For several years I’ve had the mentality that my "office" is my laptop and phone, and they’ll be put to use in all sorts of places. Bizarrely perhaps, but I found one of my most productive places to work was on the train in the morning – a good combination of background noise, no-one who wants to talk to you, and the pressure of arriving at your destination to focus the mind.
But I’ve had to learn how to work from home – it is just another location but it does have some different characteristics. Here are some key things I’ve discovered that make it possible to get MORE done:
Mistake: It isn’t the office
This may seem obvious but I think it is something lots of people forget. Don’t approach working in your house with the mentality of trying to re-create the office experience. It is different and it’s best to be honest with yourself and your team that this is different.
Observation: Look and listen
If you’re able to join meetings and participate by video, then make that the priority, but observe what is going on around you. Not just who is taking part and who isn’t, but what people have got in the background, what’s of interest to them...
We don't have the everyday office chats any more, especially if you bounce virtually from meeting to meeting to meeting, and we have to work harder to have natural conversations. I’ve been deliberate in putting a few photos of the family in the background of my “video shot”, which has the added bonus of a self-view that is significantly more enjoyable to look at!
If you’re a team leader, manager or just the person who was the glue between people in the physical world, then now is the time to work that bit harder at spotting the non-visual cues and perhaps just following up with someone after the meeting is done.
Real Life: It was happening before you
One of the biggest things we had to deal with as a family when I started to work from home is that I was a disruption to everyone's morning routine. I’d be here some days and not others and all the things that went on without me to get everyone out of the house on time for work and school got disrupted whenever I was there.
The most important thing we did was have a conversation as a family: how could we make this work? In the early days, my negotiation skills paid off and I got tea and toast in bed while the girls got ready for school. More recently I’ve been less lazy and dragged myself out for a run, which solves the same problem and is substantially better for the body and mind.
One of the things I’ve tried to do, though not always successfully, is to be free to say hello to the children when they come in from school. A quick 10-minute break just to let them tell me about their day and see me is often enough to stop the constant pestering… and it’s a good time for a cup of tea anyway.
The important thing here though is to recognise that there are others who will be impacted and it's really good to have that conversation before it becomes a problem.
Experiment and evolve: Everyone is different
The internet is awash with how to adapt, change or take best practice for remote/home-working and some things will work for you - and others won’t.
In a previous role, I worked out who liked a video call, who was happy to have the background wind noise while we both got out of the house and had a walking-meeting... I’ve figured out how to make coffee and minimise the background noise by using a good headset.
Working life is complicated and it will challenge us to do things in different ways. If something works for you, then great, do more of it - but don’t feel like your working from home needs to be the same as mine.
That’s my way of getting MORE done... and if you’ve found a better way to solve some of the challenges that get thrown up, then please do share by commenting below.
(PS: One final thing, we need to redefine what work is. If I write these thoughts or solve a knotty problem while running in the morning - was it a work task, or something else?)