Working virtually from a home office can provide benefits as well as challenges. Here are nine tips I'll share to reap the benefits. Please add any other tips that you found helpful to the comments section of the blog!
1. Set life boundaries
You may be familiar with the term "scope creep". This is where a project or initiative, with stated objectives, begins to add on unintended objectives as the project moves forward. These unintended additions strain resources placing all objectives at risk. When you work from home, "scope creep" of your work is the enemy. The first thing that you need to do is identify all the things that will need your time and attention. Make a list. Items on this list may range from kids activities/carpool to making dinner. Your work can't "scope creep" into your family and marriage responsibilities. You need to create approximate start and stop times. You'll also need to be flexible. For example, if you need to unexpectedly pick up the kids, make sure that you add those 30 minutes back to your work schedule later in the day.
2. Define your workspace
Sitting at the kitchen or dining room table may be a temporary solution. However, finding a permanent space with a door for privacy is critical. This is especially true if you have frequent voice or virtual calls. Also, spend some money on a good desk chair. Your back will appreciate it. If you want to mix it up, get a desktop that adjusts up and down so that you can work while sitting in a chair or standing.
3. Let your family know that you are actually working
If you have children this will ring especially true. The fact that you are home means that you can be asked to do anything at anytime. Even if they see you talking on a headset or sitting quietly engaged in paperwork, you are fair game. It will take some education and patience on your part to let them know when you can be interrupted and how they can communicate with you when you are busy.
4. Communicate when you are available ... and how best to reach you during that time
A key part of managing life is managing expectation and following through. If I say I'm available on my mobile phone during a certain time period, then I must make myself available. Or if I say I'll respond to emails before the end of my business day, then I do it. If your team tries to reach you and you are consistently not available during your "available" time, then you lose a bit of credibility each time. This is especially important if your team is distributed over multiple time zones. A best practice is to create a custom voicemail message each day or week to set some context around your availability. Don't leave people guessing.
5. Meet in person whenever possible
As a principal in a virtual company, where we are experts in virtual learning and collaboration, you might be surprised to see me write that in-person meetings carry something that virtual meetings can't. It's what I call human connection energy. This is the energy you feel when you shake someone's hand or when your eyes meet. It's an implied contract to honor their presence. I've been in many meetings where virtual team members meet for the first time after having communicated by email or phone for months or years. Something magical happens when you can connect a voice to a face and suddenly the two-dimensional colleague becomes three-dimensional.
6. Share your intent
Communications can easily get tangled when we add a distance between the sender and the listener. In our haste, we tell them what needs to be done but forget to include why it needs to be done. The "why" is a critical motivator as it helps the listener to create meaning around a task.
7. Stay connected with your boss(es) and teammates
This could mean daily or weekly depending on the team. When I did an informal survey of virtual workers this week, I found that more than 75% communicated formally and informally with their boss or project leader more than once a day. In a globally distributed team, the closer you stay via your communications, the more connected you will feel.
8. Face time
Voice calls are good, collaborating on a web platform is better and adding streaming video is best. I'm not saying all the time and it's not as strong as the human connection energy that I mentioned earlier. However, streaming your image does create pseudo human connection energy that we call visual connection energy. When we see other people virtually, their image automatically demands more of our attention. The visual cues we get from each other add a little more information to the context of your collaboration.
9. Don't overreach your welcome
If you have a spouse or significant other that stays home and manages the household, DON'T get in their way. Just as you follow processes at work, they have devised a process for managing the household and kids. It's your job to figure out how you can be successful in this ecosystem. Ask questions, be helpful and stay focused.
Working from home has its clear advantages and disadvantages. These 9 tips should help you reap the benefits and avoid some of the challenges to get the most out of your time at home.