Tag Archives: working remotely

The 3 C’s of Successful Remote Work

I recently read an insightful blog post by Sean Graber on HBR.org about why remote work is successful at some companies and not others.  He lists three C’s for success:  Communication, Collaboration, and Culture.  Check it out here:

http://hbr.org/2015/03/why-remote-work-thrives-in-some-companies-and-fails-in-others

The main take-away for me was that technology was not enough to ensure success.  You need process too.  Many companies spend lots of budget on technology and tools, but if the workers don’t embrace them and utilize them, it’s just money down the drain.

My team has experienced this with a few file sharing / collaboration tools, which I won’t name.  After all, the main reason for failure was not the tools themselves, but our lack of a strong culture to collaborate.    Getting them to share documents is like pulling teeth.

The same could be said for video chat.  We use the phone call and IM features all day long, but rarely does anyone turn on the video.

Bottom line:  technology won’t make remote work successful by itself.

Advertisements

How to Avoid Procrastinating When Working Remotely

Here is a good post by Sarah Gabot on the Squiggle Blog about procrastination when working from home.  If you haven’t read the Squiggle Blog, you should check it out here.

How to Avoid Procrastinating When Working Remotely.

The Unexpected Nomad

bag
The bag is packed

We have decided to sell our house and move to a bigger house on more land.  It’s a good move for us, and I’ll be gaining a really nice office on the main level (with its own private deck!).  But like many of you, we can’t own two houses, so we have to sell our existing home.

This means vacating at a moments notice.  For the full-time remote worker, this is more disruptive than an office worker.  Yesterday, we had a showing at the same time as a conference call that I was leading.  Of course…

So, I packed up my laptop and found a quiet place with wi-fi (at my church, of all places) and was a nomad for the afternoon.  What will today bring?  Who knows, but I am ready to do it again today, and tomorrow, and….well let’s just hope this is short-lived because I prefer to work in the same place all day, every day.

My own take on lighting

Having the right tools for the job is always a key to productivity. Working remotely is no different.  If you have the right tools, it’s much easier to get the job done quick.

Proper lighting is important.  Task lighting for your desk is critical, but the rest of the office / area needs to be well-lit as well.  In my case, I am interested in some style in my lighting (no boring fluorescent overheads for me) and I like to make my own when I can.

overhead

For my desk task lighting, I have a hanging light made from recycled wrappers (think litter).  We bought a few of these at our local Fair Trade Store (Latitudes).  I have one hanging directly over the desk.  I especially like it because it is a plug-in, so it can be controlled by the light switch.

stagelight

General room lighting is handled by two DIY stage lights I made from decorative accent pieces found at Homegoods.   These initially were mirrored with no wiring or bulb sockets.  I added the light sockets, wiring and switches, removed the mirroring, and added a wavy coating finish to the glass.  Finally, I am using Daylight CFL’s for a brighter experience.  What I like the most about these as a lighting source is that I have them pointed up  to “bounce” the light off the ceiling.

giants light

Finally, for fun, I added a NY Giants bar light my Dad sent me a few years ago.  All work and no play makes for a dull office!

 

Quitting Time

clock

 

Are Telecommuters at risk for Overwork?

 

 

As a telecommuter, we often cite increased productivity as one of the biggest benefits for an employer to support teleworking or remote work. To that end, many a telecommuter can find it difficult to separate work time from personal time, especially when it comes to work hours.

Take quitting time, for example. For an office worker, quitting time may be defined by specified shift times, a mass exodus from the office, waiting for the boss to leave, and even traffic conditions or transit schedules.

For the telecommuter, some of these indicators aren’t present. Sure, you may have shift coverage to account for if you’re in customer service or similar positions, but what do you do when there isn’t any clear definition of work hours?

Scott Behson of Fathers, Work, and Family  wrote a good piece on a book he read relating to the cult of Overwork here.  Many a telecommuter could fall into these traps because it’s so easy to just keep on working.

