation, but many of the considerations, lessons and lessons learned from this analysis can easily and constructively applied to the situation that for instance I intend and hope to find myself in 13 months time WFH for me with no manager and no team.
What can we all learn as WFH single business owner operators, from the above principles and how we might apply them should we choose to go down that path. I may be Blogging about just that in 18 months time LoL
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Thanks for visiting and good luck with WFH folks
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