Friday Afternoon Musings
Summary: While working from home has its benefits, it also has subtle but equally important challenges. Here’s my take, and tips to make it easier.
First, let me apologize for the clickbait photo I used above to get attention to this post. Honestly, I couldn’t in good conscience post a photo of what many (dare I say most) of us work-from-home folks really wear when its just our desk, our laptop, and our phone in the room. Let’s be honest. It’s the primary reason we put Post-Its over our built-in laptop camera, and in full disclosure, I admit to wearing an original This is Spinal Tap T-Shirt, and classic NY Knicks basketball shorts to more than my share of virtual meetings.
Wave Goodbye to the 12th Floor…
In the late-1990s, I watched as the company I worked for began to close sales branch offices. Corporate decided that sales, and sales supporting personnel should be out with their customers 90% of the time, thus there should be a lot of empty desks in the office. The building I worked in quickly went from occupying 8 floors to 2. Flexible workspaces meant everyone equipped with a laptop simply walked in, picked an open desk from a terminal, and assigned it to themselves to route landline phone calls to that desk. Sit down, open up your laptop, plug in to the network, and off to work you go…
As the new century began, and cellphones became smartphones, fewer and fewer people found a need to go into a company office location at all. And as the company realized even more savings by further reducing office space, the push to virtual office became a reality. After all, if you’re in sales, you should be out with customers, prospecting, developing relationships with clients and business partners, and being more and more productive.
While in Silicon Valley….
At the same time, our company was downsizing office space, Google, Apple, and other technology companies built huge campuses. They added gyms, round-the-clock healthy meals, and game rooms for foosball and table tennis. Clearly this was a different community – developers vs. sales staff, but it also signaled a sea change in the way that recognizing employee contributions were calculated. Gone were the old “9-5” jobs. You use your time judiciously, and work wherever you need or want to, as long as you got the job done.
Today the roles of IT sales reps have changed too. Work-from-home is typical. Of course, sales is still expected to conduct face-to-face meetings with clients. I try to plan trips that allow for maximizing my time for nearby prospects. When done, return home to work on the proposals, work order, implementation plan, and funding model. With Go-To-Meeting, Skype, and other remote communication tools, your sales support personnel can demo products live wherever they are, lowering costs of sales, and accelerating the sales cycle. When it works well, the combination of strategic selling, remote support, and virtual collaboration provides a fast-path to closing sales quickly.
Driven and Distractions
All of the implied freedom of working from home is not without its drawbacks. There are always the distractions that happen at the worst possible time. No matter the size of your residence, noise coming from construction work close by, the postal delivery that needs a signature, or the squirrel driving your dog to bark like crazy, always seem to happen at the most inopportune moment.
There is also the loss of proximity and the opportunity for socializing with co-workers. My best friends today were my office mates from the days when we all worked in the same building many years ago. It takes a lot effort more to get to know your peers when you see them once a quarter (maybe).
Work-from-home burn out is real. Constant, myopic focus and non-stop work is the worst kind of stress. At the end of the quarter or end of the year, the time you spend hunched over your laptop slowly creeps into 12, 14, 16 hour days. Eating, sleeping, socializing with family becomes a conscious effort, as you try to bring in every deal possible, if for no other reason than to justify the time and effort you’ve put in. And whether you make or miss your number, odds are you’ll work just as hard next week, month, quarter and year.
Please do not think I propose an existence akin to Bob Cratchit, the abused, underpaid clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge created by Charles Dickens. No, I believe these ill-behaviors are actually self-inflicted wounds. Whether motivated by success, money, pride or simply to avoid being cut from the team, I believe that we who work at home are working harder than counterparts of years past who reported to an office.
Chill or Be Chilled – 5 Things I do to keep my cool
Just working in a T-shirt all day does not eliminate stress. In contrast, I believe that commuting, before smartphones were pervasive, was an opportunity for reflection – to gather one’s thoughts before and at the end of the day. Now commuting is doing email on the train or returning phone calls from the car.
Candidly, I’ve never been one to hit the gym or engage in anything that causes excess perspiration. If its something you enjoy, don’t stop. I have discovered some other ways of relaxing when working from home, though sometimes I still find myself waking up with my laptop balancing delicately on my chest.
Here’s my 5 activities:
- Morning Meditate – Some readers who know me well will find this surprising. My friend Jayne Banach Walther teaches Mindfulness. I’ve learned enough to give myself 5 minutes of relaxation by focusing on breathing and imagery, every day.
- Scheduled Coffee break – I drink one cup of coffee a day, and I enjoy it in anywhere besides my home workspace. About 11AM, after I’ve gone through the overnight and morning emails, my iPhone alarm alerts me that it’s Java time (no, not the programming version). And if a call gets scheduled during Java time, then when it’s over, it’s time to grab a cup. Not a coffee person? Smoothie, tea, water, whatever, but away from your desk.
- Walk the dog – This is usually a midday 3PM break. I have a 5 year old Corgi and as long as there is not a foot of unplowed snow outside (he’s got short legs), we go for a 15 minute stroll. He does his “business” and I try not to think about mine. No dog? Walk yourself. You might even meet a neighbor.
- Voice Touch – At least twice a week, I make it a point to contact a friend or former colleague. And I make it a phone call, not an email or a LinkedIn message. I catch-up with my Charlotte-based son on his drive home from his work (Bluetooth!), as a means to create my own “end-of-workday” point.
Watch TV on TV – As a work at home person, I don’t deal well with distractions. But I try to watch something entertaining on television after dinner (I’m a big Jeopardy fan), that stimulates my brain cells, and pushes me to turn my off my phone, laptop and tablet.
Two more quick tips:
Whether you work at home or not, if you are tired of getting annoying telemarketing or nonsense calls, check out NoMoRoBo https://www.nomorobo.com/ It is a FREE, no-spam (I promise) website, that once you register your phone, it will block 95% of garbage calls. For VoIP, I use Ooma www.ooma.com. (For the record, I have no interest of any kind in either service. I just know they work.)
Treat yourself to a comfortable, adjustable chair.
I am interested in your how you cope with a work-from-home life, so please do share your tips with me (and everyone else). Please note I chose not to include topics related to cost savings of non-commuting, tax implications of home office, or a dozen other topics that could fit into this post. Maybe a future follow-up.
Enjoy the weekend, and please remember those lives lost 14 years ago today.