Being effective when working from home is much more than firing up your laptop on the kitchen table! If you regularly work remotely then you’ve probably already learned what works and what doesn’t. However, for most regular office workers – in response to the covid-19 let’s say that your employer is asking you to work from home. Now what?

If you’re like most people, you’re thinking about your computer, connectivity, company IT systems, conference/video calls, and other types of enabling technology.  Yes, all of this is important. No, by itself, it won’t make you an effective remote worker (unless your regular job is sitting in your cube all day working the keyboard without any human interaction?).

To be effective working from home, you need to change your behaviors.

If you look up the definition of behavior you’ll get something like:

Behavior, noun; the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others.

From a big-picture perspective, think about the total amount of time you typically spend per day interacting with other people in the office. This includes conversations in your office, in someone else’s office, in conference rooms, on the phone, in the hallway, at the coffee station, in the café, etc.. When you think about it, it’s this “presence” that defines who you are in the organization.

The most effective people in the office, the “stars” if you will, spend most of their time interacting with other people versus working solo on their laptop. The same goes for working from home. An analogy that I like to use is comparing two project managers:

Project Manager A spends 80% of their time in their cube refining a huge Gantt chart, creating status reports, sending emails, updating their resource allocations, etc. to develop and manage the perfect plan.

Project Manager B spends 80% of their time walking the hallways, visiting people in their offices, facilitating impromptu meetings, etc. to manage their stakeholder’s expectations.

Of course, it’s not all-of-nothing, which is why I used “80%,” but who do you think is generally a more effective project manager?

Now think about your own job – what’s your average daily split between “interacting with others” vs “working solo?” Is that effective for you or does it need adjustment? How are you going to continue that when working from home?

Maintaining the same level of “human interactions” during a shift from regular office work to working-from-home is a big challenge that shouldn’t be underestimated. If your company is on the tech-savvy side then you’re probably familiar with some of the many collaboration apps out there, but even if that’s not the case, I’m guessing that 99.9% of you have a cell phone.

A mobile phone is really the starting point for maintaining an adequate level of interaction with your team members, management, customers, etc., but you have to use it! This means both reaching out to others (i.e. making the call) and letting others know that you’re available to talk (i.e. answering when someone calls).

“Making the call” takes initiative and helps set expectations about the (new) work-from-home behaviors, but people tend to feel calls are more intrusive than an in-person dialog and thus, opt for email or text or nothing. But think about it this way, in the office, would you feel comfortable popping into Suzie’s office to ask a quick question? If yes, then there’s really no difference and you should feel comfortable in making the call.

“Answering the phone” is perhaps even more powerful in setting behavioral expectations. All phones have caller ID, so when someone calls you and you let it go to voice-mail, one obvious conclusion that the caller could have is that you screened their call. Of course, this isn’t always the case – maybe you’re on another call at the time, but if it’s a regular occurrence then you’re essentially sending an implicit message to the caller that you’d rather get an email than talk with them, which is the opposite of effective work-from-home behavior! This is especially true if you’re a manager.

Consider the workplace analogy of door open – “come on in,” versus door closed – “I’m busy, let’s talk another time.” Think about how you can do this with your team? I know that this can be enabled by technology – through the use of my online calendar colleagues know if I’m online (i.e. available to talk) or not. I’ve also got into the habit of sending a text like “are you available to talk?” – since most of us are on top of our texts, I usually get a fast response and either call right then or when my co-worker says they’re available.

It takes a while to figure out how to really be an effective remote worker, but a few tips to get you started:

  • Think about “behaviors,” as well as technology.
  • Do a ballpark measurement of how much time you spend interacting with others versus working solo. Then make a conscious effort to adjust as necessary.
  • Make the most use of your phone.

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