Fifteen Ways to Make Telework More Effective
Telework, workshifting, telecommuting, or alternative workplace.
Call it what you like; it amounts to working at least part time somewhere other than your “regular” office. It always sounds like a grand idea, and it usually is, but some simple tips will keep you productive and effective – and more relaxed – when confronted with the inevitable occurrence of the “enemies” of telework: seemingly endless freedom to work on what you want, interruptions, distractions, and technology failures.
- Have a plan. Know what you intend to accomplish. Agenda, outline, task list, workflow. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Use what works for you, but lay out an idea of what you want to accomplish.
- Get “dressed.” You don’t have to put on a business suit, but you could. The point is to put on something that functions as a mnemonic device to keep you reminded you’re at work: your “work watch,” or your work shoes…perhaps a particular shirt or blouse. Whatever works for you.
- Get comfortable. Really comfortable. Design your workspace so it supports a relaxed and effective mind. Relaxation does not automatically lead to decreased effectiveness as long as your mind remains alert. Place your computer, notepad, or documents in a comfortable reading and typing, or writing, position. Ensure your chair supports you well without creating unnecessary stress points. Keep the temperature set so it doesn’t distract you.
- Have an “office.” It might be a permanent workspace you’ve converted for telework, or it might be a space you can easily set up at your dining table or a shared desk at home. Regardless, it should have good lighting and stable temperature, be free from noisy distractions, and provide ample workspace.
- Keep office hours…whatever they are. Eight to four, nine to five, ten to two…whatever. Unless you have the absolute freedom to work whenever you want and are also free from the need to be accessible by others, regular hours help maintain a focus on getting work done.
- Have multiple projects available. You need more than one thing to work on. Myriad hard stops to a project could occur, and you don’t want to be stuck with no way to work on something productive. Examples of such hard stops include encountering a hole in the data you need, stakeholder buy-in that you don’t have and without which you don’t want to waste effort, and an often overlooked hard stop: utter boredom – creativity sapping boredom – with the project on which you’re currently working, as well as #7 below.
- Be prepared for technology failures. Laptop dies…VPN doesn’t work…wifi goes down. It doesn’t matter. Your work-at-home day just went to hell if you aren’t prepared with some good old-fashioned paper documents to review, comment on, hand-annotate for revision, or reroute to the appropriate parties after you read them.
- Keep progress notes. Definitely. Why? Because you can use them when statusing projects, planning the next telework day, and documenting that you actually did something without having to pull out lots of different “proof.”
- Think big…but not too big. You’ll likely get more “done” in eight or nine hours of telework than in the same amount at the office, even if you slog all day at the office. Plan to get more done during telework by taking advantage of fewer interruptions and focused creativity, but set realistic goals or you’ll sabotage your own sense of accomplishment.
- Be realistic. Don’t make a list of things you can’t possibly finish in one day. And don’t base all of your planned accomplishment on completing only your list items. Office-based perturbations in your planned day are likely to occur. Expect them, and you’ll recover your stride more easily.
- Get outside. Even if for only ten minutes in the morning and ten in the afternoon. A bit longer is better. The fresh air, change in environment, and vastly difference focusing distance will benefit your lungs, eyes, and perspective.
- Don’t eschew meetings. You can conduct meetings perfectly well when you’re teleworking. You simply need to ensure everyone understands the expectations and prepares accordingly. “Managers” and other “senior” types who believe they have to see you to “manage” you and that meetings are impossible without everyone in a room are relics of the ’80s at best, and anchors on the mobility of the organization at worst.
- Limit interruptions. One of the primary advantages of telework (at least for me) is the ability to dedicate vast amounts of mental effort toward problem-solving and creativity. Interruptions impair this process, but as a community manager and a subject matter expert, I need to be accessible to my coworkers, executives, and a large number of other people. And I don’t always know when that need will arise. Pick times you can work without interruption, and turn off the interrupters: ringers, text alerts, social media notifications, and social media apps. You can – and should – review your work messaging systems every couple of hours (or whatever your culture requires); but, constantly being subject to it is no better than being in the office.
- Communicate with your support network. Ensure the people you rely on, and who rely on you, know when and how to reach you in urgent and emergency circumstances (they’re different!), and when you’d like to remain uninterrupted except for those circumstances. Also, plan time for when phone calls are welcome whether they’re critical or not.
- Don’t work all day. It’s easy to work eleven or twelve hours if you have a two-hour commute, because you suddenly have two hours back and a you’re on a roll. Get off the roll! Occasional marathon efforts are OK, but consistently putting in these kinds of hours will incur diminishing returns and exhaust you. Consequently, your telework will become increasingly less effective and The Powers That Be won’t be impressed.
Take care, and enjoy life,
I’ve also written a related article about setting great daily objectives.
Photo credit CitrixOnline & Amber