Working from home isn't a luxury or just for entrepreneurs anymore. Organizations from Banking to Packaged Goods to Government are embracing and setting up permanent work from home strategies within their new-normal business best practices.
Not too long ago it was thought that if employees were not in the office they were not being productive (unless they were in sales). That made sense when Internet, laptops and mobile phones didn't exist, but now it's much easier to be productive at home.
And, thankfully business researchers are catching up to the work from home evolution to prove what we've known all along; that individual productivity and corporate competitiveness increases. As Chris G mentioned to me a week ago, "I get more done in less time because I have fewer distractions. What I did yesterday from home in 2 hours would have taken me the better part of a day in the office." (Chris G works for the government and tries to work from home a few hours each week.)
Not only do employers get increased employee productivity and employee satisfaction... they reduce expenses. My good friend Marcia Mayhew (no relation), who is CEO of Mayhew - a leader in office interior design and work space planning, helped me here. Marcia told me, "Working from home is also more financially responsible for organizations since it is estimated that 20% of every profit dollar can be spent on real estate."
If that isn't enough benefit for employers to have employees work remotely, I have more. My friend Francis A, who owns a rapidly growing business tells me, "Now I get to hire the best people I can find... not the best people who live within 100kms".
In short, working from home is a Win-Win for the employee and the organization when organizations realize a static 8AM-5PM in-office work schedule isn't productive for everyone.
Successful organizations are making sure they are on the leading edge when it comes to establish hiring, training, management and governance policies to support work from home. To help individuals and organizations make the most of working from home, this 2-part article explores business best practices employees and leaders can quickly adopt.
Establish A Work Schedule... And Keep It
One of the best productivity enhancers is to keep a regular work schedule; our bodies and minds are at their best when they follow predictable patterns. In line with this, it's important (no matter if we work from home or in an office), that we work when we are at our strategic / creative best. For 80-90% of us our circadian cycle means we are at our strategic / creative best in the morning - when we feel rested - after a recommended 7-8 hours sleep.
For example: I usually am up by 6AM, walk my dog and get to my desk by 7:30AM (and on my 2nd coffee). I have a friend who usually wakes up around 2:30AM - and has a few hours of strategic / creative work. He then goes to the gym for 6AM and is back home by 8AM for another few hours of peak-work. His routine works for him but is not for most of us. I have another friend who gets to work around 9:30AM (and stays late). Even though my friend is in the conservative financial services industry his boss knows that flexibility for high performing and committed employees makes sense... because he wants to increase employee retention. My point is that no one size fits all... and try not to fight your natural circadian cycles.
Know When To Stop Working
As much as you have to get yourself going, you also have to know when to stop. I know that on days that 'work' is going particularly well it's not uncommon for me to discover it's 7PM. This is great once-in-a-while, but should not be embraced as sustainable.
Scheduling breaks and not burning yourself out is important to keeping a fresh perspective and work / life balance.
The thing we all have to accept is that working from home forces us to take non-traditional breaks. I often take the dog for a walk or throw in a load of laundry. The important thing is to get away from work for a few minutes. My friend Laura M has no guilt taking non-traditional breaks. The way Laura sees it is, "If I was at an office building I might head down for a coffee mid-morning. Nobody frowns on that - so I have no problems using a break to be efficient with my time." (Laura M, and her team began working from home 6 years ago as a temporary solution when her department was moving, her employer has since made it permanent.)
Have A Designated Work Space
Consistency with your space is important. Try to have a dedicated workspace... and create a space that lets you 'close shop' when you are done.
To get some professional advice I again reached out to my friend Marcia Mayhew. Marcia suggests, "The biggest thing when working from home is ergonomics. When most people are at home they forget about taking care of themselves. One of the key things in basic ergonomics is to make sure your eyes are at the top of a full-sized monitor. When we look at a laptop monitor we often look down and squint; this causes neck and eye strain. Improper lighting is also a large challenge. All too often when we do workspace analysis those are the things that get forgotten."
A trend that is catching on is height adjustable tables and standing desks. Adjustable tables help you set the right height when you are sitting and some of the newer ones transition from a sitting desk to a standing desk and back again with the touch of a button.
Your unique relationship with space is critical to your productivity. For example: I've always had a dedicated room as my home office. A few years ago I was between homes and rented a 1-bedroom apartment. The small living room doubled as my office and it was a disaster to my productivity. As soon as I moved into my new home and had a dedicated room, my productive and creativity bounced back. On the flip side, Laura M, does very well with the space she created in her condo living room. She agrees about separating work from life, "You need to have a separate workspace, you won't see me in that part of my living room unless I am working."
Whether you have a corner of a living room or can dedicate an entire room, this is a chance for you to make your workspace healthy, comfortable and inspiring. Perhaps paint the walls a fantastic colour; for example, red, green and blue are thought to be motivating colours.
Know Your Important Work and Busy Work
We all have both Important Work and Busy Work. Time Management experts define Important Work as the work you need to do today / this week to be successful and reach your key performance objectives. They also define Busy Work as the work that distracts you from your key performance objectives... unless you are using it to clear your head or fill a temporary gap in your schedule.
Stephen R. Covey was key in developing the Time Management Matrix (seen here), an easy to understand reference to help us identify our Important Work vs. our Busy Work.
I recommend once a month and once a week to take 5-minutes to review:
- Year Goals - Personal and Professional (career), and Company
- Monthly Goals: - Personal and Professional (career), and Company (by project)
- Weekly Goals: - Personal and Professional (career), and Company
- Daily Goals: - Personal and Professional (career), and Company (by project)
Pre-Plan To Minimize Distractions
No matter if we work from home or in the office we will get distracted. What distracts you? Is it social media, your smart phone or the alert of incoming email? At home you have extra distractions like the kids playing, or perhaps the reminder you could be doing laundry, or someone talking in the next room over. Different people have different triggers when it comes to distractions.
When I cannot avoid distractions I plan to do simple, less creative work. For example; I make sure I have things to read / edit if I have to take a flight to a conference I'm speaking at.
The following are common best practices to manage distractions:
- Avoid social media sites and websites that are not work-related.
- If you know you focus best in the morning, do your Important Work first and check email after 10 a.m.
- Write down your daily and weekly goals. This old-school Time Management technique still works. Make sure you identify Important Work vs. Busy Work so you can work on both (it feels good each time you cross off a task).
Since working from home can easily increase employee satisfaction and loyalty it is a trend that that both employees and employers are investing in. It is quickly becoming the new-normal business best practice.
Working from home fits well with how businesses and technology are evolving. It also fits well with how Millennials (and close-to-retirement Boomers), want to work. Now we all need to learn how to do it well.
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 2.
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