- Wise Words -
A Sur-Thrive-al Guide
by fergus mellon
My circumstances over the past 12 months give added meaning to the phrase “working remotely.” I not only don’t work in the same office as most of the company I work for — I don’t even work in the same time zone or on the same continent. While my colleagues are gathering over their expensive lattes in the fashionable NoHo district of New York City, I’ve already been at work from my office in London for about five hours.
Actually, when I say “my office in London,” that’s a stretch. What I mean is my desk in my flat (translation to US “English”: apartment) in London.
When I tell friends who have more conventional corporate jobs about this recent professional move, they often respond by saying, “You’re so lucky! I wish I was doing that!” I typically smile and say: “Yes, but …” These are the lessons I have learned:
A location of one
Yes, working from home gives me enviable freedom and flexibility. But I have to take a disciplined approach to each workday and manage my time efficiently. Otherwise I risk regressing to student living, which my wife in particular would just hate!
I maintain discipline by sticking to a schedule, or at least a routine. I get up at the time I previously did in the days when I trekked into the office. Instead of rushing though, I take a 30-minute breakfast (love it!) and then on most days take a morning walk or run while making sure I’m back in time to begin work at 9:00. If I have to run an errand, I put it on my calendar like I would any other appointment instead of just running off and doing it straight away.
One other thing I have found helpful is to set a timer for doing my work. I set it for a minimum of 30 minutes, but more typically for an hour and do this so that I keep my brain away from multitasking and focus on the task at hand. I have found that after falling into being an always-on-always-multi-tasking worker when I was in an office, I needed to cure the habit when working from home and be more efficient. Setting clear boundaries for tasks has allowed me achieve and focus. When I return to the office environment this lesson in the value of uninterrupted work is something that will stay with me, as my output is far higher.
There are many columns that focus on being effective when working from home and they typically talk about the need to dress in business clothes so that feel like you are at the office. I am not one of these believers. For me, one of the benefits of working from home is that I don’t need to bother about getting dressed “up” and I have embraced it. Sure, if I have to take an important video call I will put on a work shirt and look the corporate part, but for old-fashioned phone calls or doing the actual work my productivity is not impacted by what I wear, even if it is shorts and t-shirt (yes, the sun does shine in London). In fact I am probably happier by being able to wear my shorts and t-shirt in the summer, no buts!
Getting face time
Yes, it’s great not having to dress for the office, commute, pay for that expensive take out coffee, make a lunch to bring to the office and all that. But I miss the camaraderie of working in an office as part of a team.
To get over the lack of 9-to-5 human contact, I try to communicate with people over video conference as it makes the connection more human. In using a video conference, it is a lot easier to bond with those I am working with and it’s possible to pick up on all those visual cues that are so easy to miss out on when just talking on a standard conference call. Participants can see how I am responding to them and I know their response to what I am saying. It’s a small thing (and a cheap thing: with Google Hangouts a transatlantic video call is free!) but is something that has helped both my effectiveness as well as feeling part of the team and when I do get to visit my company headquarters, the fact I know the faces I’ve been talking to makes it easier to navigate the office and know who is who!
Video is all well and good for talking to folks in the US and Canada, but actual human contact is important to me so I have gone out of my way to try to meet business contacts in-person for coffee, lunch or an afterwork drink and have found that by doing this, I not just get out and about but have built deeper relationships with the potential business partners I meet.
Clarify ambiguity as quickly and directly as you can
Yes, it’s nice not to get caught in the current of office politics. But being out of the mainstream makes it harder to catch people’s drift.
We’ve all received a text or email or IM that reads: “OK”. It can be unclear what actually it means. Is it an acknowledgement from a busy person that they received your message and understood it? Or is there an underlying tension beneath the brevity, did your text or email or IM pee them off somehow?
In terms of combatting this, I have found it is best to be up-front about it: “This is how I see things, but I might be in my home office bubble. Can you tell me if I’m right or wrong?” Also, be open about trying to refine the working relationship. Ask if there are things you are doing that you could do differently to those you are partnering with. This is a good practice in the office, but I have found it invaluable in building productive and I hope lasting relationships with those I work with.
In summary… Yes, working from home can be challenging. But there are ways to survive and even thrive in doing it.
For related columns see: "International ESP" and "It's All About The Results".