As the new decade approaches, the number of companies with remote workforces continues to grow. A recent survey revealed that 66% of companies now allow remote work and 16% are fully remote.
The tools we use to accomplish tasks and contribute to our organizations’ health and success have evolved. Automation, video conferencing, and private voice servers have made phone calls feel like a remnant from the Stone Age. These new technologies are intended to make the work we're doing more efficient, or at least increase the speed with which we produce deliverables. Employers and employees, using the same modern, reductionist approach, have also concluded that the places where we work can also be simplified.
“If all the work I accomplish is accomplished online and I can be online at home, what purpose does the traditional workplace have? Can I buy an expensive office chair and a new desk and call home my new office?”
Here at Trellist, most of our ALIVE development team has worked remotely for more than a year now, our first step toward building the company of the future. Before you run to your manager and ask them if you can trade in your business-casual attire for sweatpants and your desk for a La-Z-Boy, though, here a few things to consider:
Time and Space
You wake up and roll out of bed. You plop down on the sofa and open your laptop, vigorously opening your programs so you can check email and reply to those “good morning” IMs. Are you working from home? More likely you’re at home looking (air quotes) at work-related things, which is not the same as working.
Space is a fundamental requirement when working from home. If you're going to work from home, you need to have a designated working space. You will keep files there. You will have meetings there. You will have technology and resources available there that will help you get your work done. It’s a place where you can maximize your constructive actions per minute. It will be separate from the spaces you use for entertainment and life in general.
Distractions are a reality and they take away from productive work. Chores, responsibilities, and other things we typically do while in our homes need to be compartmentalized. That way, we can dedicate the appropriate amount of attention to the tasks at hand. When you physically separate yourself from sources of distraction, you remove one of the most troublesome obstacles in this new work environment.
Dedicated work spaces are also important because when your work bleeds into the areas where you enjoy your life, it can complicate things. Suddenly your living room isn't a living room anymore, it's another office. Your kitchen is now your office-kitchen, which sounds silly but is of real concern.
Often, after switching to working from home, individuals find that their commute, while formerly an inconvenience, was actually a helpful mechanism for decompressing after a long day, one that aided the transition from work life to home life. Your commute home is when you stop working and switch to afterhours routines. Without a commute, the gradient between working and living becomes blurred. Work hours end but you remain in your work space, dabbling and not transitioning out, which prevents relaxation and can increase stress.
When working from home, it's important to set boundaries. Stick to a schedule as you would for a commuting job and transition between the phases of your day with discipline. Having immediate access to your colleagues and the ability to quickly respond to emergencies are clear benefits of having a home office, but a never-ending workday can reduce productivity and lead to burnout.
Being productive isn't just about your own work; it’s about increasing the productivity of others, too. When you work from home, you're physically disconnected from your colleagues. This means that bonding moments, like their turning around to ask you a question, visiting your desk, or having an impromptu, off-topic conversation, are no longer a part of your work life. Relationships take more effort to maintain and are more important than before.
Having confidence that another employee is available helps move collaborative projects forward. If I feel like I can't reach you, I simply may not try, which can delay progress on a deliverable. So another crucial aspect of working remotely is communicating availability and remaining accessible. Often this requires over-communicating: routine meetings, more status updates, more frequent check-ins, and better documentation about project progress.
From a DevOps perspective, communicating project status and progress is tightly knit with another great productivity aid: time tracking tools. In Azure DevOps, the platform we use at Trellist to track tasks for the sites and products we build, all the features we develop are divided into individual pieces and assigned estimates. Together, those estimates create our “burn-down” rate, which helps convey to stakeholders that we are making progress even if they can't see the code being typed. This information can be displayed using boards or swim lanes or Gantt charts, but the bottom line is that it lives somewhere and can be easily accessed for the benefit of project managers and clients.
You may know what you’re working on but that doesn’t mean everyone does. As a rule, anything you’re working on should be able to be quickly referenced by people on your team so they can understand how you're spending your time and what you’re prioritizing. Don’t let your accomplishments be invisible.
When you decide to work from home, your perspective on work needs to change just as much as your physical environment. You need to form new habits and adopt new technologies. Do you have a suitable webcam? Do you have a place where you can video conference without distraction? How is your audio quality? Do you need to purchase a new microphone or mixer? Is your home internet fast enough? And don’t even get us started on the need for multiple monitors…
By choosing to leave the office, you’re opting to take on the responsibility of creating a functional workspace for yourself. To work from home, you may need to become proficient at technical skills that previously were another person’s entire job. This isn't you taking on more work responsibilities; this is simply what you must do to remain a contributing team member. Your interactions with your team are now defined by the new way you communicate with them, which in this case is entirely digital. The effort you put into communicating effectively over these channels is always appreciated.
What solidifies all these changes is the creation and implementation of a new routine. You’ve changed from professional to personal spaces and you’re starting and stopping work at scheduled times. You're solving infrastructure problems in your home office and getting more done than ever before. But the fact is, you’ve been at home all day and possibly all week.
Part of succeeding at working remotely is having the discipline to incorporate social events and other healthy lifestyle activities into your routine. These are intended to get you out of and away from your work-from-home environment. Working remotely all the time may not cause burnout, but you’ll still want to avoid the negative impact of a sedentary lifestyle, however comfortable your new workspace might be.
The final thing to mention is what we like to call the “long-term routine.” Make sure to schedule office visits throughout the year that serve as checkpoints with the organization's main hub. Project milestones are often easy to plan around, especially beginnings or endings. Working from home changes the “employer” dynamic to more of an abstract idea. Scheduling visits to the corporate hub can help bring the concept of where you work—and whom you work for—back down to earth.
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