For me, I work with a geographically diverse workgroup. We are spread throughout North America working for a Pacific Time Zone based company. This presents some unique challenges. What times am I supposed to be available? How do I guard against working 60 hour weeks just because there is no security guard shooing me out of the building, or that I can hear my phone ringing from the kitchen?

Here are some guidelines that I like to follow:

  • Discuss your individual “working hours” with your supervisor. When does s/he expect you to be available?
  • Decide what time you are going to stop work for the day, and honor it. Turn off the computer, the lights, etc.
  • Close the door to your office (if you have one.  If you don’t, read this). Resist the urge to go back in there! A quick check of email after dinner rarely is quick, and often causes more harm in your personal life than it helps in business.  A coworker of mine told me last week that while he loves his new house, his office doesn’t have a door, and he needs a door to close off his work life from his home life.
  • When it is after hours and you get an email or call, pretend that you would have to get in the car and go back to the office to handle this.       Would your perception of its urgency change if it was really a hassle to drop everything and address it now, versus tomorrow morning?
  • Establish your boundaries. If you are working through until 5:30, don’t take that phone call at 5:45 because you hear the phone ringing while you’re fixing dinner or working out. Taking that call tells the other party that you are still working. Set your boundaries and soon your colleagues will understand when you’re available, and more importantly, when you’re not!

A number of years ago my boss was located on the West Coast. (I was East Coast) Sometime just short of 8PM ET (5PM PT) my phone rang, and it was my boss. He said, “Hey, you got a few minutes?” I said that I didn’t because I was trying to help get my kids to bed. “Why did you answer the phone then?” Good question…

Prioritizing the Home Office

Where does a separate office rank on your must-have list?

 

Closing the door is not a luxury
Closing the door is not a luxury

What do you look for when looking for a new home?   For me, a separate room for an office is not only a must-have, but actually a deal killer.  When we bought our current house 7 years ago, our priority was for a guest room.  At the time, I was working in an office, so needing a home office was not even on my radar.  (Turns out, we got both)

I read an article on real-estate and the author was suggesting that you shouldn’t invest money in a home office.  It was no longer high on anyone’s list for resale value.  The argument was that with wireless and mobile device usage on the rise, people weren’t working in a home office anymore, but rather on the couch or the dining room table.

To me, this was naïve.  I guess if you work in an office, you don’t need or want one at home.  But, if you’re going to be serious about getting work done at home, a separate office is necessary.

You can’t successfully work at the dining room table or on the couch long-term.  In my current situation, I don’t even have to share my space with guests.  My office is exclusively an office, and I can close the door anytime, including when I am not working.

Don’t underestimate the value of a dedicated office space at home.  Where do you work?

Change of scenery

Improving productivity by changing your environment

 

office1
My latest re-organized office

While working at home can be very rewarding, it can also be lonely and isolating. If you work at home full-time, you may not see other co-workers or clients often. How do you stay engaged with your co-workers and clients when sometimes out of sight can be out of mind? How do you keep your sanity when you spend 8-10 hours a day alone? What are some things you can do to keep your work, your mental state, and environment fresh?

Here are some guidelines that I like to follow:

  1. Get out of your office once in a while. This can mean making a site visit to a client or vendor, or (gasp) going to the office. I try to make a visit to my company’s headquarters annually, or alternatively attend a large company function. This is good for me and my career as it gives me the opportunity to meet people I am working with and develop some relationships I might not otherwise cultivate.
  2. Use video conferencing or video chat (like Skype or FaceTime) to personalize your communications. In most jobs, good relationships can improve your performance and effectiveness. It is amazing what seeing a co-worker can do for the relationship.
  3. Relocate your office for a day or part of a day to a coffee shop or your local public library. Especially if you don’t have to be on the phone a lot, a change of scenery can often reduce the effects of isolation many home workers can feel.  This is different from visiting customers or a company office, but actually doing the same things you do everyday somewhere else.
  4. Re-organize or re-decorate your office space periodically.       Over time, clutter and paperwork accumulates in your space. I try to de-clutter, reorganize and rearrange my space every year. It is amazing how much productivity I gain when I get myself unburied from paper, surplus equipment, and other “stuff” that seems to pile up in my home office.
  5. Get involved in your community. There is always some organization that needs volunteers, and with your easy commute, your availability will be in high demand.  Volunteering at my church provides me with plenty of personal interactions that I don’t get during the workday after work and at lunch. Plus, I am making a difference in my community, so it’s a win-win for everyone.
  6. Take breaks and go for a walk or run errands.  When you work in an office, you likely have breaks and go to lunch with co-workers etc.  You need to do this when you work at home too.

