Home Is Where the Work Is

Blog Feature Wfh

Teleworking Tips for Today’s Virtual Workforce

Pamela Smith, Deputy, Digital Services & Communications Programs

Pliny the Elder got it mostly right with the “home is where the heart is” proverb. But the first-century Roman philosopher didn’t take it far enough. Home is also where the work is!

It may seem like a novel concept in today’s commuter-driven society, but people have lived and toiled in the same space for centuries. Farm families would roll out of bed and cross their yards to feed animals and tend crops. Factory workers would leave their homes on company grounds for nearby work stations. Artists would weave rugs, throw pots and make other goods in their home studios. Today, I occasionally step out to feed a friend’s horse on my lunch break.   

Team Bowen knows how to kick productivity into overdrive from home — and we’re onto something. Teleworking is up 115 percent in a decade, according to a new study referenced in a CNN Money article, “Reinventing Work: Working from home is really having a moment.” It’s an option that benefits workers, employers and clients. Providing career portability allows us to retain talented workers — and their institutional knowledge of programs they work on — when they have to move. This helps our company employ and retain military spouses – who move frequently with the military – and honor our commitment as a proud member of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.

Teleworking helps us reduce our carbon footprint and also achieve one of our core values, embrace work-life balance. We’re talking about knocking out a couple of hours of uninterrupted work while our pets snooze under our desks, switching laundry to the dryer during stretch breaks — and the biggie, adding hours to our days by skipping the commute! Teleworking boosts our productivity, health, wellness and quality of life. In honor of National Work From Home Week, I’ve put together six telework tips that can help individuals and organizations make the most of working from home.  

Create a telework policy

To help everyone make the most of the telework perk and perform at peak regardless of location, guidelines are imperative. Official telework policies and agreements should include expectations for work hours, equipment, cybersecurity and communication. Have employees acknowledge the company’s telework requirements and regularly check in with their managers to assess how it’s going.

Nurture relationships

Positive relationships boost productivity, team management and project outcomes. I’m constantly working to develop and maintain positive relationships with clients and coworkers. I accomplish this by being proactive with virtual communication. I’ve managed teams of up to 20 people on a virtual basis and it took time to get used to virtual meetings. To stay connected, I make it a practice to have both team meetings and weekly one-on-one sessions with each member of my team.

Since I often miss out on the body language that can be such an important part of communication, I focus on listening well and relying on my ears to fill in the gaps. Just as I would if meeting in person, I resist the urge to multitask while on the phone. I want the person on the other end to know that my attention is not being split with a turkey sandwich I’m making in the kitchen. While much can be accomplished virtually, face time is invaluable. Periodic travel to our main office allows me the opportunity to work on my relationships in person. 

Create a virtual workspace

It’s essential to have a designated workspace that is quiet and reduces distractions. This helps me establish boundaries for myself and also for family members, who may be tempted to interrupt me when I’m working.  My dad, who is retired, has been my neighbor for many years. Early on we set up Tailgate Coffee Time, a designated break time in the morning where we enjoy a cup of coffee together on the tailgate of his truck. This scheduled time gives me the social interaction I crave without compromising my work obligations, and gives my dad time he can count on with his favorite daughter. Now, if he would only wait to mow my lawn until after my conference calls!

Maintain workplace presence

I am never a ‘no show’ to a meeting. If I cannot make the meeting, I reach out to reschedule or let the facilitator know. I also notify my team of any time I will be out of the office by sending a calendar notice. While these are best practices in any professional situation, they are especially important for virtual workers since colleagues do not have the luxury of glancing across the office to see that I may be tied up in another meeting. It’s also equally important to set boundaries that respect personal time. When work bleeds into your personal time, you can experience burnout. Except in rare cases, when the workday ends, I shut down the computer, close the office door and table work emails until the next day.

Know your work style

It’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses, and whether virtual work is for you. I tend to be easily distracted. So if I begin to lose my concentration on a task, I take a few minutes to get up from my screen and walk around the house or take notes. This ensures that when I return to my work, I am able to listen and be attentive. Health research also suggests that moving around regularly — for example, five minute walks every hour — is also beneficial for your health.

Build and use your virtual toolbox

Communication tools are essential. I’ve filled my toolbox with teleconferencing, project management and instant-messaging tools, which help me interact more regularly and establish a consistent virtual work rhythm. Skype emojis can go a long way in connecting with someone in a different location. If you want to go old-school, I’m a fan of handwritten notes to say “thanks” or “job well-done.” I also consistently use detailed agendas and provide after-meeting notes to keep people engaged and on track.

Try these tips to make “home is where the work is” your personal proverb. We’ve got some great emojis we can send your way to cheer you on — dancing zombies, anyone?