Since the pandemic started, the work-from-home (WFH) population has skyrocketed. This transition is the nudge their company needed to create some long-overdue work flexibility for some highly self-motivated and capable workers. Others, especially those with little ones at home, were bewildered about what to do. Juggling kids, pets, and less-than-ideal workspaces proved quite the challenge.
And while knowledge workers might have a smoother transition from office-based to home-based work, many others aren’t as fortunate. Regardless of when the lockdowns end, it’s clear that more will be working from home in the future. Last week, Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) announced they would not be moving into their new Seattle HQ in favor of working from home.
So, as someone who has worked from home for decades, I thought it would be helpful to share some of the strategies I have learned that make me more effective remotely. Plus, thanks to technological advances (like cloud and broadband ubiquity), making this pivot has never been easier.
Oh, and “hacks” makes for better copy than learnings.
No More Commutes – Yay!
Many are thrilled about the prospect of doing their job from Lake Tahoe (or some other less-pricey and more personally satisfying commute-free location). But, the only way increased WFH will become permanent after the lockdown is if the new WFH workers remain at least equally productive as they were in the office. But, as someone who made the transition from office to WFH many years ago, I can say that WFH and being fully productive isn’t always as easy as you would think they should be.
Some jobs don’t lend themselves too well to WFH. Fact. For them, with those jobs, it just won’t work. It isn’t straightforward. Maybe one day, through technology, the work will come to them in a different way that better enables WFH. Until then, we must accept that some jobs won’t work from home (even though they may be futilely trying to do them during the lockdown).
Others may not have the “right personality” for working from home. The problem isn’t the job, per se, but rather how the worker approaches the situation. In other words, the problem is YOU. You can’t be trusted to work from home. That is harsh, for sure. But, it is demonstrably true; when you take some high performers out of the office and move them home, they fail.
For the twenty years I have been WFH, I was provided little to no training on how to be effective from home. People like me had to figure it out independently (with considerable help from coworkers and colleagues). And because I am in sales, where quota attainment and activity are linked, I can speak with some authority on what works and does not.
So, unless you are someone who can’t change their behavior, I’m optimistic you can become a WFH star. All you need to do is meet a few minimum physical and technological requirements. Then, adopt these ten “hacks” I refined for myself. You may even find yourself becoming more productive than ever! I know I am.
Let’s Not Forget
While there are tremendous employee advantages to WFH, there are also advantages to going into an office. I had started working for a new company and was in the office for a week of training. While I was sitting at a hotel desk, my boss came over and said, “Hey, we’re meeting about one of our clients; join us!” I did, and the CEO also joined the meeting. Wow! I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen if I were in my home office.
Some prefer going into an office. They like the commute and being away from home. Should we force them to WFH? Maybe not.
Finally, some don’t have the physical space or the right situation to optimize WFH. During the pandemic, companies have shown great compassion toward workers with roommates, children, and pets running around. Will that continue? Not sure. Regardless of these distinctions, it’s safe to conclude that WFH is not for everyone.
For now and for those who WFH, here are my iterative and unvetted “hacks” to being more productive at home.
Ten WFH Hacks
- Have a dedicated WFH space.
- Have amazing broadband.
- Have all the latest equipment.
- Work during work hours.
- Establish a way to be reachable all the time.
- Be detailed and open with your calendar.
- Always use video.
- Make networking a priority (internal and external).
- Up your technology game.
Some Details and Comments
Have a dedicated WFH space. When my wife and I bought our house ten years ago, I knew I needed an office. So we bought a house that had one. There is a door in the office that looks like an office (because it is). When my wife started working from home, we converted a bedroom into an office. We had a desk and drawers built-in. It, too, looks like an office and has a door. A dedicated “work” space (rather than using the kitchen) ups your professionalism game. Start with a dedicated WFH space, and you’re well on your way to being a WFH superstar.
