A balancing act….

March 9, 2013

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

With both Yahoo! and Best Buy re-thinking their positions on telecommuting, I wanted to offer my perspective and some advice on doing this successfully.

The article on Best Buy’s experiences, and their crackdown on continuing a culture that was apparently working, shows that Best Buy is really undermining what research has shown to improve workplace culture and productivity.  In Yahoo’s case, it sounds like there was evidence that workers were not signing in enough via VPN, and because Yahoo is having trouble, the decision was made to bring community back to Yahoo’s workplace environment.

Each of these situations shows that there isn’t just a “work-life” balance at play here, but a “work-work” balance.  There is the everyday productivity work (research, reports, creating information and knowledge) and then there is the serendipitous, creative discovery that comes from talking to and interacting with others where you work.  Often, the productivity work evolves out of this serendipitous work.  Email and online meetings just cannot always take the place of face-to-face interactions.

Conversely, certain jobs and certain tasks can benefit from uninterrupted and secluded time away from the office and its demands. 

What is the balance between these two?

To work from home successfully, you need the three P’s:

  • Personality: You need to be a pretty disciplined person.  Although you are in a more casual environment (maybe you can get up later, or work in your sweats), you need to be able to decide on a time to settle down and focus and eliminate distractions.
  • Place: In our homes, we always are sure to have an office space with doors that close so that distractions can be minimized. Giving yourself an “office atmosphere” goes a long way to helping you focus.
  • Plan: Have a plan for your day with the work you have ahead of you.  Plan your time as you would at work (build in breaks, lunch, errands).  This may even extend to keeping track of your time on a piece of paper, to ensure that you work the number of hours you should be.  I used to use my breaks and shorten my lunch to throw in laundry, or spend time with a sick kid.  But I always made sure to work the full hours I was committed to working per my contract.

I had two types of work from home instances.  I worked from 6-7 AM, 5 days a week,  before my son got up for school.  I used this hour to catch up on emails from the previous day (I worked part-time until 3 PM) or by working on a specific project that was easily broken down into segments.  I also had the ability to work from home if my son was off school for illness or other reasons. Because he was old enough (8-10 years), he knew to knock and to not interrupt if I said I had a call or needed to focus.  

I have to say, by planning my work at home projects and using the time to do the productive rather than the type of things that would be done more effectively in person, I was able to be highly productive, finishing research and projects well ahead of schedule.  By having very minimal interruptions at home as opposed to the regular interruptions I had at work, I was able to focus my thought processes more keenly on the job at hand, and keep the momentum going.

However, nothing can replace regular immersion into your work culture–by getting to know your colleagues, throwing out ideas, and  creating trust, you also grow in your job and learn new skills. Without this personal aspect, something gets lost, and you cannot replace that by never having a presence in your work culture.

I can understand why Yahoo! and Best Buy may want to be more vigilant about productivity, and make sure that the work atmosphere isn’t being neglected.  But I was most happy, satisfied, and productive when I had a balance of both: much of the time spent at the office, but the ability to decide as a professional when I needed to be at home yet could still produce.  Nothing kills loyalty and trust like making your employees feel like they have cheated you and you are being punished.  An all or nothing approach is regressive.

Know yourself and what you are capable of…and be honest!  If you aren’t the type who can be disciplined and planned, working from home may not be for you.  Leaders should let their employees have a say in how their jobs can be more flexible.  Have a detailed  plan for your employer, and prove your productivity.  Then you can have the best of both worlds.

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