Social distancing’ and ‘Self-isolation’ aren’t merely the latest voluminous hashtags. They’re the critical behaviours we’re all needing to rapidly adopt for our species to adapt and survive!
Yet, of course, the biz-show must go on as best we can. And for many businesses that means adopting an apparently simple solution: smart working. But as a person who’s smart worked for almost 15 years, let me tell you, after the honeymoon period wears off, unless you’re savvy and smart, it's not always the fun it's cracked up to be!
Like many others working from home, I understand the struggle can be real. So much so that we even begin to miss that annoyingly noisy colleague or the bossy supervisor!
So, what are the best practices I’ve found over the years to maximise the opportunity of working from home (WFH)?
1. Find Your Space
Working from home can of course mean working on your couch. But I advise against it! I find it best to have a proper, separated space, dedicated only to work-related activity. It doesn’t have to be an office. More a space that symbolically designates work time to a specific area. Ideally it should be quiet and free from clutter. Again, symbolic of being productive.
We’re not all so lucky to have the home office, especially those of us newbies to the WFH sport, in which case, even delimiting one can be helpful. I’ve used specific areas of a kitchen or dining room table before, or even a quiet corner in my patio.
The point is, you don’t need to live in a 5-storey house or castle, but it's good to pinpoint a single consistent location and be able to move from it when your work mind gets stuck. Even if only to the opposite side of the table!
2. Create a Ruthless Routine
Who’s been working in pyjamas the last week? Or woke up 5 minutes before a conference call? I’m not judging!
If you want to make sure you’re as productive at home as you would in the office, a ruthless personal routine is essential. Wake up, meditate (that’s always good!), have a tea or a coffee, use the time you’d spend commuting doing something more meaningful and fun (reading, learning something new, exercising) and start your day energised and ready to rock. Be clear on a beginning and end to workday with appropriate breaks and stick to it. Without clear boundaries we run the risk of falling into either messing about all day or working all through the night.
3. Have Boundaries
Clearly designating our home working hours is the first step in more broadly marking your boundaries. We may be persuaded it's uber productive to empty the dishwasher while taking a conference call or working on excel while watching a movie with the kids, but it's a false economy. Science says that in fact multi-tasking is less efficient than sticking to single tasks until completion. Working from home and keeping a healthy work-life balance can be very challenging, nearly impossible, if you don’t know how to do it.
It’s important to check-in with your office and team regularly, but it’s even more important to leave them alone and let them leave you alone to get on with work. The new found trust can be fascinating!
And remember, just because you’re working and living in the same space, doesn’t mean you should be constantly working. Be sure to unplug. Be like me, when the clock strikes 5 pm, switch off work and all the work-related notifications. Let’s pretend we’re back in the 90’s, with phones that had wires!
4. I <3 Technology
Smart working requires two fundamental elements: smart workers and smart technology. Ironically, many of us are finding that technology is one of our best allies during this crisis. It’s keeping us working at a distance, informed of local and global events, and of course, connected with our loved ones. Technology is indeed one of the main ways we are able to combat corona and continue our livelihoods, even during periods of extreme instability.
My own business switched to remote working and remote service delivery long before it was necessary and way before it was cool! Because I’m not exactly cool! So let me give you 3 (unsponsored!) suggestions of my favourite apps that keep me on the move!
a. The Cloud
It doesn’t matter whether it's Dropbox, iCloud or whichever other system you’re using, being able to work, save and pick up a copy anywhere elsewhere later is a game changer for remote working. My advice is to always keep a hard drive backed up to in case something blows up!
I’m a list person so this is one of my favourite tools ever, introduced to me years ago by my friend Dom – thanks Dom! Trello keeps tracks of all your tasks in either Boards or Lists in a super simple, user friendly way. You can share with your team, family or dog as you like! To be honest, I’ve realised the biggest value for me is to have a place where I record things I don’t want to forget. This allows me to consciously forget them later if I choose!
In my old banking days we developed our own internal messaging system for people to communicate seamlessly and also keep a record of the conversation so they could retain the knowledge as required. It cost hundred of thousands of dollars to create! Now you can use Slack for free with pretty much the same functionality!
Communication is gold in any business relationship, but moreso if you’re working remotely! So keep all your messages, files and topics all well organised here. Slack even lets you make calls to avoid sharing your personal phone number with your internal stalker!
A consistent part of my services are now delivered over Zoom. Remote Coaching and Workshops are now the norm, enabling me to regularly support happy clients from Hong Kong to London and Sweden to Sydney. Surprisingly there are actually a number of powerful benefits to Coaching and Workshops online which you may never have expected, and I’ll share those another time. Or you can experience it for yourself by grabbling a free consultation with me www.andrewstead.org/corona-crisis !
I don’t like having all my eggs in one basket so I try to distribute my requirements among Microsoft, Apple and Google. But for an SME, if you want to have everything in one place and forget the rest, Google probably has the simplest set of tools for the cloud, productivity and team-work. Everything is extremely integrated, so don’t get surprised if your video call reminder shows up on your calendar after your client mailed you about it!
5. Yes, I’m Working!
Let’s be honest, the most tricky part of working from home is ensuring those around us understand that we’re really working! And often it's not just them. It may well be their aunt, cleaner, cat, takeaway delivery guy. So, when your husband, kids, mother, aunt, puppy or chicken chow mein are seeking attention during working hours, there’s only one way to deal with them: “I’m working, can we chat later?” For me, I’m also ruthless about switching off my phone which I have, I receive many many complaints, but it definitely helps me stay focused and productive!
Don’t get lost while working from home. Make the most of it and enjoy the extra freedom, as it may not actually last that long!