Remote working seems to be all the buzz. Reports show 70% of professionals work from home at least once a week. Similarly, 77% of people work more productively and 68% of millennials would consider a company more if they offered remote working. It seems to make sense: technology, connectivity, and culture seem to be setting the world up more and more for remote working. Oh, and home-brewed coffee is better than ever too. I know I love my Keurig!
Here’s the stark truth: remote working is not a panacea. Sure, it seems like hanging around at home in your pajamas, listening to whatever music or podcasts you want, and sipping on buckets of coffee is perfect, but it isn’t for everyone.
Some people need the structure of an office. Some people need the social element of an office. Some people need to get out of the house. Some people lack the discipline to stay focused at home.
Remote working is like a muscle: it can bring enormous strength and capabilities IF you train and maintain it. If you don’t, your results are going to vary.
I had the chance to connect with Jono Bacon, CEO of Jono Bacon Consulting and author of People Powered: How Communities Can Supercharge Your Business, Brand, and Team, who has worked from home for the vast majority of his career and loves it. He shared with me that he finds he’s more productive, happier, and empowered when he works from home.
“I don’t dislike working in an office, and I enjoy the social element, but I am more in my “zone” when I work from home,” Bacon reveals. “I also love blisteringly heavy metal, which can pose a problem when the office doesn’t want to listen to After The Burial.”
Bacon has learned how to manage remote work, using the right balance of work routine, travel, and other elements, and shared his five recommendations with me:
1. You need discipline and routine (and to understand your “waves”)
Remote work really is a muscle that needs to be trained. Just like building actual muscle, there needs to be a clear routine and a healthy dollop of discipline mixed in.
Always get dressed (no pajamas he says). Set your start and end time for your day (Bacon works 9am – 6pm most days). Choose your lunch break (he is 12pm). Choose your morning ritual (Bacon checks email followed by a full review of his client’s needs). Decide where your main workplace will be (his home office). Decide when you will exercise each day (5pm most days for him).
“Design a realistic routine and do it for 66 days,” Bacon explains “It takes this long to build a habit. Try not to deviate from the routine. The more you stick the routine, the less work it will seem further down the line. By the end of the 66 days, it will feel natural and you won’t have to think about it.”
Here’s the deal though, we don’t live in a vacuum, Bacon adds. We all have waves.
A wave is when you need a change of routine to mix things up. For example, in summertime Bacon says he generally wants more sunlight so he will often work outside in his garden. Near the holidays he gets more distracted, so he needs more structure in his day. Sometimes he just needs more human contact, so he’ll work from coffee shops for a few weeks. Sometimes he just fancies working in the kitchen or on the couch. You need to learn your waves and listen to your body. Build your habit first, and then modify it as you learn your waves.
2. Set expectations with your management and colleagues
Not everyone knows how to do remote work, and if your company is less familiar with remote working, you especially need to set expectations with colleagues.
This can be pretty simple: when you have designed your routine, communicate it clearly to your management and team. Let them know how they can get hold of you, how to contact you in an emergency, and how you will be collaborating while at home.
The communication component here is critical. There are some remote workers who are scared to leave their computer for fear that someone will send them a message while they are away (and they are worried people may think they are just eating Cheetos and watching Netflix).
You need time away. You need to eat lunch without one eye on your computer. You are not a 911 emergency responder. Set expectations that sometimes you may not be immediately responsive, but you will get back to them as soon as possible.
Similarly, set expectations on your general availability. For example, Bacon says he set expectations with clients that he generally works from 9am – 6pm every day. “Sure, if a client needs something urgently, I am more than happy to respond outside of those hours, but as a general rule, I am usually working between those hours. This is necessary for a balanced life,” Bacon explains.
3. Distractions are your enemy and they need managing
We all get distracted. It is human nature. It could be your young kid getting home and wanting to play Rescue Bots. It could be checking Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to ensure you don’t miss any unwanted political opinions or photos of people’s lunches. It could be that there is something else going on your life that is taking your attention (such as an upcoming wedding, event, or big trip.)
You need to learn what distracts you and how to manage it. For example, Bacon knows he gets distracted by his email and Twitter. He checks it religiously and every check gets him out of the zone of what he’s working on. He also gets distracted by grabbing coffee and water, which then may turn into a snack and a YouTube video.
The digital distractions have a simple solution, Bacon says: lock them out. Close down the tabs until you complete what you are doing. He says he does this all the time with big chunks of work: he locks out the distractions until he’s done. It requires discipline, but all of this does.
The human elements are tougher. If you have a family you need to make it clear that when you are work, you need to be generally left alone. This is why a home office is so important: you need to set boundaries that mom or dad is working. Come in if there is an emergency, but otherwise, they need to be left alone.
There are all kinds of opportunities for locking these distractions out. Bacon provides a few: put your phone on silent. Set yourself as away. Move to a different room (or building) where the distraction isn’t there. Again, be honest in what distracts you and manage it. If you don’t, you will always be at their mercy.
4. Relationships need in-person attention
Some roles are more attuned to remote working than others. For example, Bacon shares he has seen great work from engineering, quality assurance, support, security, and other teams (typically more focused on digital collaboration). Other teams such as design or marketing often struggle more in remote environments (as they are often more tactile.)
With any team though he shares, having strong relationships is critical, and in-person discussions, collaboration, and socializing are essential to this. So many of our senses (such as body language) are removed in a digital environment, and these play a key role in how we build trust and relationships.
This is especially important if (a) you are new a company and need to build these relationships, (b) are new to a role and need to build relationships with your team, or (c) is in a leadership position where building buy-in and engagement is a key part of your job.
The solution, reveals Bacon? A sensible mix of remote and in-person time. If your company is nearby he explained, work from home part of the week and at the office part of the week. If your company is further away, schedule regular trips to the office (and set expectations with your management that you need this). “When I worked at XPRIZE I flew to LA every few weeks for a few days,” adds Bacon. “When I worked at Canonical, who was based in London, they had sprints every three months.”
5. Stay focused, but cut yourself some slack
The crux of everything in this article is about building a capability and developing a remote working muscle. This is as simple as building a routine, sticking to it, and having an honest view of your “waves” and distractions and how to manage them.
Like most, Bacon sees the world in a fairly specific way: everything we do has the opportunity to be refined and improved. For example, he has been public speaking now for over 15 years, but he’s always discovering new ways to improve, and new mistakes to fix.
“There is a thrill in the discovery of new ways to get better, and to see every stumbling block and mistake as an ‘aha!’ moment to kick ass in new and different ways,” Bacon shares. “It is no different with remote working: look for patterns that help to unlock ways in which you can make your remote working time more efficient, more comfortable, and more fun….but don’t go crazy over it.
There are some people who obsess every minute of their day about how to get better. They beat themselves up constantly for ‘not doing well enough,’ ‘not getting more done,’ and not meeting their internal unrealistic view of perfection.”