The Great Adaptation — working from home, rather than from the office — for an unknown amount of time …
Sweet! Working from home. Sounds awesome. No more commute, now I can work in my pajamas, start and finish work whenever I like.
It sounds like the perfect solution to the ‘work-life balance’ problem.
I spent nearly 5 years working at home from early 2005 to November of 2009. I can honestly tell you, there are a lot of advantages to working from home. However, there are a few serious drawbacks you might not have thought of.
I’d like to share my experiences with you.
In this article;
- Day 1
- The adaptation phase
- Increased productivity?
- Work-life balance
- Suggestions for working from home
- Suggestions for team leaders
I was a little worried but mostly excited. Together, with my brother, I’d been working toward this day since 1998. Hours of unpaid work (after finishing my real work), every single day for 5 years. Finally, the dream became reality — I was finally fully, self-employed.
SO sweet. Up out of bed at the usual time, but with no commute to worry about, I was able to make breakfast at home, enjoy a couple cups of home-brewed coffee, and I even had time to read the news before wandering into my home office.
Everything started perfectly. I switched CNBC on a small TV I’d placed in my office, turned on the desktop PC, and got right to work.
Even with the TV on, I was shockingly productive! I couldn’t believe by the end of the first day how much work I’d finished. With no interruptions from annoying colleagues and overbearing supervisors, I was free all day to make my cold calls, send email, and even work on new marketing material.
TIP — When you start working from home, you will find your productivity rise sharply due to a lack of distractions. However, I think you will also find it hard to concentrate after 4 or 5 hours of intense concentration.
If you’ve worked hard and you feel like you’re burning out, take a break, or if you’ve finished everything on your agenda, consider taking the rest of the day off.
No wonder entrepreneurs get rich. No interruptions.
The adaptation phase
I’d known a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs before I started working full-time from home. I knew all about the ‘distraction traps’ that caused the vast majority of new businesses to fail in the first year. I’d studied goal setting and I meticulously set out an attack plan before I even considered quitting my day job.
The first thing I had to get used to was the silence. I’d left a busy brokerage office. It was noisy. Colleagues had a lot of questions and requests. The phone was ringing off the hook. My email box was full. Working at home was the opposite. Only background noise, no one asking me questions, and no one phoning unless I asked someone to call me back.
The second thing I had to get my head around was creating a weekly and daily task list to keep myself accountable … to myself. At the office, I was used to having a lot of side-projects and errands to complete for other people. Suddenly, alone in my home office, almost all the time was my own. Making sure I was making the best use of that time meant sitting down each day and making a list of priorities. It also meant looking over what I’d accomplished at the end of the week and setting a new list of priorities for the following week to ensure I had productive things to do every day.
TIP — Your daily pace changes a lot when you work from home. You still might have a lot of online meetings to fill your day, but when you’re offline, you quickly become acutely aware, you are alone. In my case, I felt a certain amount of anxiety— maybe dread. It’s like boxing vs. playing volleyball. You have the feeling you are on your own and you need to count on yourself to get things done — there’s no team to fill in the gaps if something falls through the cracks.
Take the time to set a game plan for yourself and review it both daily and weekly. This will help reduce your anxiety by confirming you aren’t just wasting time.
In the first few months, I was extremely motivated. I was working for my own company. I could work on any project I felt like working on, and I felt creative. However, what kept me sharply motivated was that I wasn’t cash flow positive.
Once I became cash flow positive, my work-ethic slowly changed. I started justifying why I should finish work early for the day. I started acting ‘like a boss’ and taking time off during the middle of the day to play sports, or to exercise, or to go for a “well-deserved coffee break” at a local coffee shop. Lunch breaks started at 30 minutes but over time evolved first to 60 minutes, and eventually to however long I felt like.
Don’t get me wrong, I was still incredibly productive, but I thought;
What the hell. If I take it easy today, it's not the end of the world.
True, but this attitude is contagious. I found myself making the same excuse more and more frequently. My impulse to do nothing was strong and I found it hard to push myself back to work. Once working, no problem. I enjoyed the work and I was productive. But that impulse to relax certainly strengthened over time.
TIP — I promise, if I felt this impulse working for my own company — where my income depended on my sales ability — your work-ethic will definitely weaken when faced with complete control over your daily schedule, day after day, months on end.
If your manager isn’t really directing you and checking in frequently, try to think about your job like it’s your own business. Imagine that if you don’t produce enough your business will go bankrupt.
