(Note: This post was originally published in the spring of 2020, at the start of the pandemic. But the projects and ideas listed here can benefit your life at any time!)
Are you worried about getting work done when telecommuting?
One of my mantras is that it is all good, even the bad stuff. We just have to look hard sometimes to see the good. With the coronavirus sweeping the world and people being told to stay home and work remotely, this could produce some positive long-term benefits. If you use this time to demonstrate to your manager that you can work just as efficiently, if not more so, working from home, this will reduce stress, save time and money and be a positive result for the environment. Telecommuting is good on so many fronts.
I’ve been working from my home office running an international coaching company ever since leaving my banking career in NYC over 20 years ago. I use the phone, email and the internet to do just about everything. My right-hand coach has been with me 20 years. I still haven’t met her in person, but I’d trust her with my life. You can have deep and powerful relationships with colleagues without ever meeting them in person. And, you can get so much more done without all the distractions and interruptions of the office. Much of this time, I’ve also been raising kids so that can add an element of distraction if you aren’t careful. On the flip side, kids can also force you to be much more disciplined about setting clear boundaries around work time and family time.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years that might be useful if you are worried about how you’ll get things done while telecommuting.
1. Find or create a conducive and comfortable working space.
If you prefer quiet, find a place away from the kids and other family members where you can work undisturbed. My husband converted a summer house in the garden into a fully-insulated office. I prefer having an office in the house so I can potter about between coaching calls. Take the time to create a space that inspires you. Get a comfortable, preferably ergonomic chair. Make sure your computer screen is set at eye height. Use a noise cancelling headset with a mute button if you are on the phone a lot or you’ll get a crick in your neck. Good posture is essential to productivity. So take the time to set yourself up properly. Don’t just perch awkwardly on a kitchen stool.
2. Childcare is still essential.
If you do have young kids at home make sure you have childcare in place. Don’t for one second think you’ll get anything done if you don’t! Ideally, the kids will be off the premises so you don’t get distracted. If they are at home, make sure you have someone looking after them. We used Childcare International and had a live-in au pair to help with our children when they were little. Let the kids know that you are working from home and when you’ll be free to play. If they are at home and they distract you, consider working from a coffee shop, library or anyplace you can work with WiFi.
3. Figure out the logistics.
Take advantage of the cloud for data storage. I use both Google Drive to share documents with the team and Dropbox. So wherever I am, I can access the information I need. This means I can easily work at the coffee shop, too, which is nice if you like the buzz of people around you. (Avoid going to a coffee shop where everyone knows you or you might get more interruptions than at the office.)
4. Take advantage of technology for meetings.
Try Zoom for really easy meetings or use your company’s teleconferencing systems. Technology to consider: Slack, Trello and Google Hangouts. I find that a simple phone call often is the easiest and works most of the time. You don’t actually need to see people’s faces as much as you think you do.
5. Set your top one to three goals or priorities for the day and do those first thing.
Check emails and make phone calls in the afternoon. I’m a morning person so I prefer to do things this way, but if you aren’t, the great thing about working from home is that you can work when it best suits you. Hooray!
6. Enjoy and use your newfound flexibility.
Use the time saved commuting to catch up on sleep, meditate, exercise, do some yoga or go for a walk. Or, jump right into work, get it all done before noon, and take the afternoon off to do something fun. Most people find they can get so much more done at home. I take breaks often throughout the day to get up, make a cup of peppermint tea, stretch, toss in a load of laundry. This keeps me from sitting on my bum all day and energizes me.
While some people feel they need to get dressed in professional work clothes, I take full advantage of the fact that no one is going to see me by wearing my yoga clothes all day. Why not be relaxed and comfortable while you can? Obviously, if you have a video conference, put on makeup, do your hair and look tidy and appropriate.
7. Set goals and rewards for yourself so you don’t drift.
If you have a difficult task, make a deal with yourself. “After I finish this proposal I’ll take a yoga class or get a massage.” You might meet a friend for lunch or a coffee or take a walk. This gives you both a time-deadline to work towards and something fun to look forward to.
8. Keep your lunches simple and quick so that you have time for something fun.
You might get tempted to make an elaborate lunch, but beware of using too much time cooking. I tend to make a really simple lunch – a salad, poached egg on avocado toast, sardines on toast (you can eat smelly fish at home without offending anyone so take advantage of this fact!), or leftovers from dinner. Working at home can be so much healthier because you can eat healthy meals at home and you save money. I have to hide the cookies though or I’ll eat them all! If you have kids, this might be the time you can enjoy lunch with them and have a quick game or bounce on the trampoline. The kids will love it and you’ll come back refreshed.
9. Put on music that motivates you.
Again, you can create the scene that works best for you given you have no one else to annoy or offend with your music choices. Just make sure to turn all music off when you are on the phone or conferencing. I love listening to Alphasonics International subliminal audios in the background. On the surface it sounds like a babbling brook so very soothing, while positive messages are on the subliminal track you can’t actually hear.
If you worry you aren’t being sufficiently productive and find yourself procrastinating, try Paul Scheele’s paraliminal, Get Around to It from Learning Strategies. A note of caution: be very careful about using any old subliminal or paraliminal program. Even well-intentioned people can inadvertently use a negative statement. You don’t want anything negative getting programmed into your brain!
10. Manage impressions and stay in communication.
I own my own business, but I always want to make sure that I look and sound professional when meeting clients, either on the phone or in person. If you work in an office and are telecommuting, you’ll have to make sure to keep in communication with your colleagues as well as keep your manager informed of your progress. If you do get a project done early because you were up doing the night owl thing or early doing the early bird, let your boss know that is why. Or, send it in at the end of the day. If you have doctor or other appointments, make sure you let your boss and colleagues know, just as you would if you were in the office. Your colleagues and boss will be annoyed if they can’t reach you and find out later you were at the dentist.
Determine in advance how often and in what way you’ll report back to your manager. You might start out with daily updates. Then, when your boss realizes you are getting your work done, he or she might suggest you report in less often. Every manager is different and if you aren’t used to working remotely, you’ll have to find the reporting and communication system that gives your manager a sense of being in control and reassures her that all is well. Of course, just as you would in the office, if there is a problem with anything, let your boss know right away. Don’t try to hide it only to have it blow up big time later. You want your boss to trust you and that comes from knowing that you’ll be in contact if there is a problem.
Bonus tip: Finally, set an end time to your working day.
One of the dangers of working from home is that you’ll let work slide into your personal life. Decide when you will stop and then take a few minutes to report your progress and tidy your desk so that you’ll be ready to start the next day.
Enjoy your telecommuting time while it lasts!