May 6, 2014

10 steps to make "work-from-home" work

As a follow-up to my earlier post on remote work, here are the 10 steps if you want to make "work-from-home" work for you as well as your employer. I tried to keep them as generic as possible, without focusing on any specific role or industry per se.

1) Ensure you are extremely passionate about the work you are taking up
Be clear about why you are taking up a specific opportunity. Is it something you are passionate about? Is it something you want to build expertise on? How do you think this opportunity will take your career forward? Spend adequate time thinking about these questions.

My definition of passion is not about "do what you love". I believe in "love what you do". It's also important you connect to the work you do, in some level. If you are coming back to work after a break, do invest some time to keep yourself updated. Embrace active learning. I love to be a conscious learner all my life. It keeps me grounded and I know there's more to learn and understand in my area of work.

2) Decide and agree on the outcome
Have a good discussion with your employer/boss about what's expected of you - your role and responsibilities. See if the expectations can be fitted within your schedule. It would be easier to manage if the measure is tangible. But that shouldn't be the deciding factor for remote work, in my opinion.

3) Plan your work schedule
Observe how your time is getting spent during the day and how you can allocate time for remote work. When are you highly productive? When can you get some focused time without any distractions?

I started to take up remote work only after my daughter started pre-school. I planned my work schedule based on the few hours in the morning when I get some alone-time. I get back to work in the afternoons when my daughter takes a nap. Being a night-owl, I grab a couple of hours after I put my daughter to bed.  This schedule does go for a toss if my daughter is having a holiday in school, when she falls sick or she is in such a playful mood that she doesn't want to take her afternoon nap :-)

It's perfectly okay to diverge from the schedule when things are out of your control. Make sure you communicate the change in your schedule (in advance if possible).

4) Clearly communicate the days/timings when you will be available for phone calls/in-person meetings
Once you are clear about your schedule, you will understand the pockets of time when you can take up phone calls without interruptions. Plan for the days when you might have to visit the office premises for any in-person discussions.

In my case, I prefer to take up all phone calls and video conference sessions in the morning hours. I had also decided with my employer that I will be available in office once a week (which later changed to twice a week) from 11 AM to 1 PM every Monday (and Thursday). The key challenge that I had to face was that the timings were not working with some of my other team members since they prefer to start their day in the late afternoons. So we tried to shift the team calls to afternoons but I sometimes had to drop off when my daughter wakes up from her nap.

5) Be an over-communicator
Being a remote worker, it's highly imperative you communicate in extreme detail - be it in the form of emails, documents, task updates. It's better to be a proactive over-communicator than waiting for someone to ask you for updates. This approach works for me best and my team also appreciates the effort.

6) Be punctual for calls/video conference sessions
Communication is crucial in remote work situations. It is also equally important to be available on time whenever a call/hangout session is scheduled. It shows that you are committed and serious about collaboration. Use a calendar to schedule all meetings/calls and set appropriate reminders.

7) Take complete ownership of your focus area
According to industry, ownership and commitment seem to be lacking in remote workers and that's the reason why the industry is hesitant towards making remote work a norm. Though I don't agree to this reason, the only way to change this belief is to "be the change". Proactive communication, coming up with ideas and insights that will help your organization's growth and leading the efforts upfront are some of the ways by which this belief can be changed.

8) Setup your work environment
Allocate a dedicated workspace at home, where you can concentrate without any distractions. Get a high speed internet connection. This is extremely important if most of your discussions happen through skype/Google Hangout. You don't want to get dropped out in the middle of a conversation :-)

I have a dedicated work room in my apartment which has a desk, a landline phone and my iMac. I prefer to work with a desktop. I also use a laptop whenever I need to step out of my home. I capture all my notes and to-dos in Evernote and any detailed write-ups/documents/spreadsheets/ppts in Google Drive, which can be shared with the rest of my team.

9) Collaborate extensively through project management tools
Get familiarized with the project management tool being used in your organization. If there's none, invest some time in getting one setup. It's helpful to you and the rest of the team. Ensure you update the status of your deliverables. Follow-up with any team members through the tool, if you are waiting on someone's inputs (rather than through phone calls or emails).

10) Delegate, take help
This is one of my weakest areas, which I'm slowly trying to overcome. I have realized early in my remote work that I cannot be a super-mom, trying to take care of everything on my own and at highest quality. I hired a cook to prepare lunch, as I want to be completely focused in the morning hours, without thinking about when to make lunch. I also take help from my husband in the evenings and ask him to babysit our daughter whenever I need to take any calls.

Hope these steps were useful to you. Is there anything else you would like to add?

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