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but it is extremely difficult to measure how productive someone is in a remote office. The best course of action is to be very productive. Why? If it’s not happening already, it will happen very soon - Company algorithms will measure your productivity. If your company senses weakness, or if they don’t know what you’re doing to provide for the company, like a dystopian company from the movies, you will be made redundant.
Managers: Be strict with yourself, first. If you can’t be disciplined with yourself, your staff won’t be either. Call your staff frequently and call your staff randomly (email doesn’t count!). DON’T micromanage. However, frequently checking in with remote-working staff will help colleagues to feel their work is needed and relevant and you care they are part of your team.
At first, I loved working from home. But over time, I started to feel lonely. It was a slow process. It was also a strange process.
Of course, I was talking to customers over the phone and over Skype all day long. I was able to leave the house freely and meet whoever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Yet, over time, I started to feel lonely. Sure, my wife was at home every evening, but during the day, I was completely alone for many hours. This took a mental toll on me. Day by day, I slowly felt disconnected from society.
The vast majority of our day is absorbed by work. When I was faced with long hours alone in my home office with no one to chat with or to bounce ideas off of, I honestly started feeling myself going a bit stir-crazy. Ultimately, I asked my wife to quit her job and work at home so I had someone to talk to.
No one knows for sure how long this virus will continue to plague mankind but scientists are clear. Very likely, this situation will continue for the foreseeable future — wave after wave until we find a vaccine.
That means we have to get prepared either for working from home every time a wave hits or we have to be prepared to work from home until there is a cure.
This could become a serious psychological problem if we are forced to work separate from our colleagues for a long period of time. I’ve known many financial advisors over the years who worked by themselves for long periods of time. It made them anti-social and I suspect, very depressed.
Some people will be lucky enough to have family quarantined with them at home. Some of us will have to consider other alternatives to fill the social gap in our lives.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I became super-focused on my email and on the phone. If the phone rang at 6 am, I would instantly wake up, jump out of bed, and run to catch the call. If I was watching TV at 8 pm, if the notification bell on my email rang, I would run to read the email. This was not healthy.
After a number of nervous months, I made a rule for myself; between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm, I would do my best to answer all calls and emails. After 5 pm, the phone ringer was turned off, the PC was turned off, and I made a promise to myself not to respond to anyone until 9 am the next business day.
With dread, I sent an email to all of my customers detailing the changes in my office hours. However, my worry was misplaced. Not one customer complained. Why?
Who the hell expects people to work outside normal business hours? — No one.
Suggestions for working from home
This is a time for introverts to thrive and extroverts to bridge the communication gap.
Working at home sounds like a dream. However, long periods of isolation can dramatically change even a homebody's way of thinking.
- Monday morning, make a schedule. Every morning during the week, check and update the schedule to confirm you are pacing yourself correctly and you are on track toward your goals.
- You need a window to see what the world is doing. I literally mean a window, right in front of where you work. If you don’t have a window, a monitor is better than nothing. Don’t underestimate the power of looking up at something beautiful.
- Meticulously document all of your work. If we remain working at home for a long period of time and your work isn’t directly related to things like assets or sales, you may have to justify your existence to the company. Carefully documenting what you do every day is a valuable way to prove the worth of your department or even your job.
Suggestions for team leaders
This is a time for leaders to step up and bring teams together over the vast space created by the internet.
An excellent manager in these times of crisis is of the utmost importance. The Great Adaptation will separate the wheat from the chaff. If you are a team builder, the transition will be challenging for you. If you are a micro-manager or if your team leadership skills are weak, you will be exposed.
- Call. Everyday. Every team member. Call your team members randomly during business hours. You can chit-chat as a warmup on Monday morning, but I suggest a short, tight agenda completed as quickly as possible. The urgency of your meeting will suggest the urgency of the project going forward.
- Be the example. Be accessible. If your team members call, you’d better answer immediately or call back in minutes. If you don’t, why would you expect your team members to act any differently?
- Set hard hours of operation. Don’t email or call anyone on your team before 9 am. Don’t email or call anyone on your team after 5 pm. Working at home requires a clear delineation between work and life. As a manager, it’s your job to enforce that line.
This virus is going to be with us for a while — but this virus won’t defeat us.
However, this virus will re-define how we live and work together. Every single one of us will be faced with things we don’t want to face and asked to do things we don’t want to do. When you feel that twinge of indecision, please remember the sacrifices of our medical brothers and sisters and do your best to do the right thing.