How to work from home with maximum productivity

I’ve written a number of blogs and articles over the last few years about the many virtues of Smarter Working – the idea that appropriate collaboration technology can facilitate people working online from anywhere and at any time.  I realize that there are probably a number of people who don’t understand what I’m talking about.

As I travel across the world and meet with organizations, I often feel like I’m in some sort of Star Trek time warp.  Some firms have the latest technologies, some firms have recent technologies, some use very dated technology and some believe the telephone is the highest-tech they’ll ever have. 

It is important for industry analysts and consultants like myself to realize that we can’t always be addressing our comments with the assumption that everyone has purchased technology introduced last year and are about to purchase whatever is announced this year.  Sometimes we have to take a step back and explain things for people and organizations that have blind spots.  To fill some of those in, here is a guide for establishing an effective work from home strategy.

Stay connected with colleagues

When my smartphone alarm wakes me up in the morning I immediately check it for business communication from my international colleagues.  Even if the sun has not come up in my neighborhood, my colleagues have been working for hours and may be in the middle or at the end of their workday. 

I owe them the same courtesy I’d want if I had a critical issue and needed their help.  I reply to any critical messages on my mobile before getting breakfast or formally sitting down at my desk.

TIP #1:

Check email from your mobile device – become known for timely responses.

During breakfast and coffee, I sit with my notebook looking at social media sites – public ones and business social media.  This way I get a picture of what my friends, colleagues and the entire industry have been up to both in their personal lives and professional endeavors.  Sometimes there are industry announcements, sometimes there are firm-wide announcements, and sometimes I just see a colleague at a show with their children.

TIP #2:

Use pubic and business social media to maintain a ‘sense of connection’ with your global colleagues.

Understand the difference between being online vs. working remotely

The reality of today’s business climate is that savvy people are almost always ‘connected’ as I described above.  While it’s fine to read and reply to a message from a mobile device when you’re at home or otherwise not working (if that fits your lifestyle), that is not really working remotely. 

Being ‘at work’ in an age where traveling to an office is not necessary means being prepared and focused on your tasks.  You can’t do that from the bedroom or a kitchen table.

TIP #3:

Have a desk set-up in a location you go to that signifies you are ‘at work.’  Any family or roommates should know that when you are there you are working and shouldn’t be disturbed unless absolutely necessary.

When I work from home I open up multiple screens and apps. My Microsoft Office suite is naturally open with my calendar and email, as is my Instant Messaging and Presence engine, and these days I also open up my Team Chat application.  If I saw anything in emails or social platforms earlier in the day that I want to comment on or ask about I’ll do it at this time. 

It may be sending an instant message to my colleague about the show he saw last night, or it may be a comment on my enterprise social site giving some details of my experiences on a posted topic.  At the same time, on a second PC, I open and minimize public social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.  These days more and more business communication from clients and prospective clients comes to me via these informal channels.  I’ll then check my calendar and begin my day.

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TIP #4:

If possible, configure your workspace with multiple screens that facilitate monitoring multiple applications yet still allow you to concentrate on a single application when necessary.

Schedule your work time

Some days I have to complete reports using Word or author presentations using PowerPoint.  Other days I’m actually presenting to clients or working with colleagues using an online meeting or videoconference.

TIP #5:

Make entries on your calendar to carve-out the time you need to work on tasks.  If you don’t, you may never get to them.

Set-up your workspace for success

I recently led a workshop for a client in North Carolina from my home office desk in New Jersey.  I put the completed PowerPoint on a second screen that I share – along with my camera – using a videoconferencing platform.  (Some clients want me to lead these workshops in person, while others appreciate that I can save them the travel expenses by doing it remotely.)  Later in the day, I might be on a videoconference with a project team in multiple cities, working on designs and plans on a virtual whiteboard.

TIP #6:

Always use a second screen for your PC so you can easily share any content placed on it while keeping private communications and other apps open on your primary screen. 

Use all of the tools

During any of those activities, other colleagues may ping me with an instant message asking if I have time to chat.  Sometimes I can answer that colleague’s question with little distraction to my meeting in progress, sometimes I tell him or her that we’ll have to pick it up after my meeting is over.  And, if a typed reply at that time would become too long, I sometimes click the button to start an audio call or a video conference so we can add those rich media elements to the impromptu conversation.

TIP #7:

Keep an eye on instant messages when you are able to respond to interruptions.  When you’re not able to (like when you’re presenting to a client) be sure to set your instant message presence setting to ‘do not disturb’ – and remember to clear that when your meeting is over. There really isn’t anything business meeting related that I can’t do remotely that I could do in person, other than perhaps shake someone’s hand.  I lose that physical connection, but at the same time, I also lose the wasted travel time, environmentally unfriendly carbon emissions … and lose the chance to catch any flu bugs that may be lingering in the office. So while many organizations see the telephone as the height of collaboration technology, and believe remote working means lying in bed and eating bonbons, other firms are empowering their employees, improving productivity, reducing costs, helping the environment, and supporting a more agile and virtual workforce.  If you’re lucky enough to work from home for one of them – or for yourself – be sure to use these tips to set yourself up for success.

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