Working from home sounds like a dream, until you realize that you’ll worker harder, longer hours and be lonelier than if you worked in an office. It’s strange, you think you will trade a commute for more time to yourself or with your family. But what happens more often than not is that you just clock on earlier and work later than you ever did before.
But perhaps one of the most insidious effects of working from home is thinking that because you’re at home, in your fluffy slippers, enjoying a cup of your favourite tea, that somehow you’re not really working hard enough. It’s not true of course, but you start to feel it, and no matter how much you do, you still feel slightly guilty. As someone who has been part of a dispersed workforce for more of my career than not, I have learned you have work very hard to make sure you don’t get in your own head and make the experience negative. How to do that?
- Set goals. Each day, be clear about what you need to do. Make progress and tick those ‘to-dos’ off.
- Interact with others. Get on your company chats, have conversations, catch up on gossip, chew over the latest progress on your project, share successes, commiserate. In short, do all the things you would do if you were physically in the office with your colleagues.
- Check in with the boss. Make sure your boss knows what you’re up to.
- Be strict with your time. Use apps if it helps, but whatever you do, track your time.
Don’t rely on how busy you feel, go with what you track. You’ll find that you’re far more productive and you can knock off on time without feeling guilty. If you manage a distributed workforce, your responsibility is the flip side of these suggestions. How can you support your staff to work well, effectively and enjoy the experience?
- Work with them on goal setting. Because you can’t see them work, ‘appearing busy’ is an irrelevant metric for their efficiency (it always is actually but that’s another topic). Instead, help them to quantify their work in a way that is effective for the company, delivers what’s necessary, but also respects them and their time. Remember, if they’re working from home, they’re doing you a favor (lower overhead etc.) so respect that and let them manage themselves so that you get the best, and they enjoy the experience.
- Support them. Out of sight – out of mind… so make sure you check on them (but not check UP on them!), see how they are, what support they need from you. Not just work related either. Managers are the ones who create culture in a work environment. A good manager looks out for her subordinates, inquires after them, creates an open and communicative environment. A virtual environment requires this manager behaviour just as much (or even more) than a physical one.
- Bring them together. Make an effort to get everyone in one place from time to time. A social event, team meeting, training etc. so that the bonds of a good working relationship can be formed.
This month we are seeing companies reacting to 2019-nCoV by asking employees to work from home – we’re lucky this is possible now with the technology we have. One thing is clear: once this current crisis has abated we may not go back to the way things were. Let’s be prepared for working well in a distributed environment.