The truth is, I don’t get out much.  When I’m feeling stale or unproductive, sometimes a change of scenery can solve the problem quickly.

What is missing from this list that you find effective in changing up your scenery and improving your productivity?

 

Excellent Communication is a must for the telecommuter

Communication is key

Most job postings say they’re looking for someone with “Excellent written and oral communication skills”.  It’s like there is a job listing template that has this and everyone says, “yup, need that”.  But the truth is, this is essential as a remote worker or telecommuter.

When you don’t work in a traditional office, you are neither seen nor heard (mostly).  Your work, and how you communicate about your work, is what establishes and maintains your worth and reputation.  It’s a lot harder to simply be the loud voice in a conference room during a team meeting when you’re not physically there.  In fact, you may get only one shot to express your opinion and ideas, so you need to make it count.  Plan ahead if you can, and craft your message to be clear and concise, without the need for your audience to key off of non-verbal cues.  Even in a video conference, you should focus mostly on your words.  They will be what counts.

Email Communication for the Teleworker

As for email communication, less is more.  Kristin Yerecic suggests in a blog post on the OU ImPRessions blog that you should batch your submissions and requests to your manager into as few emails as possible.  I really like this advice because it reduces the amount of clutter your boss sees from you.  Since you can’t personally drop the work off on her desk, you need to make sure that your work (and you) are seen and heard.  A few well written emails in a week should do the trick.  If you’re emailing your boss 10 times a day, what you have to say will not be received well, and your manager will put less importance on everything you say.

Pick up the phone

Finally, don’t rely on written communication for anything that can be nuanced or easily misinterpreted.  Pick up the phone and make a quick call.  You can (and should) follow the call up with a confirming email, but when it is important enough that you need to make sure the other party understands, voice to voice is always the way to go.

Not everyone is cut out to work remotely or telecommute

Can anyone telecommute?

A blog post by Scott Behson of Father’s Work and Family about the considerations needed when setting up flexible work environments really got me thinking:  this remote work isn’t for everybody.

Scott suggests that one important aspect of building a flexible workplace is Person Diagnosis.  That is, assessing individuals for their ability to flex-work.

I think this very point is missed by many when looking at flexible work. Many companies are saying if I allow Steve to flex-work, then I have to allow Joe to do it as well. The truth is, Joe may not be well suited to this at all.

I faced this as a manager many times. I had some employees who were well suited to work from home, and others who would be completely unproductive.   Equality be damned, I didn’t allow flexible work for those potentially unproductive employees.

What makes me cringe is that my company just announced the closing of a number of small offices with everyone being designated as a remote worker now. Wow, are we sure everyone is suited to that?

I doubt it, but maybe that’s part of the plan? (RIF through attrition?)  I believe this may have been part of Yahoo’s plan, albeit in reverse.  (You may remember that Yahoo banned remote working about a year ago).

In a future post, I will discuss some characteristics of a good remote worker or candidate.  In the meantime, what has been your experience with a one-size fits all teleworking policy?

 

Poll: Interruptions at work: how much time does it cost you?

One of the greatest things about working from home is fewer interruptions.  When you’re in the office, how many minutes of your day are wasted on interruptions in your office / cube?