As a seasoned entrepreneur you might find it strange that I actually like going into the office. People comment about how often I travel for work and let me tell you how disruptive that can be if you don't have a system. Working while traveling and working from home can be overwhelming at first. It also is not what people think it is. That perception problem really comes to light when an employee starts to travel or takes a few days to work from home. I've built my companies with a fierce commitment to company culture. It truly is a big part of my life's work. The legal name of my holding company is Soulgarden as it was a part of my dream to create a place where people were seen as more than employees and that their humanity had a place to blossom and grow. Maybe it sounds silly, but it was my Jerry Maguire moment and it has been a guiding light even in some pretty dark times.
I have resisted remote work. I have two remote employees who had a family life change and I couldn't see losing them as a result and the accommodation was born. To be honest, the work productivity hasn't suffered, but the cultural aspects have been very challenged. More seasoned employees who know everyone and are confident in what they do often want remote work options. But what about those who are learning by watching and benefiting from the created culture?
Our employees will work from home starting next week. I know they are going to face challenges of working from home and staying super productive. It is going to take some time to adjust. It's not that anyone would intentionally slack, but we are humans and if not prepared, the home offers countless temptations and interruptions which are just different from the temptations and interruptions faced at the office.
The transition doesn't need to be difficult. Here are 4 of my top tips for staying productive while working from home:
1. My Baby Takes the Morning Train
I hope you haven't forgotten the amazing Seinfeld episode where Kramer gets a job - not for the pay, but for the STRUCTURE. He proceeds to fall into an easy marriage-type relationship with Jerry which is very funny. Don't watch the episode now, but this clip will give you the idea.
Working from home requires structure.
Your office hours need to be clear and that requires being ready for work just as you would going to an office. Get showered, dressed, do your hair and look the part. Staying in your jam jams all day has its inevitable consequences and many before you have believed they were stronger than mere mortals and could keep the sloth monster at bay. It does not end well.
My advice is never to let go of your work routine structure just because you changed geography. The most important piece of this is being punctual to work no matter where your desk is located.
I was serious though about not putting off that shower! I'm also serious about not staring that Seinfeld binge watch session right now.
2. Listen to the Sound of Silence
Ever have a video conference call where your dog starts barking uncontrollably, your 11 year old needs cooking tips and the heavy bandwidth use of Fortnite in the game room is causing your video conferencing audio glitches? For remote work this is called the reverse hat trick.
You don't have to be Pee-Wee Herman to get severely unnerved by all of the ruckus.
Setting clear boundaries with the people now sharing your workspace (READ: spouse, kids, dog, nosy neighbor) is important not only to keep the interruptions down but also to give you an environment where you can concentrate.
Maybe you don't have enough real estate to carve out a perfect desk, but finding a quiet place to work and letting people know when your next break is can be the two most important factors to staying productive.
Have kids? Make it fun. A line made up entirely of socks can interestingly be just as effective as a closed door.
Silence can also be a beautiful thing from your phone. Constant buzzing creates unwanted distractions. Be sure to also create your own boundaries when it comes to times you check texts and social media feeds. My business is heavily conducted on LinkedIn, but I don't need to be available to that feed continuously. Calendarize your non-time sensitive tasks and ask people you need to be in touch with how you plan on prioritizing text, voicemails, emails and social media responses. The boundaries we set for ourselves translate into the boundaries others will honor for us.
3. Formalize the Plan
My team is very used to planning out their day. Our heavy use of Trello (not a paid advertisement, but hey Trello, if you're reading you should seriously give me a call) maps out our days and keeps us delivering projects on time. Remotely, I see us using Slack more often (ditto to Slack on the affiliate payment thing) and we are not giving up our 9am "stand up" meeting. I like to refer to this meeting as the "The Help I Need" meeting.
Whatever you call it, set some form of external accountability to your day. A 4pm check-in can be especially helpful for those new to remote working. It gives them a chance to reflect on what worked and what failed as they make this transition.
I love a plan, but I always care about the people doing the work and the clients we're delivering it to more than I care about the plan. Expect bumps in the road, or, as Captain Cold says, "Make the plan; Execute the plan; Expect the plan to go off the rails; Throw away the plan." So, keep those check-in meetings short and purposeful (nothing kills productivity more than a wasted meeting) and be ready to pivot! What works for some people doesn't work for everyone. Share ideas and help each other out.
BONUS TIP: When it comes to virtual work, consider altering these meetings as not only an accountability check-in, but also as a human check-in. Giving space for work culture and a bit of office water cooler talk can some times
4. Keep Your Focus
In new surroundings, it can take a bit of time to learn how to get into the zone. That sweet spot of intense focus is the key to sustaining productivity. But, our brains get tired so I like to use the the Pomodoro Technique. It is so simple to implement. All you need is a dollar store timer or a $1,200 one that doubles as your phone.
Simply choose a task to accomplish and set your timer to 25 minutes. Work on the task until the timer rings, then take a short, 5-minute break. Repeat for 4 rounds, then take a longer break of 25-30 minutes. Repeat this process a few times over the course of a workday. I may seem counter intuitive to build in your breaks, but when it's time to make the donuts you can't open up shop without donuts.
BONUS TIP: Stretching is a miracle. It is a focus reset! At 3pm my team, no matter where they are, can be found stretching. Our favorite quick YouTube stretching program is from our friend, and honorary colleague, Abby. Enjoy.
No matter why you find yourself working from home, be sure to take the challenge seriously. A little bit of intentional planning can keep you from being frustrated, kicking your dog (seriously, don't do that) and make it possible to enjoy your work. Be kind and honest with yourself and others if you’re just getting started with remote work. Now put your intentions for positive energy, accountability and productivity into practice.