Remote Working - 8 tips to make it work for you (and your employer).
Two events in the past couple of weeks have led to me to think even more than usual about the ups and downs, the pros and cons of remote working. This is something I've been doing myself for the past six months as I migrate from a corporate world into running my own business. So I've been trialing different approaches, getting some things right, some things wrong and certainly learning lessons, some of which I wanted to share here.
Firstly, there was the very public furore that surrounded investment bank BNY Mellon's decision to ban it's staff from working from home (or indeed anywhere but their offices). A huge amount of internal anger and external head-scratching at the decision led to one of the fastest flip-flops in corporate history, with flexible working being reinstated within a matter of days. I have to say I was one of the onlookers scratching my head, as the initial decision didn't seem to make a lot of sense. If this was about cost cutting, as was suggested, then why ditch remote working when property costs for a workforce of 50,000 must be a healthy share of the bank's cost base. In the end, the collective voice of staff seemed to prompt a re-think of this retrograde move, especially as it became more obvious that the move would have been a “massive step backwards for diversity and inclusion”. Well beyond bad optics, this was simply poor judgement.
Going the other way this week was a former employer of mine, Publicis Media, as they shifted all their UK agencies brands to the iconic Television Centre building in West London. As part of the move, Publicis have expanded flexible working approaches to all staff. Given the long list of reasons why remote working can work for employees and employers, they are not the first employer to do this and they won't be the last. Looking at just one of these reasons - cost-savings - means many employers with recent building moves will now budget not to have as many desks as they do people. So if everyone can no longer turn up to work at the same time, that necessitates more flexible or remote working philosophies and practices.
It's worth noting that whilst flexible and remote working are not one in the same, they are on a linear scale and do share many characteristics and needs. Let's say flexible working exists where your main work hub is the 'office' but you spend some of your time away from it. Whereas remote working means your main work space is not a traditional office, however you may well check in there from time to time. The following tips can apply to both states.
So how can the individual and the employer (if there is one) thrive in this world that we are increasingly migrating to? As I mentioned, I've been in this new reality for a little while. I moved from London to Ibiza last September, as part of a wholesale work and lifestyle change, and part of that has clearly necessitated an embracing of remote working (Let's just say I didn't move here to DJ at Pacha).
So here are my 8 tips that you may find of use:
1. Carefully & deliberately set up your home office environment. Where in your home will you find the most productive? Not everyone has the benefit of a spare room or a garden studio, so work out your most suitable location. Think about doing video conference calls from this space, what image of you does this project? Of course, the technical side of your home connectivity is important. A good friend of mine works remotely for Cisco, so of course time and money has gone into his home set up, such as a router that provides direct access to a corporate network without need of a VPN. We can't all do this, indeed it's not vital for many, but I've found the minimum is a strong and consistent wi-fi signal and a comfortable table/chair set up.
2. Structure and plan your day for productivity. When you're not in the routine of a commute and then office hours, your day becomes much more your own. This freedom is great but I've found the need to plan my days in advance to nail key projects and of course be available to collaborate with colleagues either at pre-booked times or let key colleagues know the times when you're more likely to be free for unplanned conversations. Some remote workers have taken this to extreme with 'micro-scheduling' their days into 5 minute slots, with toilet breaks baked in! Thankfully, I'm not there yet but having a good sense of how you want your day to evolve is a smart move. I use the Pomodoro technique, with 25 minute productivity slots with a short break in between. So for example, this article took me two Pomodoros to pull together.
3. Understand your own personal working preferences. So this is of course related to the previous point but needs it's own space. It's worth taking some time to really think about you and your best self. Are you a morning person? Or more of a night owl? If you are now spending less time in a more time-specific office environment, you can now set your timetable (to an extent) around the hours that work best for you (and your family and other commitments of course). I've found the opportunity to get some exercise or a blast of fresh air early in the morning really sets me up well for the day. I like the tips from Chris Barez-Brown's book Wake Up - such as walking among the trees on my morning dog-walk - this is when some of my best ideas seem to bubble up.
4. Consider the use of co-working spaces. I'd been working from home for four months before I got to this realisation and made a change. Depending on video calls I had booked in, I seemed to be getting out of PJs and into 'work clothes' later and later. This wasn't good. So I found a local co-working space here in Ibiza, tried it out a few times and then found a membership plan that suited my working patterns. It's made a huge difference to me, I can check in a couple of times a week, where I benefit for super-fast broadband, a printer, great coffee and, more than that, the chance to bounce ideas off like-minded creatives and entrepreneurs.
5. Embrace self-sufficiency. Being away from the office means potentially less immediate access to IT support and administrative functions. This can be daunting. What if my lap-top packs up? How do I use that confounded expenses system? However, it can also be a huge confidence boost when you do learn new skills or find simple hacks to make your day flow better. I recently cracked a new skill in Excel, really low level stuff in reality but to me in the office world something I would have wandered over to an analyst to help with. And if you can't work it out yourself, there are You Tube tutorials on EVERYTHING!
6. Build a virtual community or network to plug into. As humans we have a need for human company. The amount will vary person to person, and how introverted or extrovert you are - this determining where you draw your energy from. So in a more flexible or remote working environment, it's really important that you see, speak to and emotionally interact with real people. Indeed there has been an amount of research that suggests some people are increasingly lonely in the office workplace. So how to avoid loneliness when working from home? People I've spoken to who have embraced remote working talk about setting up local WhatsApp groups with fellow remote workers - found by Facebook or good old word of mouth. The key here is letting people know that you'd like to meet up and chat - a little vulnerability can go a very long way.
7. Ensure you are still growing and developing. When you spend less time in the office or become self-employed, you may start to drift away from the sorts of training programmes that companies offer. As we want to grow and develop, to do a better job, to offer improved or new services to clients - then of course we need to build strategies to continue to grow our own personal knowledge and understanding. As a coach, I utilise the numerous webinars that the likes of Association for Coaching or WBECS consistently deliver. I also undertake coaching supervision and have regular coaching from colleagues of mine. All of which makes me feel plugged in and connected to a continued learning environment. And yes, I would recommend exploring the potential benefits that a business coach could bring to you - either as you think about embarking on more remote working or after you've made that decision and want some help to optimise your approach.
8. Trust is key. Finally but perhaps most importantly, to make flexible and remote working work for you in the long term, is a real mind-set change that has to happen. When you are not 'clocking in' to an office day in day out, the way your value to an organisation will be judged is based on your productivity. Don’t feel guilty about not being online for 9am everyday, a good employer won't care as long as you deliver what you've contracted to deliver. This sounds so straightforward, but in all honesty it took me a little while to adapt to this after 20+ years of predominately office based work. Would anyone check in on me? Equally, would I be missing out on key corridor conversations? As long as trust exists that creates a good level of pyschologial safety, then all parties can thrive and realise the full benfits that the flexibility of remote working can offer.