7 Tips for Working From Home Successfully

Working from home. It’s every IT staff member’s dream. Who doesn’t want to avoid frustrating commutes, dress codes, and that one coworker that may or may not remind you of Dwight Schrute? It sounds blissful, doesn’t it? For many around the world, working from home, location independence, or utilizing alternative workspace is becoming more realistic and many companies are leading initiatives to push the business environment in that direction.

Working from home can be a wonderful thing. But just like everything else, it comes with tradeoffs. If it is not managed well it can lead to a loss of productivity, lower quality work, and the theft of company time. If it is managed properly, it can actually increase productivity, employee morale, and cut the costs associated with maintaining a large office complex.

Tip #1: Establish a Consistent Schedule

One of the benefits of working from home is that it can allow a lot of flexibility. This can also be a down-side. The biggest secret to success when working in an alternative workspace is to maintain self discipline. Start and end your work day at the same time every day, and be sure to plan your work activity schedule ahead of time using either outlook, alarms on your phone, or a daily planner/calendar. If you make decisions about how you’re going to spend your time in advance, it will make the day flow much more smoothly and cut down on wasted time.

Tip #2: Dress for Success

There is a huge temptation when working from home to dress purely for comfort. Don’t do it. It’s completely valid that you don’t have to put on a 3-piece suit to work from home, but don’t lounge around in gym shorts and an old t-shirt all day either. Shoot for dressing somewhere above the minimum required dress code for going to Walmart. Each person’s circumstances are different, but here are some things to consider:

  • Do you have to participate in video calls?
  • Will you need to leave the house during your work day?
  • Do you struggle with falling asleep at your desk?
  • Does the way you dress reinforce a mentality of success?
  • Can you perform your job function comfortably?

Tip #3: Rise Up Early In the Morning

The day is twenty four hours long. That means that realistically, you can have sixteen to eighteen hours of productive time each day and still sleep enough. For the most self-disciplined person, only half of your waking hours have to be consumed by your job. Wake up. Read, plan, enjoy your coffee, and be productive before the rest of the world turns on for the day. There is a reason that U.S. Navy Seals wake up at 4:30 in the morning. It takes discipline, but the results are amazing.

Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. Please talk to your doctor before radically altering your sleep schedule.

Tip #4: Keep Your Work Space Separate

A lot people do not distinguish between work space, play space, and sleep space when they first start working from home. It’s easy and harmless enough to work from the laptop while sitting in bed or at the kitchen table, right? Here’s what happens. It doesn’t take long for you to start feeling like you are unable to disconnect and unplug from work. Your hours end up going consistently past when they are supposed to be over for the day, and you have a hard time falling asleep because in your brain you now associate your bed with work. Now you’re wide awake and confused because you were cat-napping on the couch less than five minutes ago. You need some type of space that is dedicated solely to work activities that you can walk away from at the end of the day and doesn’t interfere with space dedicated to more leisurely activities.

Tip #5: Standardize All of Your Business Processes

Calling all managers. This one is crucial. Without standardized and automated business process you cannot have a work from home workforce. realistically, if you’re lacking in this department, things probably aren’t running as smoothly as they could in the office either. Consider this your wakeup call to process discipline. We have built our business around helping other companies simplify, standardize, and automate mission critical business process in order to achieve the results of increasing efficiency and effectiveness. Well defined business process eliminates stress and human error while putting dollars back into your bottom line.

Here is how this plays out practically. If you’re a manager, you need to make sure that your process and your technology are fool-proof. In the office, you can keep an eye on people and make sure that work is getting done without damaging the delicate system in place. When people are working from home, you cannot do that. You have to rely on the tools you have at your disposal to force the collection of high quality data that can ultimately be used to make business decisions. Forms with required fields and character limits that transition the data between process stages and owners are your best friend. When business process automation is implemented correctly, it doesn’t matter where your people do their work, they will still complete it correctly.

For more thoughts on business process and the alternative workspace, check out another article I wrote titled Developing a Workfrom Home Workforce.

Tip #6: Be Task Oriented

“If you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean” a manager at a fast food restaurant once told me on my first day. That has always stuck with me. Companies are paying their employees to be there, right? Well, not quite. They’re paying their employees to accomplish work. An employee can be physically present but still not doing work, and they can be physically not present but still accomplishing a lot of work in the right setting.

Part of the appeal of working from home, or wherever you do work that isn’t the office, is that they have flexibility in their schedule. This might seem to contradict the first tip, but hear me out. If your workforce exists to accomplish work, and they prove to be responsible employees, then as a manager, focus on assigning realistic goals and enabling work to happen rather than micromanaging everyone’s time. Your employees will feel empowered and grateful, and you won’t be consumed by all the tiny details that aren’t that important. Some people work well late at night. Others don’t. Make sure they are available for meetings and hitting target dates, but don’t stress too much about when work happens.

Tip #7: Use Collaboration Tools

As a project manager part of your job is knowing what is the right tool for the job. The good news is, there are a TON of good workplace collaboration tools out there that only require an internet connection to use. Use Sharepoint to store commonly accessed information. Use Teams or Slack to facilitate project based communication. Use shared Outlook calendars so that others on the team can schedule meetings and work sessions easily. Use Zoom for meetings. Use Github for developer projects. Use a business process engine like Solutions Business Manager to support tip number five.

By making resources accessible, processes consistent, and communication easy, you are empowering your team to accomplish work without babysitting.

