I recently left the corporate world after 18+ years to make it as an entrepreneur – you can read about my experiences here. It is already proving to be an epic adventure, and one that I’ve embraced fully; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
The biggest ugly I’ve had to contend with so far hasn’t been what you might expect moving from security and permanence to e
ntrepreneurship. The pressures of cash flow, limited resources, or things like fear of failure haven’t been what’s kept me up at night. The hardest adjustment for me has been working from home, which has been the biggest insight so far since becoming an entrepreneur.
Don’t get me wrong: I am never stuck for something to do. As an entrepreneur building and developing my new business, messeji, I am constantly on video meetings with colleagues and partners around the world, having face to face meetings with partners and prospects locally, as well as attending numerous events to network and maintain my learning, yet there are moments where a dread creeps in and I realise that I am isolated.
And that makes me crave human interaction.
I have to be honest; I’ve never really been a fan of working from home. Primarily it’s because I’ve always been a proponent of the ‘open door policy’ and always thought of it as a barrier to that. How can you remain open and approachable when you’re not physically present with your peers and team? I was also always so invested in my role that I never considered it possible to be as effective away from the hustle and bustle of the office, plus the simple fact that I’m a people person – I quite literally get my energy from being around people, and a buzzing office is a huge part of that.
The irony of me not ever being a fan of remote working is that in my previous role it was sometimes a necessity – 14-hour days of back to back meetings, or a to-do list longer than my arm, meant that being at home allowed me to focus away from the distractions of the office. Sometimes it was the only way I could get my work done.
In retrospect, I realise that it was being forced to work from home as a necessity that made me not like it. In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, I see many posts about others forced into a similar situation, so here are my top 6 tips for working remotely.
1. Structure Your Day
When I first started building my business from home, it was really important for me to keep some form of routine to my day; I knew that if I didn’t my day would drift and I wouldn’t get anything done – Netflix and chilling with my dog is way too appealing!
I know this isn’t rocket science, but I always start my day by writing down 3-5 things that I want to achieve. I always have an extensive to-do list, and it's still important to maintain one, but by understanding what outcomes I want to achieve, helps me stay focussed and enables me to achieve more every day – I am achieving my goals.
My other go-to is focussing on the most important or time sensitive tasks first. Each of us is different, but I am personally at my best in the morning after a pot of coffee, so tackling the biggest or most complex item first gives me a sense of accomplishment and sets me up for a motivated and productive day.
2. Still Find Time to Recharge Your Energy
Working remotely isn’t the same as relaxing. It’s still work; don’t forget that, but also remember to take breaks and find other ways to recharge your energy just like you would if you were at the office.
When I started working from home full time, one of the things I realised quickly that was missing from my routine was my daily commute. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t miss slogging to the office through a sea of people and traffic, but what I do miss is what that time enabled me to do. Whilst most days it definitely felt like I was battling through rush hour, it was also time I didn’t have in any other part of my day. I used this time differently depending on my mood, but one thing was always the same – it was the only space I had carved in my day to do certain things: listen to podcasts or music, reading a book, rehearse an upcoming pitch or meeting, or even just write a quick email to my brother. All simple things that would otherwise slip down the to-do list, so make sure you still make time for those.
And if you’re like me and get your energy from people, it’s absolutely essential you find a way to meet this need. For me (like most others) it depends on how I’m feeling, so sometimes a quick facetime in the middle of the day to a friend or family member is enough to recharge, whereas other days I might work from a busy café or public library to recreate the “office buzz” that you don’t get working from home.
3. Create a Proper Workspace
You don’t need to go out and buy thousands of dollars of new equipment or furniture, but setting up a small workspace, whether it be at a desk or your dining room table, will help you create an area that fosters productivity and creativity. Sitting on your couch with a laptop on your lap will get you nowhere.
Start by making sure your laptop is at the right height to avoid any hunching that leads to a stiff neck and shoulders – it should be eye level. If you don’t have a laptop stand, check them out online or prop your laptop up on a pile of books. My 2nd monitor has been on a stack of books for years now!
Secondly, the essentials for me have always been a wireless keyboard, mouse and good quality webcam. This not only helps with my posture but enables me to execute my deliverables faster with more accuracy.
I’d also check in with your IT departments – you’d be surprised what awesome tech goodies they have stashed away!
Finally, a plant or a lamp in your workspace goes a long way. They add an element of positivity and help you stay happy, relaxed and focussed.
Just remember, creating a proper workspace isn’t just about replicating a desk at work – it's about ensuring you have an area that helps you stay focussed and productive and helps you separate your “home” from your “work”.
4. Keep Learning And Stimulated
One thing I’ve noticed on LinkedIn, and other social channels, is the increase in webinars and online events – join them! They are free and they provide insights into how to stay focused and more effective during these times and you might even learn something exciting and new about your industry or a new technology.
For me, I decided to enrol in a course with MIT focussed on platform strategies (excellent course by the way, which has provided so much insight into launching my own platform!). After the course I was able to connect with groups in Singapore. This has allowed me to continue to explore the learnings further and has led to an expanded local network that I otherwise couldn’t have tapped into. It has also inadvertently given me a new outlet to recharge my energy when I need to be around people with the added bonus of being a continual learning experience.
5. Check In With Your Team Members And Colleagues Regularly
Given my own experiences working for a global communications organisation where the majority of my team, colleagues, partners and customers were dispersed around the world; I often forget that this is new to many people in light of the coronavirus outbreak forcing office closures and self-quarantine and the impact this may have to some.
Carve out time in your calendar daily to check in with team members and colleagues via a video meeting. Check in with them on the progress of a project you’re working on together, collaborate with them on something on your to do list, maintain regular 1-1’s or schedule some adhoc performance reviews.
They’ll appreciate and benefit from it as much as you do, believe me.
The majority of my professional relationships were forged behind the comfort of my laptop and my desk, and it all started with regular check ins. I have colleagues around the world, who I now consider friends, who I’ve only ever met in person a handful of times.
6. Make Technology Work For You
I see so many posts about how technology is helping businesses to keep running. If used correctly, this is absolutely true, whether that be video conferencing software or other collaboration tools.
It’s still important to maintain a creative, positive and productive work environment – and most importantly keep getting stuff done. Even if we are all isolated right now, collaborating with your colleagues and team members is vital. Don’t cancel all your regular internal meetings – move them to a video meeting. If you do this, as well as schedule regular check ins and join webinars per the tips above, I assure you; you will be connected, engaged and feel like you’re back in the office!
If you’re new to these technologies – that’s ok! Follow companies like Slack, Zoom, Cisco, Microsoft and Google, or follow hashtags like #workfromhome and #remoteworking to find their partners on LinkedIn who are all posting regular content about working remotely and providing tips on how their technology can help you. The best part? It really is as simple as clicking a button.
Finally, when your home is your office it's so easy to lose track of time and work ridiculous hours. Be cognizant of that and make sure you take regular breaks and sign off at a reasonable hour. This will ensure you remain productive, maintain your work / life balance and protect yourself against burning out.