Be MORE Productive Working from Home

Be MORE Productive Working from Home

Be MORE Productive Working from Home

Do recent events have you working from home a lot more lately? Stuck at home with the kids for a few weeks (I am…). Are you wondering how to be more productive working from home (WFH)?

I’ll take a break from waxing lyrical about all things document management and provide observations about my own experience WFH for the better part of the last 7 years. I’ll introduce you to my rather lighthearted MORE philosophy: Mindfulness, Organization, Responsibility, and Expectations.

Be MORE Productive Working from Home: Mindfulness, Organization, Responsibility, and Expectations

Understanding how each of these four concepts relates to WFH will help you be a happier and more productive workforce participant. Let’s look at each area and go over the main factors that impact how you can be MORE productive working from home.

Mindfulness { mind·ful·ness / mīn(d)f(ə)lnəs/ }

Officially, mindfulness is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” So, how does this relate to WFH? You need to be aware that working from home requires you to be mentally conscious that — even though you’re home — things are going to be quite different. Productivity, in my experience, can be affected by three main environmental factors:

  1. Organisms. We’re talking about kids and pets, primarily. These small things are by far the number one distraction. They fight, get hungry, are bored, and make messes.
  2. Dwelling (house or apartment). When you work in an office with other people, it is easier for your brain to separate work — both what you do and where you do it — from, shall we say, “not work”.
  3. Workspace. This is related to your dwelling, of course. To be most effective, you need to have a dedicated space where you do your work. A desk, ideally in room with a door, with windows and lots of light.

Let’s expand on each environmental factor.

Organisms (Kids and Pets)

If you have neither, lucky you. If you’re not so lucky then you know that pets and kids, especially young ones (either species), think that if you’re home, you can play and serve (food mostly). Sure, let your cat sit on your head, but shoo it away during conference calls.

Move the cat
Move the cat during video conference calls

How can you mitigate the effects of these annoying organisms? Here are some tips that can be effective:

  • Do your best to explain (to the kids, not the dog) that you’re busy.
  • Let them have a snack. Try pushing bananas, but junk food is okay.
  • No cooking (mess, smoke, fire…) and only plastic eating or drinking vessels.
  • And yes, let them play the Xbox / PlayStation / iPad.
  • Yes, you can watch Netflix ALL DAY.

Remember, you need to get things done and these are only short-term parenting sacrifices. In the long run they’ll be okay.

Dwelling (House or Apartment)

Yay, No commute! That’s the best part of WFH. There are, however, downsides: You’re in your house all day AND night. Your people interaction is limited to your family or roommates, OR is via digital communication. It all gets a bit, shall we say, claustrophobic and solitary.

Don’t want to go stir crazy? Then DO leave your house. Just like at the office, go out for lunch. Meet other WFH colleagues at lunch or for coffee (…maybe you’ll have to get it to). And you always just take a walk, which gives you an opportunity to get your steps in.

Workspace (Your “Desk”)

Since I’ve been working from home for many years. I have a layout that resembles most people’s offices. I goggle at two 24″ monitors and a laptop, have a color printer, a scanner, a headset, Bose SoundLink Mini, and a mini cactus. In short, everything you need to be MORE productive working from home.

All this is in a room with a door, which is good for keeping the organisms out. However, there is also a bed, which is perpetually messy. No one sleeps in it (this is the guest bedroom) but my younger child likes to jump in it and pile stuffed animals on it. This is okay except when I have a video call as the bed is directly behind me.

My recommendation? If you have a spare room, use it and don’t go in there unless you’re “at work”. If you don’t have a house with a spare bedroom in the Connecticut suburbs of New York City, then you may need to adapt. Here’s a flow diagram to help with your decision making:

Deciding where to work from home

To summarize, mindfulness when you want to be more productive working from home is all about being mindful of your surroundings and environment. You can make it work, but only if you’re organized.

Organization { or·gan·i·za·tion / ôrgənəˈzāSH(ə)n/ }

Organization in this context is ” the action of organizing something.” When you’re working from home the ‘something’ is you. In other words, it’s all about how to organize your daily and weekly activities and tasks to be more productive working form home. These are the three main organizational considerations:

  1. Objectives. What do you need or want to accomplish? Writing your objectives down will help you organize how you’ll go about achieving them.
  2. Communication. How are you going to communicate to your co-workers, customers, and/or vendors. This requires coordination among the participants.
  3. Timebox. This is all about estimating how long something will take to complete. The concept is simple: Takes big tasks and break them into smaller, more management tasks.

