In a fast changing world, where one of the biggest problems the coming generation will be facing is pollution, I'm a heavy supporter of remote working. Not only is home-working a good way to reduce our carbon fingerprints, it's also a chance to reconsider the way we live globally.
It is a great opportunity to achieve that work/life balance so many of us are aiming for, not to mention the possibility of working from anywhere in the world, discovering new cultures and getting new ideas from your travels.
But with great power comes great responsibility. Telecommuting can be tricky.
For teams, collaboration can appear more difficult (that's even one of the reasons Marissa Mayer gave for forcing remote workers to come back on site right after she took Yahoo!'s CEO position).
In my opinion, providing that your company is evolving in an industry where it's possible, the collaboration problem can be completely or partially solved. How? By mixing carefully picked software for collaboration and planning regular retreats where people can reinforce their relationships.
Tools specifically designed for remote workers are poking their noses through in recent months. For instance, I love the idea behind products like sqwiggle or perch for visual interactions, and most Software as a Service is, by design, meant to be used from everywhere.
Of course, for a company that would like to go all remote, it also implies hiring people that can do it or training people interested in it.
Indeed, for individuals, working from home can make procrastination and poor prioritization between personal/work tasks easier, as well increase feelings of demotivation.
Teleworking requires a specific state of mind. But it's a state of mind that can be forged.
Last Saturday, I had lunch with a good friend of mine, who also happened to be my associate on a previous venture. He's just started working on his new project and this time he's doing it from home. When we got to talk about challenges of home working and self-organization, I realised I've been successfully working from home for the last two and a half years, and that I've learned a lot along the road. This post is a retrospection about the three biggest challenges I faced and what worked for me to overcome them.
Strong stable routines
First things first, you need to build routine. A lot of office people often think that working from home implies working whenever you "feel like it". According to them, you're the master of your time and planning.
And it's true. It's true that it's a trap.
The one thing you have to quickly learn when you're home working is to put yourself to work routinely. That's right, exactly like if you were working from an office.
Why? Because it's the only way to guarantee that you're going to work every day and not once in awhile.
So how do I achieve doing that? That's super simple.
I have a defined work week. I try and get up at the same time every day, shower and take breakfast exactly like I was getting ready to go to the office. I then put myself to work (on something planned that's written down on my planner, as we'll see bellow) until my fixed one hour lunch break.
It goes the same way for the afternoon. To conclude the workday, I go running for 45 minutes. It's good for health, and it also helps draw a line between my work and personal lives. In a way, running is my commute back home. When I push the entry door, I'm home and not supposed to work anymore. You don't have to run if you don't like it, but I think it's really important to have an activity to ring the end of work everyday.
Of course, I break rules regularly. I put myself back to work after dinner from time to time, and I often work during the weekend. But those habits are ground rules to help you stay healthy and operational in the long run.
Build habits and routines. Respect them, and soon, with time and experience, you'll be able to take liberties.
Plan your week.
When you're working in an office, it's easy to keep yourself busy. There are always meetings you can show up to, colleagues you can talk to, or tasks you can pick up and work on.
When you're home alone, and especially if you're working for yourself, you'd better know what you have to do if you don't want to just spend the day wasting your time on unimportant tasks or asking yourself what to do next.
The answer to that is planning.
Everyone will choose the tool that he prefers. You can use a regular paper calendar, or the one on your computer. You can also use a Trello board or to-do lists. After several tries using the latest, I came to the conclusion that they are not the best way for me to organize my day. While I like using them to fine-cut bigger tasks, I do need to have an overview of my workweek.
So, here is how I do it.
I've printed and stuck a blank weekly planner (from Monday to Friday) on the fridge. Every Sunday, I take some time to reflect about the coming week. I list everything I have to work on, cut small rectangles in an adhesive sheet of paper (you can use post-its), write down the tasks, and just place them on the planner. I like having something physical to symbolise the workweek, and using a planner forces me to think about the time every task is going to take and when I'm going to do it. I could write the tasks directly on the planner, but I like the symbol of having an immutable workweek planner.
Listen to yourself
Some days you just can't work. That is perfectly normal. When that happens, I try to stick to the following process:
1) Ask myself why I can't. Am I tired? Not feeling motivated? Maybe I have something really boring to do? Or does it feel like a perfect day to surrender to distraction (blog reading, twitter, chatting)?
I also ask myself when was the last time I felt like that.
2) I acknowledge it. It's ok to feel like that from time to time. Don't feel guilty about it.
3) If it seems possible to work anyway, I use the Pomodoro Technique to cut work into smaller chunks of 25 minutes. Please note that this technique is great even in normal times.
4) If not, I just take a few hours, half a day, or a full day off. I try to do something not work-related (reading, crawling the web, going out). The only rule to do that properly is to define when you'll get back to work prior to taking this break.
This isn't my very first experience working from home.
In my past jobs (as an employee and as an entrepreneur), I sometimes dropped the office for my living room. Even if it's really different to do it every single day, I knew I could do it with some discipline.
Taking the time to write down what works, reminded me of the rules that this discipline is made off. Knowing them reinsured me: I know there is a recipe to success in remote working.