Working from home is growing in popularity. And, every sign suggests it's going to continue to increase in popularity as it provides great benefits to both employees and employers.
As discussed in Part I of this 2-part series, one of the work from home best practices is to focus on both long-term (yearly), and short-term (weekly/daily), goals. Far too often when we get busy we focus only on short-term goals... especially for employees that are working in isolation.
To help individuals and organizations make the most of working from home, I continue to explore the best practices employees and managers / leaders as they consider the opportunities it provides.
Everyone Needs A Support Group
As much as you need family and friends to stay away, everyone needs a support group. It might be your dog to remind you to get away from your desk or a gym buddy, but no matter what your support groups look like, protect your most productive time. If you have a neighbour you can go for coffee or lunch with that is great... but it must be scheduled. No drop-ins that distract you from your Important Work and your most productive time.
Stay In Touch With Other Professionals
One of the benefits of working in an office is that you are with other like-minded people. You get to share ideas, learn about new trends and technology, make new business connections. This is more difficult when working from home but it doesn't have to hinder your professional relationships:
- Keep in touch via Skype, Google Hangouts, and instant message apps. Use services like Basecamp and Trello to manage projects and team communication.
- Invite clients, like-minded entrepreneurs and team members to meet for a coffee.
- Join professional networks online like LinkedIn groups.
- Attend conferences. These are crucial for finding new contacts!
- Participate in training and development opportunities. Don't miss important training or skills development that may be planned for in-office staff.
If you are a manager / leader, it's important to communicate regularly with your work from home employees. Reach out to them from time to time, make sure you validate their roles and remind them how important they are. As a manager / leader, try to have all off-site employees come into the office throughout the year, especially if you can time it with formal performance reviews, the organization yearly fiscal meeting, training and/or a conference or tradeshow.
Make sure all of your employees feel part of the team - it's easy for work from home employees to feel forgotten and out-of-touch.
Virtual Meetings & Video-Conferencing
Research has shown that we are better communicators when we can hear each other... and even better still when we can see each other. Especially when Important Work, creative work or strategic work needs to be brainstormed, I recommend video conferencing, whether through Skype, Google Video Chat or one of the other software options.
Virtual meetings are great but also demand preparation to ensure all participants know what's on the agenda and how they can prepare. This is not a bad idea for all meetings, but often overlooked. Then, after the meeting be sure to quickly send everyone an email with a recap of what was discussed, what decisions were made, important dates and who is responsible.
Use A 'Time-Tracking App' To Make You More Productive
There are many time tracking apps like Pomodoro (the original tomato timer design), Toggl or RescueTime. Time Tracking Apps are proven to make most people more productive by helping them focus as well as reminding people to take scheduled breaks.
The basic premise is that they count down 20 minutes for work, a 5-minute break and then back to 20 minutes for work. This cycle repeats 4 times and then you get a longer break. You can personalize the timing setting for most Time Tracking Productivity Apps and some come with add-on features you can pay for like:
- Reporting & Charts
- Track day to day activity
- Allow you to set certain time to certain projects or clients
I do encourage everyone to experiment with tools and techniques - if only to become more aware of how you spend your time and how well (or not well), you concentrate on one activity. A Time Tracking App isn't for everyone... and perhaps it will be helpful at first and then as you get more familiar with working from home you won't need one.
Use A 'Freedom' Productivity App
Business productivity studies show that every time you check email, or respond to an interruption your mind requires as much as 20 minutes to return to your Important Work.
Freedom productivity apps allow you to block the entire internet or select certain sites to block for a time period. So, if movie trailers distract you, you can block those and keep your email active... or block everything. For many this helps increase their focus and develop new productivity habits.
Again, I do encourage everyone to experiment with productivity apps if only to get more familiar with your habits.
Turn Off Email & Phone Notifications To Make You More Productive
If you don't use a productivity app like Freedom, you should still consider turning off email and phone notifications to increase your long-term success.
This doesn't mean you have to cut it off for 8 hours, but protecting your first few hours in the morning might be the best productivity decision you can make.
A variation is to set priority notification tones. On most smartphones and computers you can set priority ring tones / vibrations for certain people (like your boss and best client), and silent all others. So, when your priority folks email, message or call they will ring through.
Dress For Success
Another productivity tip many like is to get dressed for work. I know people who have to do this - and I also know people who are thrilled videoconferencing is not the norm (insert mental image of a person in pyjamas here).
People who support getting dressed in a professional outfit say they believe it changes their mindset for the better. To each their own - this is a decision you get to make. I am very happy to stay in shorts or casual jeans when I'm work from home.
Managing / Leading Employees: ROWE Manage by Objectives
ROWE breaks away from the idea of having to see someone in order to believe they were working; it stands for Results Only Work Environment. This is an emerging performance management solution that is effective for in-office and at-home employees. ROWE is about managing by objectives and measuring results... not when or where people do the work.
As an employee, I recommend you diligently record how you spend your time. Keep a regular schedule on when you work, and what you accomplish. It's too easy to forget your accomplishments or not think they were as significant as they are over a year.
As an effective manager of remote employees, look into adopting a management by objectives approach as opposed to managing by observation. This approach involves working with employees to set their goals and how evaluation will be based on their performance and the outputs or results. When employees are involved in the goal setting and consequences from not reaching those goals, they are also more likely to fulfill their responsibilities.
As Marcia Mayhew, CEO of Mayhew says, "Smart organizations are embracing work from home and are creating head-office / in-office spaces that are more social and collaborative in nature. Organizations are also starting to integrate home office best practices and ergonomics into their health and wellness policies because they want to increase employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity while they minimize real estate costs and ultimately, WSIB claims."
One last thing; are you an Introvert or Extrovert? Studies show that introverts often have to make a special effort when working from home. The fact is, they are comfortable working / being alone. Extroverts are the exact social opposite - they search out contact opportunities to make plans to meet coworkers, clients and friends. All that to say if you are an introvert or manage an introvert, you likely will have to make extra effort to stay connected.
Happy communicating, mentoring, motivating, coaching... and training.
Click here to learn more about Bruce Mayhew Consulting. We facilitate courses including email etiquette, time management, leadership, generational differences and more.
Click here for a link to Working From Home Part 1.
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