I’ve had the good fortune in my career to this point to always have at least some ability to work from home. Whether in an extreme case of a Results Only Work Environment where I never had to go in to the office to a more hybrid approach of working from home as needed, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of telecommuting benefits.
There’s only one small problem: I was terrible at it. Easily distracted and prone to procrastination, my work-from-home days were hardly productive. Don’t get me wrong—the work still got done. However I often found myself playing catch-up when I was back in the office after my WFH days.
But I humbly come to you today a telecommuter reborn, having learned how to tackle my shortcomings and find my productivity, regardless of where I’m working.
Hi, my name is Josh Erwin, and I’m a recovering terrible telecommuter.
Where I failed
What I failed to recognize at the outset is that telecommuting is not just working from somewhere else; rather, it’s an entirely different set of skills and disciplines than working in an office. Telecommuting is, in and of itself, work. It’s not just a switch you flip. Rather, it’s a set of practices to be cultivated and mastered over time.
To compound the problem, every telecommuter is different. We have to identify our own unique idiosyncrasies, workstyles and preferences in order to set ourselves up for telecommuting success. And quite frankly, that process requires a little stumbling.
So, here are two of the major mistakes I made when starting out working from home. Sometimes I feel that I’ve sufficiently vanquished them, but the truth is that they still require quite a bit of effort to overcome each time I decide to work remotely.
But as the saying goes, if I can’t be a good example, at least I can serve as a horrible warning.
I didn’t “go” to work
Now wait a second—isn’t this an article about telecommuting? What do you mean “go” to work?
What I mean is that I approached working from home very, very differently than I approached going into the office. Yes, I got to skip my commute and sleep in a little longer, but what I eventually learned is that I still had to trick myself into “going” to work to become productive. If I simply rolled out of bed and plopped on the couch with my laptop out, odds are I’d spend as much time watching YouTube videos as I did tackling deadlines.
The problem, of course, was that I wasn’t segmenting my life. The couch was where I watched football and played video games, not where I worked. So why was I surprised when the productivity wasn’t flowing freely when I tried to suddenly turn my couch into my home office?
I had to learn to compartmentalize my worklife, even while at home. I had to create a space that was designated for work, so it felt like I was moving into a “productivity zone,” of sorts. I even needed to actually shower and get dressed, rather than living out the telecommuting stereotype of working in my pajamas. The simple act of still going through a morning routine and physically moving myself to a “work” part of the house drastically changed my effectiveness as a telecommuter.
I didn’t pick my battles
While my role involves a lot of creative work, there’s a wide variety of things I’m responsible for: strategies, metrics, project plans, etc. What I realized over time in my role is that different types of work are better suited for being done remotely than others.
For example, if I have a long piece to write or edit, that’s perfectly suited for working from home or a coffee shop: a singular screen of text that I need to focus on. However, if I’m doing say metrics analysis, the limitations of my WFH setup become more apparent; at the office, I have two screens, a mouse and a keyboard, which is an ideal setup for dealing with numbers and spreadsheets. Crunching numbers becomes much more of an ordeal when I’m dealing with a single screen and a laptop touchpad.
I had to learn to pick my battles, evaluating my projects and deadlines and choosing my WFH days more strategically to maximize my effectiveness, rather than just trying to dive in wholesale..
This is another problem that will be unique to you as an individual. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough that a majority of your work is WFH-friendly, or that you aren’t as bothered by technology limitations. But for me, the recognition that different projects are better suited for remote work than others made it easier for me to tackle my work and led to overall better productivity.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, remember this: all telecommuters are different. We’re all unique little productivity snowflakes. Your mileage may vary.
Additional Telecommuting Resources from PGi: