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Written by: Corey Janoff

With much of America forced to work from home this spring (if you’re fortunate enough to have work at the moment), people are scrambling to get into a rhythm.  It’s a challenge anytime our routines are disrupted.  For some people, this presents a great opportunity.  For others, working from home can be complete chaos.  Today we will dive into some strategies to maximize productivity and keep your boss at ease.  

Benefits to Working From Home

Many people like the idea of working from home.  They have more control over their day.  Don’t have to get up as early.  Driving through rush hour traffic isn’t a concern.  Money spent on gas for the car decreases.

If you work from home, you can wear pajama pants all day if you want!  Showering is optional.  You can take a two-hour lunch break if you want.  You don’t actually have to work the entire day.  You can break it up into chunks to get things done as needed. You’re able to run errands during off-peak times.  

Depending on your household, there may be fewer distractions than your office.  If you are alone in your house during the day, you can zone in and crush your work in no time!  At the office, coworkers are constantly coming by to ask you questions.  Small conversations are started in the break room or hallway and your productivity is regularly interrupted.  

Downsides to Working from Home

If you have young children in the house, unless you have a secret office hidden behind a bookshelf, working from home is a nightmare.  If your spouse is in the house too and you don’t usually work from home, your time may get taken advantage of due to your new presence and availability.  It’s not often that I’m asked to change a diaper at 11am at the office…

Social distancing has its downsides.  Many people have developed close relationships with their coworkers.  Even if you’re not best friends, you still may grab lunch together or talk sports over the coffee pot.  Those small social interactions disappear when you work from home.  It can get lonely and cause you to go stir crazy.    

If you have a work-related question, you’re not able to walk over to your available coworker(s) and get a quick answer.  You have to message or call someone and hope they answer your call or get back to you quickly.  If you need someone to show you how to do something, screen sharing and video conferencing helps, but has its limitations.  

Set Some Parameters

If you’re going to work from home, you need to set some parameters for yourself and others in your house to make sure you can actually get your necessary work done.  

Set your alarm, make your bed, shower, and get dressed like you normally would.  Act like you’re actually going to work.  

Ideally you have a home office or spare bedroom you can set up shop in.  If not, make a functional workspace for yourself wherever you have room.   I also recommend getting a standing desk or raiser to create a standing desk, as you will find yourself sitting in place for much longer at home than the office. Even hammering together four boards or placing a cardboard box on a table will suffice.  At the very least, get up and walk around frequently.  Pace around during conference calls – even do them while on a walk outside.  

Carve out certain blocks when you can’t be interrupted, such as if you have a call with a client.  If you have a spouse also working from home, it’s important to coordinate with each other ahead of time.  Try to alternate times of focus if you have kids so one person can be available when duty calls.  

That being said, people are understanding right now.  We’re all forced into working dynamics that we aren’t really prepared for.  We’re all figuring this out on the fly.  If your kid barges into your office while you’re doing a video conference with someone, it’s all good.  

Check in Regularly

The biggest reason bosses and managers don’t like people working from home is because it is more difficult to keep tabs on what employees are doing and ensure work is moving along in a timely manner.  It’s difficult to determine if employees are actually working during normal work hours, or if they are taking advantage of their freedom.

At the end of the day, if the work is getting done and done well, your boss will be happy.  And, outside of a select few professions, the specific time of day that the work gets done is irrelevant.  As long as things are done in a timely manner, everyone will be happy.

To keep your boss’s heart rate down and move up on the favorite employees list, send a daily check-in email.   You could do this anytime of day, but I would suggest either first thing in the morning, or when you are wrapping up for the day.  The key is consistency, because it demonstrates dependability.  

If you prefer a morning check-in, send a short email that lists the things you are going to be working on that day.  It’s also not a bad idea to bullet point the items you completed the day prior and any outstanding items that you won’t be able to get to until tomorrow (or later).   

If you prefer an end-of-day check in, list the things you completed that day and what you plan on tackling the next day, and anything you won’t be able to get to until the following day.  

If you really want to look impressive, send out the occasional email at 6am or 10pm to make it appear like you are grinding away and going above and beyond the call of duty.  

It’s no secret that people who work from home aren’t at their desk from nine to five.  People take their dog for a walk at 10am.  They go to the grocery store at 2pm.  They might go for a run right before lunch.  And that’s totally fine.  Your boss knows you are doing that.  If you’re making up for it with productivity and by putting in the time outside of normal business hours, your leash will get longer.  

Ask When Assignments Are Needed By

When you are given an assignment by someone, the easiest way to make that person happy is to ask them when they need the assignment done by and then get it done by that deadline.   Even better, get it done before the deadline!  

If the ball is put in your court and the assignor asks when you think you will be able to complete a task by, under promise and over deliver.  Tell them you will have it done by Friday and get it to them on Wednesday.   It’s all about setting expectations.   

One of the biggest mistakes Domino’s Pizza made was when they advertised deliveries in under 30 minutes, guaranteed.  They ended this promise over 20 years ago, but many customers still associate Domino’s with the 30-minute-or-less guarantee.  People expected their pizza to arrive in 30 minutes or less!  If it came in at 31 minutes, people were disappointed, and drivers received smaller tips.  28 minutes?  You’re cutting it close.  

Set the expectation to make yourself look good.  

In Summary

We will all get through this.  Humans are a very resourceful species.  On literally a days’ notice we turned our company into a functional business with remote workers.   Admittedly, since most of our work is done over phone and computer anyways, we’re better positioned than some to work from home.  Still, not all employees had the appropriate tech at home to do all their job duties.

If anything, this will be a good test run for companies to experiment with remote working measures.   We’ll find practices that work well and can be implemented once we are all able to return to our normal workplaces.   More companies will quickly adopt and accept electronic signatures on documents, so we can greatly reduce the amount of paper that needs to be printed.  It’s so much quicker to send, sign, and return things electronically than via snail mail.  

Keep your heads up.  Keep your hands washed.  Stay home.  Stay healthy.   Flatten the curve.  Conserve toilet paper.  We’re all in this together.  We will get through this.

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