The situation is going to be a turning point in the way companies work, and even in the way we interact with each other.

Small things like smooching and shaking hands when we meet at the workplace seem to be headed the way of the dodo.

The current situation is going to make companies finally realize that for many jobs telecommuting not only does not hamper productivity but it also could end up being advantageous. What matters is finishing what you have to do and not where and when you do it. And, who knows, this might lead to delocalizing companies and moving their activities away from big cities.

These days you will probably get tons of information and tips on teleworking but you must first realize that working from home is just a one link in a bigger chain whose actual goal is productivity and striking the right work-life balance. This century’s gold is no longer data – it’s time!

From the point of view of productivity, the answer is not video conferencing instead of actual meetings but making meetings more efficient and doing away with unnecessary meetings.

The right question is not whether people should work from home or at an office but whether companies are properly organized. Thus, in order for telecommuting to help us increase productivity, first both companies and employees need to change many things.

This is why I don’t want this post to be about working from home or teleworking tools but about habits. They are based on my personal experience working at Paradigma and on the tips given in REMOTE, the book written by the people at Basecamp.

Writing more and better

The rush of the digital world is having the unfortunate effect of making our writing skills go down the drain. This is quite the tragedy.

Writing properly is essential to business productivity. It might seem obvious but sentences with a subject, a verb and a predicate express properly structured ideas and are the basis for good communication.

It is one thing to have an idea and something completely different to try to explain it to people who don’t have either our context or our knowledge.

If you write ambiguous sentences that are strongly dependent on your personal context or open to interpretation, you are asking for them to be misinterpreted. And misunderstandings are directly proportional to your company’s stuffiness.

In meetings, there are always people who tend to say whatever comes to their mind and don’t wait for their turn. Written language, on the other hand, should be a more unhurried process that requires mulling things over and synthesizing them before building the actual sentences.

Poor communication leads to more work. This is why something as simple as good communication could help to keep long email chains down to a minimum and save on thousands of useless meetings. Don’t get me wrong: meetings are necessary, but they should be a last resort, not the first thing that comes to mind to solve a problem.

Giving more leeway

In hierarchical organizations, the people at the top of the pyramid typically make the rest of the company waste a lot of time.

Responsibility is not delegated to the teams, top managers want to be involved in all the decisions to be made, and information is not conveyed transparently. This creates huge communication problems – which are exacerbated by telecommuting.

Long queues of employees standing at the door of offices waiting for an audience, bosses who don’t attend or are late to meetings, who stop decisions from being made, which in turn prevents teams from moving forward, who call people to impromptu meetings and interrupt their work…

We cannot attribute these problems to teleworking. They are the result of an antiquated leadership style and a centralized decision-making model, where teams don’t have clear responsibilities.

Promoting asynchronous communication

Sending an email or a chat message and expecting an answer right away is a highly toxic practice.

Working from home doesn’t mean being always online and available. Having to be connected all the time creates many interruptions, which means companies are not going to see a rise in their productivity.

Urgent work and interruptions are sometimes inevitable, but are mostly caused by poor organization. Thus, they cannot be accepted as something natural and measures should be taken to minimize them.

The ASAP mentality is the bane of companies and its end result is mediocrity.

It’s very important to book quality time where no interruptions will take place, but it’s even more important for companies to respect their employees’ quality time.

Choosing the right communication channel

Real-time chatting? In-person meetings? Video conferencing? Emailing? Shared documents? It is very important to choose the right communication channel. In order to do this, we should consider the following three factors:

It is very convenient for us to phone someone when we want a problem that just came up solved immediately – but what about the person on the other end of the line? We are just thinking about our own needs and don’t realize that a call is something that will force the other person to stop what they’re doing.

If with teleworking what we achieve is increasing the number of interruptions through phone calls, this is not teleworking’s fault; it’s a symptom that our company is not well-organized and that we’re impinging on other people’s time.

It all boils down to sending the right message over the right channel at the right time. The idea is to have the lowest possible impact on what the other person, whose time is as precious as yours, is doing.

Using collaborative virtual environments

Imagine yourself working at a company where each challenge or project, be it internal or external, has its own online collaborative workspace. Almost all internal emails and many meetings could be eliminated this way.

The information conveyed in conversations in meetings, over phone calls and on chats evaporates. In most cases it self-destructs a few seconds after reaching the recipient’s ear or eye.

On the other hand, what’s written in these collaborative virtual environments remains and is always up to date. Moreover, it will not only be available to the people who are working then but to all those who work at the company or in that team in the future.

Think of it this way: every time someone sends an email-attached document or every time an important decision is made over the phone, of which there is no record left, God kills a kitten.

Team building

One of the dangers of working from home over a long time – especially if the company is not used to working this way – can be a feeling of isolation and a diminished sense of belonging, which can result in a lack of motivation.

This is where working with other people face to face is unparalleled. Nevertheless, there are many ways in which these personal relations can be switched to a remote environment: daily synchronization meetings, weekly meetings, initiatives such as TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday), automatic questions posed to all team members like what book are you reading? What did you learn this week? These can help to start useful conversations that will allow us to get to know our co-workers better and make isolation more tolerable.

Creating your own telecommuting routine

Companies, however, are not the only ones who need to learn how to do things differently. We as individuals have to show we are responsible enough to do our job without having to have a superior looking over our shoulder. Furthermore, we need to change some of our habits to make teleworking work.

Those who have never done it might not believe it, but it is very typical for people who are working from home alone to fall into a sort of state of trance in which they forget about everything: to take breaks, to eat, to call it a day when they’re supposed to, etc.

Therefore, it is important to set up a work environment at home, to come up with personal work routines and to keep work and play separate.

It is advisable to prepare a schedule that takes into account the most productive times in the day and is built around one’s personal activities, and to try to observe it and not forget to take a break every once in a while.

Your home is full of distractions, so you should set up a place in which to work where you feel comfortable and will not be interrupted. There are even people who stick to their regular working hours and dress as if they were actually going into work in order to get into a different state of mind.

In a nutshell

We need to realize that working from home should serve a higher purpose, which is to increase productivity, that it is not only about tools that will help us to do online the things we do at the office but also about habits that both organizations and individuals need to change.

Since it would seem that this situation is going to last a while, we shouldn’t wait for things to get back to normal before making these changes. Companies should try to let the situation affect them as little as possible and use this period of mandatory remote working to show they can still manage and complete their projects.

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