Put Your Pants Back On (and Other Tips & Tricks for Working From Home)

Contrary to popular belief, working in my pj's is not a thing.


I may be an odd duck here, but the first thing I tell people when they ask for advice on how to work from home is to treat their home office as close to how they'd treat their work office. There is something about the ritual of that first shower of the morning, the coffee, and at least dressing in business casual that turns on that switch in the brain that says, "Okay, Kristan, it's time to 'go to work'."


Granted, working from home has its own challenges and let's take a look at those.


First, Let's Address the Elephant in the room...


Many a boss will say they prefer to have their employees where they can see them, but the reality is that productivity is no different from home than when that same employee is in the office. If that employee is going to do poorly, they'll do it equally poorly with their employer right there.


So, why do they seem to do worse from home?


Because there's no one there to save them from their mediocre work ethic, and equally, nowhere to hide from it because now they can't lean on that neighbour in the office to make it look like they're working.


But, that's only in the case of an employee who has a poor work ethic.


What about the one that has a great work ethic, great attitude... why are they not performing?


I asked an HR expert (and looked at my own textbook on HR from college) and it came down to a few things:

  • Training (or the lack thereof)

  • Support when they do have a question.

  • Not knowing what question to ask (again, comes down to training)

  • Fear of being seen as a poor employee (this comes down to company culture - if you even so much as suspect an employee is afraid to ask and is hiding behind others to get their cues on what they should be doing, it's time to look hard at your management!)

Conversely, working from home can either make this employee suddenly shine (no barriers to a great manager to ask questions and get guidance) or make one suddenly ninja vanish to another company.


However, that's a topic for another day.


The Business Advantage of Working from Home


Unless your business is one of those that absolutely cannot be done from home, and the position is better served at an office, consider moving your employees to a home office.


It's not for everyone, but it can be the new cost-saving strategy.


Advantages

  • Less overhead than renting office space: Office space is more expensive than supplying your employee with a decent laptop instead of a desktop, a VPN provider, the necessary cybersecurity, a tiny pay bump for the expense of upgrading their internet/using their cell, and a softphone number for use on their phone or computer.

  • Less "absentee-ism": There are statistics that prove this, but let me give you my personal experience from living in Northern Ontario. Snow. Lots of it. Usually enough to prevent getting to work in the morning, or from work in the evening if it snowed that much in the day (and, yes, that does happen!). Working from home meant I didn't have to take a snow day. Also, I took fewer sick days because I wasn't being exposed to everyone's cold and other viruses. As I'm unfortunately one of those who also get a yearly bout of pneumonia or bronchitis, working from home has also saved me that misery. This is the first year I've avoided it and only had a minor cold instead of pneumonia at this time of year... can never seem to skip the cold though...

  • More productive: Once I had my own home office, I was more productive than going in. While I could get up and walk around more often, and yes I did see my kitchen for a coffee more, I was more focused on my work when I was at my computer than limiting myself to the one lunch break and two 15's. Also, maybe it's just me, I tend to work faster and do better work when someone isn't breathing over my shoulder.

  • Less gossiping at the "water cooler": I mean, I could talk to myself but... and if I'm noticing that, how much more is that happening around the country?

I won't lie and say there aren't disadvantages to working from home, but the reality is those disadvantages are probably a crucible showing who was working while at the office and who wasn't - or the situation at home wasn't the best and that's not really the employee's fault.


How to Make the Most from #WFH.


Treat it like you are "going" to the office.


Dress the part... no pj's allowed (unless your office has a pj day). Considering you are at home, the three-piece suit and tie can probably stay in your closet, but at least be business casual. I also like to follow the same schedule I did before I worked from home. This does two things: It prevents me from overworking (I'm bad for that) and it also gives a sense of routine that if I have to go back to the office that routine will not have been completely disturbed. All that will change is where I'm working, not when and not how I look.


Start Communicating With Your Team Daily


Yes, I'm about to say the dreaded word meetings, but those morning campfires do more than just keep everyone on the same page. The biggest shake-up is not only the where but the who/how we work. I tend to follow the 5-5-5 rule: 5 minutes to catch up (a la the "watercooler"), 5 minutes to recap, and 5 minutes to get ourselves on track.


Fifteen minutes in the morning right before we start (but during billed hours). In, out, done. The rest of keeping up project wise can be done in Microsoft Teams (or Slack, or even Discord - however your company communicates).


For those morning meetings, I prefer a video conference, but voice-only will do when the internet isn't cooperating as well as it could... or the most tech-savvy of the bunch can start a group call on the phone.


If you're a team member, use this time wisely. I wouldn't recommend telling us all about your weekend (unless it's that kind of close-knit team), but something so we know you're human would be great, and then updates and fire away with any questions you have that are burning away in your mind. Take notes... and don't be shy to reach out in Teams/Slack/Discord/whatever.


Pick a collaboration communication software and stick to it


This may take experimentation and trials and do include your team in the decision making as they're ultimately going to have to use it, but find a decent collab software like Teams or Slack and stick to it unless a new program does far, far more. Yes, swapping out is a pain but there's nothing worse than sticking to software that isn't cutting it when there's something better out there.


My picks are either:

  • Microsoft Teams

  • Slack

  • Discord

But there are others out there. It depends on what your needs are.


Make a To-Do List Based on the Morning Campfire


Base your daily to-do's on what was discussed in the campfire. I'd be prepared to change it if something comes down the pipe later in the day as things can, and do, change but basing your day-to-day tasks on what you've discussed (even if you're the Team Lead) keeps the whole team on the same track. Everyone has a role... now is not the time to go rogue.


Check on Team Members Throughout the Day


Not just to see how they're doing with their tasks but also to remind them they exist and are a part of your team. Remind them to take coffee breaks, eat, go home (so to speak) too.


Guard Your Work-Life Balance


Working from home, especially if you like your job and career, has a major disadvantage. You may be tempted to "check-in" when you should really be off the clock. Even if your job isn't exactly based on a clock or a distinct 9-5, you still need to maintain a work-life balance.


I do this by having a dedicated "work" office within my home and dressing for work when I'm working. The minute I exit that work office, and trade those clothes for something more relaxed, I am "off the clock" and concentrating (or not at all) on stuff that is outside of work.


And I jealously guard those moments of downtime.


Your body and mind need those moments of downtime. Without them, you cannot work at your peak. Burnout is a thing. While as a manager, I am always within reach I will not, under any circumstances, put in a full regular day on days I have designated as "off". I'll put out my fair share of fires to get things running smoothly again, but that's it.


If you're an employee with no management responsibility, do not let your work pressure you into working more than your fair share even if your home office is half a step away. Close the case of your work laptop and put the work cell in its case or shut it off until it's time to clock in.


I'm Self-Employed or I Don't Have a Team


Many of these tips can be adapted for your situation.


If you're self-employed, find a CRM or project management software that you can use to have morning campfires with yourself to decide on your day-to-day.


If you don't have a team, you probably still have other managers in the same company. That's your team, even if your tasks aren't 100% related to their department. However, you all share a responsibility. The social aspect of the meeting, even just to give them the gist of what you do and know what they do can keep your vision in line with the company you work for and help stave off loneliness.


Whether you're part of a massive company or a company of one, keeping on track and treating Working From Home like you would work at the office will increase your productivity.


There's also an added benefit - when you leave your home office and get back into your pj's, you have that distinct "I'm not a work" switch and can turn off (and relax better). The border between work and not at work becomes obvious.


#workfromhome #wfh #smallteam #management #humanresources #smallteam #largeteam #selfemployed

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