Do you find you’re almost “always on” working from home and that your hours are creeping up? Easy to slide into, isn’t it?
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Working from Home
Most of us are learning how best to make this working from home thing work for us, right? Just as most business owners and leaders are learning to come to grips with it too, yes?
Most of my recent coaching conversations have had to deal with the “working from home” subject.
And by and large, most suggest a reasonably successful experience so far. Lots of having to develop a space somewhat protected from too many intrusions and distractions (particularly with children or grandchildren at home). And a space offering suitable privacy for those important phone or Zoom conversations.
A key concern so many related was the risk of being “always on”. With email, SMS, laptops and smartphones, always being permanently reachable isn’t anything new. But with the lion share of us having to work from home now, we found that this risk has become a bit more pervasive.
Managing and Maintaining Expectations to avoid “Always On”
To avoid the risk of being “always on”, we’ve found that there is a need for more discipline around this. Both from the employee and employer.
The latter wants a fair day’s work for a fair days pay. As does the employee. However, it’s not necessarily only “the boss” that expects an immediate response to a request. Often peers and external partners don’t realise the pressure they may be exerting or expecting.
This is about managing expectations. And in both directions.
We’ve found a useful way of managing the right work / life / play balance working from home requires a semblance of “office hours” in which we communicate and work with each other.
Best supported by turning email and laptops off and back on according to certain business related agreed times. Of course any “emergencies” can be dealt with via SMS while still maintaining the respect of people’s privacy after hours.
But everybody in the chain needs to play the game. The boss, colleagues and we ourselves. I mention the “when at home, (that is after hours) be at home” rule in my coping trilogy blog .
Suggesting we ourselves shouldn’t fall short here and “escape” home duties or home life by excessively “hiding” behind our work (at home).
Dressing Up for Work
One very common factor we found across all our coaching conversations was how important a part being professionally dressed for work at home has become. That you best go to your designated “workplace” dressed for work in work attire.
And to help demarcate work from home, that you might make a point of changing out of those work clothes when you’ve chosen to “leave work for the day”. So you’re no longer “always on”.
That will also help your family with a clear message that says when you’re working and when you’re not.
Meetings, meetings, bloody meetings
I believe another aspect important to successful working from home is to manage meeting productivity. Bosses want to be sure to create sufficient “belonging“. And also transparency and can consequently err on the “being too inclusive” side.
Of course the opposite can be just as true, namely that we have to operate in a vacuum with insufficient communication and clarity of what’s going on because of an uncommunicative boss (or peers).
But we can end up in endless “Zoom meetings” consuming far too much time without the necessary outcomes. Where at the end of the day we can easily recognise we’ve been “working” all day but not really able to further the outcomes we’re responsible for.
In the aforementioned meeting productivity blog I outline a range of subtle but powerful ways you can influence, yes even control meetings even if you aren’t the boss or the chairperson. I’d urge you to influence your culture positively in this way if you feel it’s “too loose”. Checking with selected peers can quickly confirm you aren’t the only one that sees it this way, and between you, you’re probably quite easily able to “have a word with” or subtly “manage” the boss. Or “loud perpetrators”.
The “Always On” Boss
Another area we want to be aware of is what I call “email hours”. If the boss is known to send emails date stamped 3am, I would make a point of checking in with them what their response expectations are. This is a cultural question. My experience is that such bosses can be “managed up” through orchestrated peer initiatives that politely but assertively challenge such culture and find agreement on how best it should be “managed”.
Being Aware of Personal Preferences
And then we also need to consider our own personal preferences. It’s very important to know what energises you and what drains you. And also whether you are more a “morning person” or a “night owl”. We all have different preferences which, when we’re aware of them, we can leverage to be at our very best (or worst). I speak about these in Energized or Drained as well as in When are you at your “Sharpest?
Our responsibility is to balance our preferences with the requirements others have of us. So that we all together achieve the best outcomes.
This is also where we can plan our days to work when it’s best to work and when to take a break. And perhaps learn to involve other activities and people, particularly family, in our breaks. Remember, your’e paid for what you deliver or contribute, not just for “showing up”.
Always On? So What?
So let’s finish with the “so what” question? For many contractors and consultants this “working from home” has been “daily bread” for years. But for a great many, this is relatively new. At least the extent of it is new. And I think we all know that it’s here to stay for a while, don’t we? And surely that there will be a greater incidence of working from home prevailing whenever the “new normal” emerges.
So the sooner we can make this work for us personally, for the teams we lead and the organisations we work for or run, the better it will become for everyone involved. Of course that will take some adjusting and working our ways through some wheel-spin. This is where erring on the side of asking and communicating more frequently will help speed things up to settle them down more quickly.
I’m very sure we will all look back on this chapter with a knowing smile at some point, and wonder why we all had to insist on “going to the office every day” to get our job done. This might even influence our current picture of the commercial real estate situation, where companies may never return to the degree of “working in our offices” paradigm. So we might as well get really good at this.
But whichever way this is or isn’t currently working for you, it’s not going to go away next week. And I believe it’s all of our responsibility to pro-actively manage this situation. Employer and employee alike. And that if you find you’re still to much in a state of “always on”, the I urge you to find ways of engaging your boss to discuss how together you can both make this work for you, for your family, for them and for the organisation and it’s customers.