Home Alone: Getting Stuff Done (Part 2)


So, it’s getting closer. Some of you have already received the email confirming you can work from home. Part 1 covered what you need, this part covers some ideas on how to make your time productive.

It will always be the things you didn’t expect that will catch you out. For example, one project I worked on had a daily stand-up call at 8am. I was on-site Tuesday to Thursday and worked from home Monday (travel day) and Friday. Thursday evening, I travelled home. Nothing unusual about that except, the project was in Europe and I would arrive home the wrong side of midnight. I would like to say I was always punctual for the Friday morning stand-up call. I was not. However, there was an upside. It always went quiet mid-afternoon.

But that is the key benefit of working from home –  flexibility, being able to fit your work around you, rather than the other way around. However, having that flexibility is also the greatest challenge. A common trap is we’re too flexible during the day so we end up working much later in the evening. This means we get up later, we don’t get done as much as we thought, so we end up working later again. We have time-shifted, but not in a good way. Worse, we have replaced the risk and challenges of working in the office with another, self-inflicted challenge. The key is to be as proactive as possible, rather than reactive, and heaven knows, during this period there will plenty to react too!!!

When working from home we have to be realistic about what we can achieve. We’ve all heard the anecdotes about being so much more productive away from the distractions of the office. Most of us do not have an inner, uber-productive, super-ninja just waiting to spring forth once freed from the shackles of the office. At home, we also have distractions. For example, did you realise just how many people knock at your front door? If it normally takes two hours to write that report in the office, it will probably still take two hours when you write it at home. Also related to this is the impulse to prove you are actually working. One of the common perceptions is remote working consists of Daytime TV and Social Media. Yes, you might be able to catch up with afternoon Archers rather than the evening edition, but during this time, no-one will judge you, so just do what you normally would do.  So, the first thing is to be realistic about what you can achieve. Otherwise, we will easily fall into that time shift trap.

Secondly, we need structure. Note structure does not mean remote micro-management. Structure means something to anchor ourselves to. Remote working can be quite a lonely and isolating experience. We can overcome this with some agile techniques. For example, have a regular, daily stand-up call, say around 9:30am or 9:45am to allow any morning activities – kids to school, doctors’ visits etc – to be completed in good time. Not only does the daily stand-up meeting keep everyone on the same page – yes it really is Wednesday already – but it is useful to keep progressing critical, in-flight projects.

The stand-up should be no more than 15 minutes broken into:-

1) The first five minutes round-robin to cover what was achieved yesterday (boxsets and domestic appliances do not count).

2) Second five minutes cover what you plan to do today.

3) Final five minutes to cover challenges or issues.

The objective is not to sort out challenges and issues on the call, but to allocate who is best placed to resolve them and then give them the action separately.

This leads to the third key aspect, don’t be afraid to ask for help (if overloaded) or to step in (if you think you could assist). When working remotely you are still part of a team, and just as when you’re in the office, the team is more effective when pulling together in the same direction. So, if you need help, ask for it. If you think you can help, say so.

Fourthly, share (but don’t overshare). If there is a member of the family or neighbour that needs your help or your something else has cropped up which you need to deal with, tell the team. “Guys, I need to be away for a couple of hours” is fine. You don’t have to go into the details.  This helps other members of the team set their expectations and if necessary, allows for activities to be rescheduled proactively rather than having to be reactive.

Fifthly, remember to take breaks, whether for tea, lunch or just to separate tasks. Also, stay active. Both of these are easy to overlook, especially when looking to demonstrate how hard you are working. By the way, no one is impressed or will do anything with those emails sent late at night or early in the morning. Do the sensible thing and use the delayed send feature so they go out at the start of the next day.

Sixth, it is ok to miss meetings, such as daily stand-ups. During this time, we all will have other, more critical, priorities. These may arise without prior warning. It’s an unusual time however we should use the tools we now have to minimise any adverse impact.  So, remember to record meetings and/or conference calls. Make notes of the key points and share either using your collaboration tool, Instant Messaging or on the teams shared storage.

Finally, use the collaboration tools to keep in regular contact with your team members. Create a virtual “watercooler” for banter and informal chat. Alternatively, use video conferencing and invite team members to a virtual lunchroom.

Yep, there is going to a third instalment, but meantime have fun with parts 1 & 2. Hopefully, we and our employers will see the benefits of remote working, so much so, they will want it to continue long after the coverage of Covid-19 has been relegated to the History Channel.

mark sweeney iot horizon consultancy mpwr
Mark Sweeney Director of Professional Services

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