As the coronavirus makes its way across the world and into our communities, many employers are encouraging people to work from home when possible. Telework is not a new concept, but concerns with containing the spread of the virus could result in an unprecedented number of employees working from the confines of their own homes. From a public health perspective, this is a good thing; from an employer perspective, this is likely to cause some degree of angst.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. It requires exceptional focus, discipline, and self-motivation. It necessitates planning and foresight on a level most can’t imagine. And it demands an output relative to that achieved in the workplace. In some ways, preparing to work from home is like preparing for war, although the stakes might not be quite as high. So, you want to work from home? Here’s how you build a battle plan that will guarantee your success.
Organize a Battle Space.
Successful telework begins and ends with a dedicated workspace. Don’t set up on the dining room table, forget about working from the couch, and never, ever think about calling it in from bed. If you’re serious about working from home, then you need to invest in a separate workspace that allows you to focus on actual work rather than sleeping late and catching up on daytime television.
My “battle space” includes a large desk with two widescreen monitors, a comfortable chair with lumbar support, gigabit internet, and a networking station to conduct phone calls and conferences. One wall is covered with butcher-block sized post-it notes that I use like a portable whiteboard. I maintain a professional reference library in my battle space, so most of the research material I need for any project is close at hand. Finally, I installed a wireless sound system to set the right tone for work – a little background music goes a long way toward a productive day.
Set the Logistics Tail.
If an army fights on its stomach, so do you. Making sure you have food and drink available is important, but it’s just as critical to ensure you have the right food and drink. Drink too much coffee and you might end up too jittery to work; snack too much or eat too a heavy lunch and you could find yourself napping instead of working. Find the right balance to keep your energy and focus optimized, which makes it a lot easier to be productive.
In the same vein, readiness plays an important role in telework. Do you have the supplies you need? A working printer? A reliable phone? A computer fully capable of keeping pace with you work requirements? Logistics is the deciding factor in operational reach (how much you can accomplish without a substantive pause) and culmination (the point at which you can accomplish no more). Setting your logistics tail right will ensure you get the most from your telework, sparing you from lengthy pauses in operations or premature culmination.
Establish a Battle Rhythm.
The discipline necessary to make telework work begins with a schedule or battle rhythm. Days when I plan to work from home begin and end like any other day. I wake up at the same time, get organized the same way, and hit the ground running with the same energy. I take breaks on the hour, making sure to recharge my energy with ten minutes of walking (critical since telework can lead to an increase in sedentary time).
Successful telework often relies on building and maintaining momentum. As much as you can, minimize interruptions. Try to schedule conference calls so they don’t detract from this momentum. Check email according to a system so you’re not constantly distracted by the daily minutiae. A good battle rhythm can push your productivity to new heights; a bad battle rhythm will leave you thinking you should have just gone to work.
Focus on the Objective.
If there were principles of war for telework, objective – directing every operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective – would be first among them. Working from home can produce phenomenal results, but only if you’re working toward an objective. Without one, you’re just as likely to spend your days staring at a blank screen hoping for divine inspiration that will never come.
When I work from home, my days are built around those giant post-in notes, which I use to break down objectives into manageable tasks. Every day is driven by an objective, and the tasks help me to maintain focus on what’s important. That focus ensures that I know exactly what I need to do and when, and that nothing else gets in the way.
Take the Fight to the Enemy.
Or, in this case, the tasks before you. Working from home gives you an unparalleled opportunity to work at with a pace and focus typically difficult to achieve in a busy work environment. All you need is the focus, commitment, and motivation to seize the initiative, to set the terms of battle. Once you have, pursue your objective without fail. Do so well, and you might find yourself being asked to work from home more often.
Circumstances may soon demand that you work from home, but that’s not necessarily going to be the case for everyone. When that happens, demonstrate to your employer that you possess the focus, self-discipline, and motivation required to successfully telework. Show that you are fully prepared (and equipped) to make the transition seamlessly, and that you have a plan to do so. Once you remove the typical workplace distractions, get away from the endless and pointless meetings, and successfully evade the office storyteller, there’s no limit to what you can achieve, and no excuse when you don’t.