Virtual Workplace Series Part 1: Creating a Productive Environment

Tandem Solutions has operated as a virtual company for almost 20 years.  Our team members are scattered across many states and have all had to adapt to working virtually.  In an effort to support clients moving to virtual work environments, this series of articles will share a number of important insights we have learned over the past two decades of building a virtual workforce.

 Part 1:  Learning to Work From Home – Mindset Matters

One of the biggest challenges with making the transition to working from home is finding the way to separate work life from home life.  When you work in an office, this is simple:  work happens at the office, and home happens, well, at home.  As technology has allowed us to be more accessible, these lines have blurred for many:  Who doesn’t check emails in the evening or on the weekend every now and then?  However, physically changing your work location to your house or apartment brings a new set of challenges and it can become hard to separate work and home.  Over the years, we have learned that taking proactive steps can really help with the mindset shift needed for success.  Some of these include:

  • Separating “church and state”
  • Scheduling the work and working the schedule
  • Setting boundaries
  • Starting every day like you mean it
  • Staying connected

Separating “church and state”

This may be old news, but setting aside space for working at home is one of the most critical keys to success.  Not only is it important to have your work tools available when and where you need them, creating your work space is critical to building the psychological separation between work and home.

Find a spot in your home you can designate for work.  If you have a home office, that’s terrific, but if not, you can still create a fully functioning work environment with a lot less space.  Maybe it’s a desk in the corner of your bedroom, or another low-traffic area that has less distraction. If you can’t dedicate a permanent location, you may be able to create a mobile work environment that you can set up and take down quickly (office in a box, anyone?). 

Wherever and however you create the space, be sure you have all the tools you need.  Nothing can be more distracting than having to go hunt for a roll of tape or a pencil when you need it.  Over the years, I have had team members and clients who worked very effectively at their kitchen tables, in storage rooms, and even sitting at the pool table in their basement.  The important thing is to think of this space as where you get your work done.  Sitting down is the equivalent of walking into your office:  put on your work face and get to it. 

Scheduling the work and working the schedule

One of the challenges many of us face with working from home is the number of distractions.  Sometimes it’s too easy to turn on the TV and realize that you have spent an hour or more of unproductive time.  If you develop a clear routine around your work, you’ll probably be better off.  Decide what time you’re going to start working each day, for how long, and when you will take breaks.  

It’s a lot easier to decide on a schedule than to stick with it.  This is where you might be able to enlist some of your team members or co-workers.  Daily huddles or check-ins can be a really effective way of holding yourself and others accountable for getting focused on work.  Try setting up a call or video meeting first thing in the morning to talk about what you plan to get done that day.  

Another strategy is to create blocks of time for certain activities.  Creating a specific time slot every day can make it easier to get focused on the task (you can pretty much do anything for an hour or two) and help you avoid just putting it off.  Over the years I have used similar approaches for tasks like cold-calling, writing, instructional design, marketing, etc.  Blocking out your day like this can be a helpful way to focus your energy.  Reward yourself every 2 – 3 hours with a short break to check in on the kids or take care of your laundry.   Just remember to keep the breaks reasonably short.  You might find it easier to think about working from break to break in this way rather than trying to just stay at your desk for 8 or 9 hours nonstop.

Setting boundaries

It’s important to enlist your family’s support in helping you stay focused.  When we first started Tandem Solutions,  I worked out of the house and our kids were very young.  While I truly enjoyed the ability to take a break from work and spend some time with them, I also knew that it had to be on my schedule.  We set a rule not to interrupt Dad when he was in the office with the door closed.  For the several years I worked out of the house, it served us all extremely well.  I was able to check-in with the kids regularly, but also stay focused when I needed to.

These types of boundaries can be really important for staying productive.  Once you have a clear idea of your schedule, share it with your family and talk about the boundaries you need them to respect. 

Starting every day like you mean it

Working from home can be the ultimate business casual environment:  Free from dress codes and other demands on our appearance.  However, completely abandoning professional norms or decorum can be detrimental to your own productivity.  Maintaining a sense of “normal” can really help put you in the work mindset.  While it can be tempting to sleep late and then “flop” around the house in a pair of sweats and a T-shirt, the discipline of getting up in the morning, getting dressed, and settling into your office can do a lot to get you into “work mode.”   However you choose to start your day, try to create a routine around starting work and stick with it. 

Staying Connected

As a leader of a virtual team, you represent a crucial connection between the company and your team members.  Make sure you have a clear connection back to the office so you receive clear updates on a regular basis.  Share those updates with your team and find ways to help them feel less isolated.  Those daily huddles can serve as an important lifeline for folks working from home.  Also, consider adding video to all meetings:  It will really help build a sense of connection among team members.  Lastly, be sure to “bake in” time for team members to talk about what’s going on and how they’re doing.  Managing the motivation of a remote workforce is different and it takes some clear focus.  Be sure to build in some time to engage.

 Working from home provides a tremendous amount of flexibility, and many find that they can be extremely productive in this more relaxed environment.  To help make the most of it, be sure to set the pieces in place that will help push you into the most productive mindset:  Create your workspace, schedule, and boundaries.  Then establish the routine that will help you and your team excel and get to it!

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