Home-working – 4 tips to save your sanity

I have been working from home – in different capacities – for the best part of 10 years. In a previous corporate role I was a senior management team member and actually responsible for introducing “location independent working” into the sales and marketing divisions – more of that to follow! I have been working from home in various roles – FD, consultant, coach and now as Business Editor – for the last 7 years. My first comment – it’s different!

Clearly there are many potential benefits and pitfalls; the difference that I specifically refer to here is one of structure. When I worked from home as a Program Director and Corporate Business Manager I chose to select the environment in which to work for the particular day/days. I still had my secretary, staff, peers, office over looking a beautiful lake and all the stationary I needed. I also had a pretty good, and consistent, salary, job/role, company car and fringe benefits. More importantly, I had corporate structure and operation to influence my activities and time management. It was an option to work from home, a choice that I could make with reasonable autonomy for specific days or projects where I needed space, no interruptions and a bit of flexibility. All of the rest of my business could, and did, carry on without me for a period with no fear of missed meetings, calls or, unfortunately, internal memos and emails!

Whilst working as an independent consultant etc, I have to create and manage this structure, priorities and activities, myself. This is not easy and the ability to build-in structure to your day can be essential to your own efficiency and effectiveness. It is not just about finding a quiet place for the creative stuff or the perceived ability to take a break when required. We are all different, and vive la difference, but an overwhelming theme in the response to the surveys that we have completed on this subject refer to discipline, focus and time management. The next popular comments refer to meetings and communication; also essential in avoiding becoming stir crazy, talking to the plants or, the home-workers lobotomy-wielding nemesis, daytime TV!

For example, I have just nipped into the garden because the sun just came out. Lovely to have the facility to do that. Now I could have stayed out longer. I could have worked through this moment of splendour. I did neither. I enjoyed the moment, possibly even more so than if I was on holiday, and remembered to be a little grateful that my job allows me to do this. But, I have this article to write and so duty calls. Just a little discipline, that’s all. There is nobody around to check up on me so it means I have to introduce these checks myself. No big deal but it has to be practiced, in fact I feel suitably chuffed with myself and allow myself a “Well done you” moment and this too is important.

We all like to be acknowledged and even rewarded for our good work. If there is nobody around to do this, and pets don’t count here unfortunately, do it yourself. Why not? You are working alone, are self motivated, independent and can show initiative. If you were not you would not be, could not be, working from home. So reward yourself for the good work that you do and not just on the orders that you win. Soft targeting and recognising achievements are critical to all jobs and more so in yours.

Leading on from this, communication with others is vital. I first came across the application of this sociological issue in the early implementation of the home working program mentioned earlier. The board accepted the proposal on the predicable potential benefits of cost saving and efficiency improvement – reduced travel, petrol, hotels etc and less time wasted in the car – intending to reduce overheads and increase sales targets and time with clients. Prosaic, predictable and eminently practicable reasoning.

The technology was fairly new at the time and there was no Facebook, Twitter, or ‘adult sites‘ to titillate and distract. No 24/7 sports or shopping channels but it was not the technology that presented most issues with the implementation; it was the human touch. It was the people issues, and I don’t mean changing the terms of employment contracts or whether the reduction in mileage would mean keeping the last model of the BMW for an extra 6 months! Essentially, and some would say obviously – with the possible exception of some London telecom trader-board sales reps – we like to be communicated with. We like to listen to other voices. We make friends and establish contextual relationships. We even listen to coffee machine chat and, if you are absolutely honest, the gossip and the politics (although not in my personal case I hasten to add). It is endemic in the human condition and has been critical in the evolution of our very species. We need to communicate with others.

This materialised in many ways. A typical example would be that months after the roll out and when all the measurements were proving good, IT had a help desk and the remote staff had worked out how to log in, some sales reps still did the same mileage. We investigated. It appeared that they were more efficient in terms of order intake, quotations made and the like but customer visits were not higher! What was happening became clear quickly. External staff could become more effective from home in certain activities but they needed the voice of a live other. Many reps were now making spurious excuses to have to come into the office, even bringing in contracts from clients one page at a time! I exaggerate but the point was made – they missed us even if we did not miss them.

Another example comes to mind. Me. I work from home and live alone (again, pets don’t count here). It can literally be days in between moments of human contact. I thought that I was good with all this despite regular digs from mate like “Huh yeah, ‘working‘. Right.” I was efficient and effective in work terms and found some, if not lots, of private time. I only realised there was an issue last Christmas when my mate came round with a bottle and a pizza. Poker night. Imagine my surprise when he hailed a matey abuse. Confused I requested an explanation for his jocular but mildly offensive outburst. He explained and I apologised. I had, apparently been talking to the adverts. Not just an occasional rant or tut but I was evidently consumed in a dialogue with an advert for some male grooming product. Ooops. It was at this point that I accepted that I needed to get out more!

In summary then,
Make your self some form of schedule
Be disciplined but not dictatorial
Reward yourself for little triumphs (see discipline above!)
Get out more

Oh, and finally, read the other articles in the3rdimagazine, these people Do know what they are talking about and you WILL find something useful for you and your home-working life

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