Let’s expand on each so you can become super effective working form home.

Objectives

An objective is a statement about a specific, measurable, attainable, time-based, and relevant (SMART anyone?) target, activity, or task. And, you write them like this (or – column two – not like this):

GoodNot Good
By the end of this week I will publish a blog about working from homeI want to publish a blog
Neither specific nor time-based
On Wednesday I will send our monthly email newsletter to subscribersI want to send an email to our subscribers on this week
Not specificwhat kind of email? When will you send it?
On Friday, do a dry run of next week’s demo with our pre-sales teamI want to build a snowman ♫
Not attainable—there is no snow…

Since we’re not talking about enterprise-level objectives here, the “measurability” of your objectives might be: Did you do it on time?

Communication

A communication breakdown, as Led Zeppelin wrote so eloquently, can precipitate a nervous breakdown and lead to insanity. So be sure you have a communication plan so you don’t suffer a similar fate. What kind of communications are we talking (ha ha) about?

  • Internal communication. Microsoft Teams, Skype, Slack, iMessage…all these tools and many others provide a way to both communicate via chat and audio or video, and share files.
  • External communication. Generally you communicate with vendors, customers, and prospects using email or that old-fashioned phone thing.

For internal communications, it doesn’t matter so much which tools you use, but rather how consistently you use them. Communication diversification leads to knowledge leakage and inefficiency (…now where is that PowerPoint draft – Teams? Email? Shared drive? In our DMS?).

Hello? Accounts Payable?
Is this the accounts payable department?

For external communications, remember the following: If you’re at home, and you’re NOT using a work computer don’t communicate by using a non-work (i.e., personal) email—use the phone thing. If you have a work cell phone—if work pays for it, it’s theirs, not yours—use that to call. Do not use your home phone because inevitably, in six-month’s time, whomever you called will redial you, only to have your four-year-old answer. Not professional.

Timebox

Timboxing is all about completing tasks within an allotted time. Its similar to activity decomposition in project management. Without timeboxing, you need to ask yourself—or perhaps your manager will ask you—when will you be done? Somewhat relevant here is Parkinson’s Law, which states:

It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion

Cyril Northcote Parkinson. The Economist, Nov 19, 1955.

It’s a great quote. And Parkinson has a great British name. The point is really, if you don’t timebox your tasks, more likely than not, you’ll finish them ‘eventually’ or ‘later’ rather than by 5:00 pm on Wednesday. Eventually and later lack “measurability”.

One more thing, when timeboxing, don’t forget to include a short break between tasks. That short bit of time let’s your mind adjust as you end one task and start the next. You might also need a coffee break (more on this in Expectations, below).

Responsibility { re·spon·si·bil·i·ty /rəˌspänsəˈbilədē/ }

This is all about your responsibility to your employer. The company that pays you to do work. This same company that now pays you to work from home and trusts you to be responsible.

Being responsible means following policies and procedures. You’ll probably be expected to follow WFH policies that haven’t even been written yet, so what can you do? Here a three things to consider, each of which just happen to rhyme with responsibility:

  1. Visibility. When you work from home, you need to be virtually visible via webcam.
  2. Availability. When you share your calendar, your co-workers will know when you’re available and not available.
  3. Accountability. Every WFH newbie is going to have challenges. Be accountable for the work you’re assigned and don’t lament about things over which you have no control.

Let’s look at each one from a practical point of view.

Visibility

Seeing is believing. If I don’t see you, then I tend to assume you’re not there unless you tell me otherwise. So turn on that webcam during meetings and chats. But remember these important guidelines:

  • For the most part, dress like you would if you were at work. No pajamas or workout clothes.
  • When you set up your webcam, note what’s behind you. Blur your background when possible (I know Teams can do this)
  • Position the camera so it’s not pointing up your nose. If you have the old Dell laptops with the camera just above the keyboard elevate it on some books.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a door, shut it. Have a meeting? Shut the door, put a “Do not disturb” sticky note on it. I’ve found this usually works when kids hit 10, and — make a mental note here — even if you’re kid can read at age 3, notes of any type are generally ignored until they reach age 10.

Availability

I think this one is pretty self explanatory. If you’re working – actually working – then you should be available for ad-hoc meetings, questions, etc. In the office, you can just “walk over” and chat. If no one can physically see you, then you need other means.

Share your calendar. This is a great way to let people know the difference between “busy” and “free”, the latter meaning “I’m busy doing something, but I can chat or possibly do something else at this particular time.”

