Five Essential Tips to Effectively Work from Home

Over at TELUS – where my day job as Chief Envisioner of TELUS Transformation Office keeps me equal parts flourishing and busy – I have the luxury of being a mobile worker. Being a mobile worker means I can work from the road, a TELUS office, hotels, the odd coffee shop … and yes even at home. Several years ago TELUS introduced a concept called Work Styles where 70 per cent of its team members will work 100 per cent of the time from home or – like me – will work from various locations, including their home.

I’ve been a mobile worker ever since I joined the organization in November of 2008. I don’t have an office at any of the TELUS buildings, a permanent desk or an executive assistant. There is no coffee mug that says “Dan” in any of the TELUS lunchrooms or café’s. I perform my duties wherever the wind takes me but roughly half the time that wind gently breezes through the windows of my home.

Harris / Decima conducted a survey entitled “Evaluating Attitudes about Flexible Work” and there were some statistics that really resonated with me as a mobile worker. For example:

  • 81 per cent of respondents agreed that an organization offering a flexible work program positively differentiates one company from another.
  • 67 per cent of those surveyed noted they would be more loyal to companies that provided them with the option of flexible work.
  • 87 per cent of employees who have ever worked remotely responded that they are just as productive, if not more, when working out of the office.
  • 56 per cent said that having a flexible work option would motivate them to work harder.

In my books, this is completely true. I believe it is differentiating TELUS, I’m personally more loyal, I get more done (like this post) and I’m motivated to work harder.

Unlike recent decisions by Yahoo and Best Buy – who mandated employees back to the office – it seems executives and leaders are in fact beginning to see the benefit of flexible work styles in their workplace. In Ireland, for example, consulting firm Regus polled said executives and leaders finding “nearly three quarters believe flexible working improves staff retention and seven in ten consider flexibility a key measure in attracting new talent.” Regus also discovered that 74 per cent of respondents believe flexible work styles makes employees more loyal and that 55 per cent think workers wouldn’t accept a position if the flexibility weren’t offered.

I have roughly six years of experience as a mobile worker, including the ability to work from home. I believe society is only at the beginning of such a workplace evolution, and thus I’d like to share five key tips for being as effective as possible when working from home.

  • Establish Personal Norms
  • Be Present with your Presence
  • Wear Shoes
  • Walk Around
  • Spaced Out

Establish Personal Norms

When will you work? What time of the day will you start and stop working? Do you have some days where you might work a few hours at night, and others where you might watch your daughter’s school play? These – and a hundred other questions – are the types of questions you should be asking yourself, as you define and establish personal norms when you work from home. For example, I make my meetings 45 minutes in length (not 60) so I have 15 minutes to answer emails, phone calls or participate in social spaces. I block off 30 minutes before I take my first meeting of the day and 30 minutes after my last to plan, prepare, catch up, etc. Whatever your norms are, it’s best to align them to a time management plan of some sort … and stick to it. Oh, and DO NOT multitask on conference calls. You will get caught.

Be Present with your Presence

Ideally, your organization has some form of instant messaging and/or collaboration technology. In the case of IM, turn it on! You’ll be alone 99% of the time when working from home devoid of face-to-face colleagues, thus by ensuring your IM tool is on (and your status is aligned to your calendar) others will know if you’re busy, free, in a meeting, delivering a presentation or itching to chat. If your organization possesses collaboration technologies, either block out time to participate in company chatter or manufacture ways to continue being present with your presence. Send a kudo, comment on a blog, answer a question in a micro-blog or post a video or photo. The water cooler has turned virtual and your job is to remain “present with your presence” despite there being no physical water cooler chatting about last night’s episode of Seinfeld anymore.

Wear Shoes

It may seem silly, but I wear shoes every day when working from home. In fact, most days I wear dress shoes. Now, I’m not so dogged that I’ll wear dress clothes – like a suit – when working from home, but I definitely advocate wearing shoes. There are a couple of reasons. First of all, when you don’t wear shoes (and are barefoot, in socks or wearing slippers), I believe you slip into a relaxed mindset. Think of working from home like working from the office. Are you barefoot there? Second, when you put on shoes, you’re going to work. When you put on slippers (or as stated, are in socks or barefoot) you aren’t at work. You’re at home. If you wear shoes, you should mentally associate yourself with being at work, even if you are working from home. If you have a “I don’t wear shoes in the house policy”, buy a pair of indoor only shoes that you put on when you are working from home. Developing an at home working mindset is key, and shoes will help.

Walk Around

Business innovator Nilofer Merchant nailed it with her TED Talk, Got a Meeting? Take a Walk. When working from home, I suggest you employ the same tactic only slightly modified. It’s likely you will be on a conference call at some point when working from home. If you’re like me, you’re on multiple conference calls almost the entire day. Whether you have a landline or a mobile phone at home, get yourself a headset. (buy two if you have both types of phones) If you’re on a conference call, try to walk around your home once in a while with the headset. It could be indoors or, if you have a front yard or backyard (or a quiet street), think about going outside. The fresh air will do you good. (learn how to use your mute button effectively too) When you take a break – and you should schedule in multiple breaks to your day – think about walking around again, or exercising at the gym, go for a run, bike ride, or do yoga. Whilst technically not ‘walking around’, the point is to be active and not be sedentary as you might cocoon to a ‘working from home’ mindset.

Spaced Out

It’s not what you think. To properly ‘space out’ is to ensure you set yourself up for success in the physical spaces where you will actually work from home. I highly suggest you forego placing a desk in your bedroom. If at all possible, avoid this scenario. You will feel as though work is unending. Who wants to wake up in the same place where work is being done? Find somewhere else, anywhere else. I have a dedicated office, but I will also work from other areas on occasion like the dining room table. The temptation to always be on will haunt you like potentially stealing treats from your children’s Halloween bag. In this case, being ‘spaced out’ means you have to instill a personal discipline to separate work from your home life. Whether you’re single, in a relationship or in a marriage with children, you need to effectively space yourself from a 24×7 work mentality when working from home. Guard your white space. Protect your free time. Don’t let work be your only priority. I am a proponent of life-work balance, not work-life balance because I believe life always come first.

In Summary

I wouldn’t trade a thing with my workplace setup at TELUS. I’m engaged and love the balance it brings. I know there are thousands of other team members who enjoy this sublime perquisite of Flexible Work Styles as well. The aforementioned are my five tips – and I know I could have written for many more paragraphs – but I’d be interested to hear if you have additional tips to help others as well.

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2 comments on “Five Essential Tips to Effectively Work from Home”

  1. This for me is one of those classic rational vs instinctive debates. There have been a host of studies into flexible working that have shown that it’s generally more productive, employees are more engaged, it saves money and so on. It seems a no brainer when looked at rationally.

    Yet there have also been studies showing that bosses tend to promote those that they see in the office. They assign project responsibility to those present and visible. All things that are irrational and I’m sure if you asked the manager about it they’d deny that they would do such a thing, professing to make their decisions on merit rather than instinct.

    It’s a classic System 1 vs System 2 thing I think.

  2. Excellent tips here! I enjoyed reading your post. It certainly is very advantageous to work from home, both for the employer and the employee. It helps boost the morale of the employees and make them more productive.

Hey! I'd love to read what you think. Surely you have an opinion. Love, Dan.