Have amazing broadband. With video calls, there is no time to have anything besides blazing broadband. You don’t want to be the one person on the call who drags everyone down with dropoffs, artifact/pixelated images, and the need to be voice only. If you know you will be WFM, why not move to a place with excellent broadband? It’s nearly ubiquitous. Otherwise, maybe going into the office is a better option for you (at least until high speed comes to your town – or you move to one that has it).
Have all the latest equipment. Your company will typically give you a laptop and a printer, but that’s it. If you want to be a WFH superstar, invest in yourself. Get and use multiple monitors. Go big, 32 inches! Monitors make a massive difference in your productivity. Best, it doesn’t cost much in the bigger scheme. Then, get yourself a 4K camera, headphones, and a microphone. Sadly, what is on your laptop is junk. Aim to sound and look better than anyone else on a video call. Your professionalism will be apparent. The latest equipment will get you there.
Work during work hours. If I were to prioritize one “hack,” this is the one. Be at your desk from 8-5 (or whatever your hour are) just like you were at an office. Sure, there are temptations to run errands or do other things during the day. But you don’t want to be that person who “we never seem to be able to get a hold of!” Work while you’re at work.
Establish a way to be reachable all the time. Along these lines, if you have close work partners, establish a way for them (and your boss) to connect with you at all times. Maybe it’s a text or a personal email that is your “hotline!” For me, it is calling on the phone. I always have my apple watch on, so if you call, I will get it and call you back within a few minutes. I’m always reachable.
Be detailed and open with your calendar. This is two parts. First, schedule everything. Block off two hours for “thinking about my territory plan” or “researching companies.” Uniterupped time is where “flow” occurs, and great ideas arise. Schedule them. Schedule your breaks, too. Then, stick to them. End calls at 25 and 55 to ensure you’re on time for the next call. Don’t be the “always late” person. If you fill up your schedule with productive activities and follow them through, you will have had a productive week at the end of the week. Second, be transparent about what you are doing. “Busy” or “Private Appointment” doesn’t help those looking to collaborate. Remember, we’re trying to save time, leveraging technology to be more productive.
Over-communicate. It’s effortless to get busy and be sloppy with cryptic communications that unnecessarily create more questions and waste valuable time. My wife taught me a cliche, “Do it right; do it once!” When you’re not taking the time to be clear, it creates all sorts of problems and inefficiencies. I say over-communicate. We all struggle with communication. If I am not careful, I can easily fall back into two-word emails that make no sense to anyone other than me. If it’s important enough to communicate, then take the time to clarify what you are saying. Everyone will appreciate this.
Always use video. Seeing a face with reactions is why F2F communication is so valued. Well, guess what? The technology is finally here where F2F connection can happen online dependably. Yet, many chose not to turn on their video. Don’t be that person. Insist on using video. Plus, if you have your equipment, you’ll look and sound amazing. Before long, you’ll find yourself establishing genuine relationships across distances. I have. Deeper relationships won’t happen without video. Insist on turning on the video. They’ll get comfortable. Plus, all the platforms now have virtual backgrounds as part of their applications. No need to feel embarrassed about a messy room!
Make networking THE priority (internal and external). Business is mostly about relationships. Cliche but true. If you can grow your internal and external networks while working from home, you’re well on the way to being a WFH superstar no company would want to lose. Ping people. Check-in. Offer help. Tell them, TGIF. Be fun! Remember, “out of sight, out of mind!” Be a positive influence that is easy to work with. Coworkers and clients will welcome your calls and be happy to help you build your network.
Up your technology game. Finally, you have to get control of your technology. Don’t be the person who doesn’t understand WebEx. Get some training on your own time. Refers live in a tech world, so make it a point to up your game.
Whether you are looking forward to returning to the office or making WFH a more regular part of your work life, your performance will always matter most. So make that your number one priority.
I hope you find these tips and tricks that have worked for me through the years helpful in achieving that goal during this most unusual business time.