June 2018, was the first month when I started working remotely. One of the reasons why I decided to give remote work a try was the air pollution of Gurgaon. I was having a hard time coping with my physical health problems. According to the World Economic Forum, Gurgaon is the world’s most polluted city.
I spoke with my existing employer if they can allow me to work remotely. Luckily, they agreed, and June 2018 was the first month when the trial began. From June 2018 to till now, I am still working remotely, even though I have relocated to a different country. This decision turned out to be a life-changing experience. Till last week, I was the only employee in my organization who worked remotely. But thanks to Coronavirus, now everyone will get the opportunity. Working remotely is not an easy thing and is an art in itself. Over the period, I get to learn a lot about how to work effectively and how to make the most of it. So here are the seven tips which anyone can apply to make work from home fruitful.
ARTT – Absolute/Relative Time Table
“Create a time table and follow it.” – This is the first advice that you will hear. Although I agree with the statement, however, it’s not practically possible to follow a time table all the time. No matter how hard you try to stick with your schedule, something will always come up and you will get off track. Instead of following a traditional absolute time table, follow a Relative one.
Absolute Time Table –
5:00 AM – Wake Up
5:10 AM – Workout
5:40 AM – Shower
6:00 AM – Meditation
6:30 AM – Cook breakfast
7:30 AM – Leave for work
Suppose you started following the above time table. In the first week, you crushed it. Then the weekend begins. You decided not to be harsh on yourself and take a break. You went out with friends to a party and came home late. The next day you woke up at 11 AM, feeling hungry. Since it’s already 11 AM and it’s the weekend, you decide to skip all the morning rituals. You straight away went to the kitchen to grab some to eat and decide to get into Netlflix and chill mode. And with the blink of an eye, the entire day is gone. Time flies. Then Monday begins. You find yourself in a situation where it seems impossible to follow that 5 AM plan.
Two things happen – either you cut not so important activities like workout/meditation from your list(which eventually pays in the long term) or you will ditch the entire plan. This is an example of an Absolute Time plan.
Relative Time Table –
When you – Wake Up
Within 10 minutes you will start – Workout
After the workout, you will take – Shower
After taking Shower, you will start – Meditation
After Meditation, you will – Cook breakfast
Then you will – leave for work or do whatever you want
One key concept of this plan is that it is not time-dependent. Whether you wake up at 5 AM or 11 AM, you can always follow this plan. Activities are like a Domino Effect. You must do all the activities in the same order every day. You can’t have breakfast before meditating or do meditation before taking a bath, or a shower before working out. Activities will go in sequential order, no matter what.
At the same time, we have to be practical too. What if you got an interruption? For example – you have to attend a client call at 6 AM. This conflicts with your meditation time. In such cases, you will follow the rituals till 6 AM, do the client call and then resume your schedule where you left off. In this case, it is meditation.
Plan shared in the example is what I’m following from the last 2 years. The duration of the activity might change as per time availability but I don’t skip any activity.
When children are in a classroom and the teacher asks a question, what do children do? They simply raise their hand.
Now if parents ask the same question at home. Children simply answer the question, without raising their hands or asking for permission to speak. That is the power of the environment.
In-office, we have a personalized & dedicated space to work. The moment we get into our zone, we know that it’s time to work. You have to create a similar environment at home. Have a dedicated space or corner in your house. Make a habit of working from that particular space only.
For example – I don’t do any work-related tasks in my bedroom. Even small things like checking emails on the phone, I don’t do it. The same goes for working space. If I have to watch a movie, I will watch it in my bedroom or somewhere else, but not at my workspace desk.
It’s like dividing the area into parts and associating that space with a particular activity.
PPT – Personal/Professional Time
Since you are working from home, chances are pretty high that your personal life will mix up with your professional life. This will lead to frustration. You will find yourself in a situation where work never ends. You will start getting complaints from your friends/family/partner for not making time for them. Your personal life and relations will start taking a hit. But it’s important to strike a balance.
Assign particular number of working hours and communicate this to the larger team. Make sure that you are available during those working hours.
For example – I work between 9 AM to 5 PM. After 5 PM, I go offline and continue with my daily plans. Initially, it was tough. For both – me and my team. But over time, we both got the hang of it. Now if my colleagues need something from me they know that they have to communicate before 5 PM. Otherwise, they have to wait until the next day. Of course, exceptions are always there. Make sure to be there for your team when they need you.
Try spending some time with your family. They are nice people too. :p
DND Time Blocks
Just because you are working remotely, doesn’t mean that you have to reply to every single email or message within a minute. Create a DND(Do Not Disturb) time block and communicate this to your team. Lay down the expectations that you will not immediately reply in that time frame. Use that time block to focus on all the activities/task which you have to do. Within a few days, your productivity will go up. Create time blocks for checking your emails. Otherwise, you will end up spending the entire day on collaboration tools without doing anything productive. Instead of writing a long blog post in an email, if possible, make a phone/video call to communicate.
Cause/Effect & If/Else Rule For Emails
There are tons of tools like Basecamp or Slack but email is still the primary method for communication. Eight out of ten times, we email our colleagues because there is a hurdle and your colleague/manager has to take a call. We present them with the options. To managers, this looks like an ordinary email of multiple-choice questions where they have to select one option. But in this case, every option is correct. Chances are pretty high that they don’t apply second-order thinking while making the decision. It could be because of limited time availability or they don’t understand the gravity of the situation. While presenting them with the options, write down the consequences of all the options along with your own opinion. This process makes decision making easier for the managers and makes them aware of the consequences. This also decreases the back-and-forth of emails.
If you are having a hard time getting a reply from your colleagues, use the If-else method. For example – if HR wants to send an email asking employees whether they want to enroll in the insurance program or not, email should go like this. …For those who want to opt-out of insurance form please do respond to this email or fill the form below before *date*. If we don’t hear from you till *date* you will be automatically enrolled in the insurance policy.
Key Points To Consider Before You Start Sending If-Else Emails-
- Give your team an appropriate time to respond. Sending an email at 9 PM and keeping a deadline for the next day at 6 AM is a wrong expectation.
- Think twice before setting the default option. Some time consequences are hight.
We, humans, are social creatures. Working remotely doesn’t mean you should isolate yourself and stop seeing your colleagues. Don’t miss a chance to meet them if they are in the same town/area. Convert a phone call to video call. Have a separate time block to say Hi to your colleagues where you can talk about anything except work.
Get A Life Beyond Work
Mantra – “Productivity is directly proportional to the time spend in the office” will go bust. Soon or later you will realize that you can do the same amount of work in half the time. My productivity went up 3x. We tend to get so obsessed with our work life that it overtakes our identity. Use that free time to flex your muscles, do something which has nothing to do with your work. Follow your passion or hobby.
How Remote Work Changed My Life
- I lost more than 32 kgs in a year and I am healthier than ever.
- I got the freedom to travel anywhere on this planet. The only condition is having a stable wi-fi connection.
- I started reading books and it has helped me a lot in my personal growth. Now, I read 12 books in a year.
- While travelling I get to experience different cultures and meet different people. That experience is priceless.
There are tons of other benefits that you will get from working remotely but remember “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”.
Do you work remotely? Feel free to share your achievements in the comments?
If you are first time working from home/remotely, and facing a challenge, do share in the comment section.
Very well articulated blog Prabh. I have always struggled with WFH. I will use some of your tips to master this art.
Thank you, Santa!