I was thinking the other day about the new reality that is the COVID-19 work-from-home model. And in reflecting, I realized that I’d been either remote or working from home since 2000.
That’s right - nearly 20 years. It started in 2000, when I went to work for a small software startup near Edinburgh. From working for a management consultancy, to working at my own consulting practice, to working for a defense contractor and working nine years at Spectris, probably 90% of my time was spent working from home or remotely.
While I realize this is not a one size fits all, here are the practices and attitudes that have helped me when working remotely.
Shifting the 9 to 5 Paradigm
In the beginning, people suggested to me that I dress like I was going to work; even carry a briefcase, shut the door to our spare bedroom and treat it just like it was a real office. That might work for some people, but it never did for me. I soon realized that while having a separate space was important, switching on my work mindset was easy to do whether I was in jeans and a sweatshirt or in a suit and tie. There’s no special magic to it - find what works for you and stick to it. Probably the most important thing for me was learning to embrace a longer day with bigger breaks. I was up around 5:00 am each day so that I had overlap with Europe, and I frequently had calls with customers in Asia which would last well into the evening hours. But it wasn’t a full 14-hour workday. Lunch and a leisurely run was frequently 90 minutes. I took a break around 3:00 pm to meet the bus, get my daughter settled at home, and get her homework started. And if I needed to take an hour to fix a leaky sink or clean the house, I didn’t beat myself up as long as the work got done and I was able to answer emergency calls. Oh sure, there were days when I might’ve worked a full 12 hours, but they were far and few between. And finally, taking time out is a critical mental circuit breaker for stress; if you don’t do it, there is the very real risk that you don’t ever switch off.
Embracing the Flexibility
Working from home presents us with enormous flexibility which I found gave me the chance to eat right, exercise, and be present for my family. Instead of coffee breaks, I’d clean. Or cook. Or garden. Be flexible and learn to stop and do the things you love or which interest you. In the last three months, I’ve rekindled my curiosity about small engines. I’ve rebuilt a lawnmower and a chainsaw - that manual dexterity and logical thought has been a refreshing change from reading contracts.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
I’ve saved the best for last. I think this is an old AT&T strapline, but it’s true. Don’t lose touch with your colleagues. It’s important to stay in touch and often the inclination is to resort to email and IM, but don’t hesitate to arrange brief calls when warranted. As an example, if I receive an email and I don’t understand the question, it’s lacking critical background, or I just haven’t had a second cup of coffee yet, I find picking up the phone is far better than typing out a detailed email and waiting for a response. Often a brief call will save me a day’s worth of emails on a particular subject. David Lawton and his team have done an outstanding job of standing up Microsoft Teams - and the video call functionality is great - so take advantage of it. Personal connections are important, so don’t forget to take the time and ask about kids, pets, hobbies, whatever.
Like I’ve said, these are the practices and attitudes I’ve found to be helpful. But as my wife often reminds me, I’m not as smart as I think I am. I’d love to hear what works for each of you.