Bonus Tip: Check On Your Employees’ Happiness and Mental Health

Some people (like me) thrive on being around other people. It comes very naturally to them, and though it’s nice to be able to work from home, it can affect those people very negatively if they don’t have enough face to face interaction. Keep in tune with how your employees are doing, and if it becomes apparent that they need a change of scenery, then have them come into the office for the day or set up a lunch meeting. Happy employees are loyal and hard working employees. Don’t neglect the social butterflies on your team just because there is a new work from home initiative.

That pretty well sums it up. Working from home has been a part of our company culture for years. These are some of our best tips for working from home successfully. What are some of yours?

Developing A Work From Home Workforce

Are you stuck in work from home mode due to Coronavirus? It is the new plague. Everything is changing; nothing will be the same. Okay, maybe that is slightly melodramatic. Be that as it may, we are living in historic days. What is particularly interesting to see is how the workforce is responding to the challenges that accompany global pandemic. Everyone who is not considered a part of the essential goods and services workforce must stay home and figure out how to deal with the economic consequences of that later.

Many schools and businesses have moved all or part of their operations to online. While there are many job functions that cannot be performed remotely, there are many people performing their jobs remotely who until now have been told that they cannot, and yet here we are. Suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the need to work in an alternative workspace, that is to say outside of the traditional office, and that we are more than capable of doing so.

There is a missing, critical piece for the long-term sustainability of this new working from home culture: business process. COVID-19 will fade into the pages of history, but not without altering the course of history. In the business world, this means that the alternative workspace is here to stay whether we like it or not, and well-defined and enforced business process is critical for maintaining a productive, well-connected virtual office.

Working From Home    

Working from home has been an item on the docket of discussion among management theorists for years. Articles such as The 10 Best Jobs Working From Home are a dime a dozen. Everyone wants to work from home. IT shops are already growing accustomed to the practice, commonly allowing workers to work from home a few days a week or to only be present at the office for important meetings. As technology continuously matures, the need for a traditional office environment diminishes every day. Now we humans are dealing with the novel COVID-19 virus.

Universities are going to a completely online model of classes to finish the spring 2020 semester, state agency offices are vacant, and tv personalities are running talk shows from their living rooms on national television. Any job that requires network access is being done remotely. Yet, managers have been saying for years that we cannot work from home because they need people in the office.

Under the dictatorship of Corona, they are discovering that we are quite adept at doing our jobs remotely – the same jobs that we are not supposed to be capable of doing away from our cubicle. The standard workspace is changing, and it will never be the same. 

Business Process & Long Distance Collaboration

There is one critical piece that makes the difference between business continuity and long-term sustainability. That piece is well defined and enforceable business process. Without the support of process definition and enforcement alternative workspace cannot be a sustainable working environment. Offices have traditionally been designed for people to do work individually while dependent upon the close proximity of coworkers. Now we have Zoom, SharePoint, and any number of remote desktop connection applications that support distance-based collaboration. Still, companies fear that by going to a completely remote workforce, the quality of work will be substandard. Why? Work is a process, and your work relies on the work of others to complete the process. When work becomes location independent, managers have less control over the introduction of process variation causing the quality of work and productivity to plummet.

Consider the following tasks that are essential to your everyday business operations:

Signature based approvals
Requisitions
Paid time off requests
Contract changes 
Employee reviews
Hiring/firing
Employee onboarding/off-boarding
Salary and promotion changes 
Contract compliance 
Legal reviews 

This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination. All of these, however, are examples of business processes that can benefit from process definition and enforcement. Without it, they become the source of operational bottlenecks. The benefits of removing process variation through automation result in transparency, accountability, increased quality and productivity, reduced stress, and the right kind of flexibility to allow for the alternative workspace to be effectively incorporated into your organization’s standard operations. 

A Strategic Issue

Our eyes have been opened by the COVID-19 virus to see the reality that our jobs can be performed well from outside of the office. As this chapter of life closes and we continue on to whatever the new normal may be, managers are simply not going to be able to justify the necessity of a cubicle farm and a room full of employees the way that they could before the virus in most cases.

The truth is that it was not necessary before world-wide pandemic, but the fear of change kept businesses operating the way they always have been. Things have changed. Now that a large corporate office has proven to be optional in the grand scheme of things, office space is going to become more collaboration focused. The workday will become more task oriented than time oriented. Alternative workspace will be the new normal for many work roles that traditionally have been tethered to the office. Companies that do not follow the new normal will lose their high-quality workforce.

This is a strategic issue that corporations need to be considering now. The implications for employee morale, efficiency, and even the cost of maintaining workspace are huge, but without the proper systems to support productive alternative workspace and remove process variation, the necessary move away from the traditional office environment is not a long-term sustainable option.

Concluding Thoughts

Eventually, this virus will leave, or it will become a normal part of life and will not be so scary anymore. Some of the new practices will stay. This could be a good thing. Families are spending more time together, people seem to be more thankful for the provision of basic necessities, and traffic is not nearly as intense as it was just a few months ago.

Alternative workspace continues these benefits even after the virus is no longer a threat. Working from home is more possible now than ever before, but we must have well-defined, enforceable business process, or working from home will not work.

One thing is for certain, the workforce will not be the same. Executives are in a position now where they have to deal with this as a strategic issue, not just a tactical issue. To answer their implied question, yes, you really can work from home, and with the help of great business process, alternative workspace becomes a strategic solution that is sustainable long-term and is mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

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