Telecommuting and schedule flexibility are all the rage these days. Gone are the days that we all must be tethered to our desk to get our work done.
Instead more and more workplaces are allowing their employees to choose when and where they work, as long as they’re meeting their objectives. The benefits are endless and your HR department has had lots of conversations about the benefits and drawbacks. As an employee, you have the responsibility to still deliver your work and create work-life balance that works.
It seems the benefits far outweigh risks. Giving people the opportunity to work when it flows with their life and when they are their most productive can be a huge benefit to an organization. This flexibility allows employees to be more responsive to customers and consistently putting forth their best work.
When you work in an office, there are many social norms that keep you, well, normal. This can be a good thing.
- Be in the office by 9
- Attend meetings in person (at least giving the appearance of paying attention)
- Don’t heat up fish in the microwave
- If you take the last cup of coffee, make a new pot.
- Respond to co-workers when they come to your desk
Flexibility requires discipline.
Since 2012 I’ve worked from home consistently. And there are many folks out there who work from home one day a week or visit clients in their home so they rarely go to the office. The secret to being able to work from home (or the coffeeshop, public library, your car) is that you have to create a discipline for yourself so you get your work done.
Office spaces is all about getting work done. Its physical design is intended to keep you focused on work. Starbucks’ design is intended to get you to buy coffee. Your home’s design is about sleeping and creating piles of laundry and dishes.
Many people say to me, “I don’t know how you work from home all the time.” It’s because I love (and need) the flexibility and freedom so much that I’ve created the discipline to be able to work from home. Here are some things I’ve learned since 2012.
- You need to build people interaction into your schedule. It’s easy to work from home and not talk to anyone in person for several days. Obviously I talk to my husband when he gets home from work, but my dog is a lousy conversation partner. I’m an extrovert and need real connection with real human beings as a way to generate energy. Even if you’re an introvert, you’ll need time to connect with co-workers in meaningful ways.
- Your colleagues will email you less. For some reason, your co-workers in the office will think you’re not as accessible when working from home and email and call less. You’ll need to make an extra effort to stay connected to them. Back in 2012 I began working for a nonprofit in Louisville. I worked from home 2 days a week and then from Louisville 3 days a week. My colleagues said it was too hard to communicate with me when I wasn’t there, or have phone meetings (yes, they have the internet and phone lines in Kentucky). I’ve heard from other telecommuters that their co-workers email them less and don’t expect an instant response on the days they’re working from home. Which leads to this….
- Your colleagues will question whether or not you’re really working when you’re not in the office. You’ll need to earn credibility and deliver work when you’re not in the office. I don’t understand this psychology, but it’s real. Figure out how to demonstrate that you’re being productive when you’re outside of the cubicle.
- You’re responsible for fully participating. Have you seen the video of what a real conference call is like? Check it out here. It’s hilarious and real. Yet it’s not cool for you to not be paying attention (translation of this double negative: it’s your job to still pay attention). Conference calls and webinar meetings are not excuses to not participate or pay attention. You must act like you are in the room with everyone else.
- Your workplace is responsible for providing adequate technology for you to participate. If your employer agrees to a flexible work arrangement and attending meetings remotely, they must invest in the right software, technology, camera, internet speed, etc. to make this viable.
- You’ll forget to close the bathroom door. Social niceties go out the window when it’s just you and the dog all day. I sing aloud, forget to close the bathroom door, heat up fish in the microwave, have dance parties, walk around without shoes, watch t.v. while eating lunch, take power naps, and don’t always get out my pajamas before noon. These are all generally frowned upon in an office.
- You’ll forget about your waistline. For me at least, I gauge my physical fitness based on how my pants are fitting. I wore yoga pants for too long and then realized when I put on real pants that I was putting a bit too much pressure on the zipper. As a telecommuter, you have to be more cognizant of your lack of physical activity. It is really easy to get sucked into your office chair and not really move. At least walking to and from the office parking lot, gets you a little action.
- You’ll forget how long it takes to get somewhere during rush hour. You’ll notice how more relaxing your transition to work is because you don’t have a commute. It also means that when you do have that 8 a.m. coffee on the other side of town, you’ll forget that the normal time isn’t 25 minutes, it’s 40.
- You need an office space at home. Respect this space just like you would your desk at work. Work there when it is time to work and don’t visit it when it isn’t work time. Period. Don’t work at the couch or on the front porch until you’ve learned to focus just on work.
Ultimately the responsibility is yours to create a physical environment and the mental discipline to work. That doesn’t mean you can’t do laundry or run the dishwasher too. But if you find yourself routinely finding distractions that cut down on your productivity, it’s time for you to develop new habits to make sure you’re getting your work done.
Now it’s your turn.
What have you learned about yourself after working from home?