Look at my calendar...I'm in a meeting
Look at my calendar. I’m in a meeting…in Slurpy Swamp

Sharing your calendar sharing keeps you aligned with your objectives. Yes, block out time to write your blog, respond to an RFP, process AP bills, or whatever it is you’re doing at home. And, no, don’t block out time to play Fortnite or wash your car.

Accountability

To be accountable is to take responsibility for completing or delivering tasks. A task is something you do or make sure gets done (delegation). When you work from home, you’re accountable for completing the work assigned to you.

For example, you’re accountable for delivering the weekly company blog, from ideation to publishing. It is a process with several tasks:

Publish Blog Process (Simplified)

You might delegate all of the blogging tasks to other people, or you might do them all yourself. In either case, you’re accountable for the process.

Don’t fall into the “I can’t do this [job of mine] at home because [insert lame excuse here]. Instead, be creative, come up with ideas, and try to solve the problem. Ask not what your company can do for you — ask what you can do for your company.

Expectations { ex·pec·ta·tion / ekspekˈtāSH(ə)n/ }

Do you sit at your desk all day at your office? No, you get coffee. You go to lunch. You go to the bathroom. Surprise! You also do these things at home. The difference, of course, is that your colleagues don’t know when you’re getting coffee or doing anything else. So you need to manage expectations. Here are some tips:

  • Explain you won’t always be at your WFH workspace. It’s just like at the office, you get up from you desk and do things.
  • Return missed calls. When you miss a call or message, you should…return the call or message. The whole point of a call or message from someone is that they want to reach you now, not in three hours.
  • Go to lunch at roughly the same time. If you go to lunch around noon every day at the office, do the same at home.

Remember, when your manager calls you on Skype and you’re not at your computer, she assumes you’re bingeing The Crown on Netflix, are outside mowing the lawn, or baking cookies.

Explain you won’t always be at your WFH workspace

I find it impossible to sit in front of a computer all day without taking a short break now and then. You need a mental break as much as a physical one: Do you have your Smart watch buzz you up and about every hour? How about “desk-ercise” — you know standing (or doing squats!) while you take a call?

Anyway, you and your colleagues – the normal ones at least – shouldn’t fear retribution for not being in front of a computer every minute of the workday. What to do?

Did you know… A long time ago, last century before rap and grunge were part of the musical lexicon, and “open office plan” was not yet a management fad that its adopters eventually questioned critically, the typical knowledge worker, who was at the time known as a “white collar” worker because of the office garb worn at the time, worked 40 hrs per week, from 9 to 5 with a one hour paid lunch break. Imagine that!

Make sure you understand clearly when and under what circumstances you are expected to be available. Some companies have “core hours” when employees need to be at the ready to deal with projects, customers, or whatever.

Return Missed Calls

This is a biggie. When someone can’t get in touch and they believe they should be able to (i.e., you’re showing ‘free’ on your calendar, it’s not lunchtime…) they assume you’re not working.

  • Call or message them back as soon as you see the message (or at a time when they ask you to do so).
  • If you can’t get in touch with them, provide times they can reach you or – this tends to work well – have them call your cell.

When you do finally establish bi-lateral communication, provide your excuse for missing the call but remember, you can only make so much coffee or go to the bathroom so many times. Granted, if you do actually drink a lot of coffee, then perhaps…

I saw you called, I was making coffee
I saw you called, I was making coffee

Go to Lunch at Roughly the Same Time

The concept is simple. If you can go to lunch at roughly the same time, do it. You might even consider adding it to your calendar for everyone to see. Why do this? You’re managing expectations. You’re telling your colleagues “Please don’t schedule meetings that include me during lunch, which, as you know, is usually around noon every day”.

Unfortunately, any co-worker who is higher in the food chain is as likely to ignore your plea as they are to acknowledge it. Regardless, as Tennyson implied:

Tis better to have asked and been ignored than never to have asked at all.

Lord Tenneyson(ish)

What if you’re one of the poor sods using your kitchen table as an office? It means you must go out for lunch. Every day. Why? Because logically, if your kitchen is your office, you live in an apartment or rather small house, which is most likely in the city. And, being a city dweller, you indubitably have a plethora of friendly lunch venues from which to choose. It may only be takeout (takeaway for my British friends) these days but it still gets you our of your own kitchen.

Thanks for Learning How to Be MORE Productive Working from Home

I hope this light-hearted blog provides you with food for thought as you are working from home. It should be quite clear that absolutely no scientific methods were used in its composition. Nonetheless, its contents are based on real-life experiences. The examples, for the most, are also real (yes, the cat-on-the-head example happened).

Until the next blog…