How to get the most out of homeworking

Executive coach Zena Everett has some advice for managers whose teams are having to work from home due to the coronavirus.

woman at laptop working at desk


The Government has advised employers to encourage homeworking in the face of the new coronavirus, although tech experts are warning that plans for up to a fifth of the UK workforce to work from home at the peak of the epidemic would put an unprecedented strain on the country’s core broadband network. Meanwhile, parents are worried that school and nursery closures could cause serious childcare issues and worries about grandparents stepping in, given their increased vulnerability to the virus. In this article executive coach Zena Everett gives some productivity tips for managers who aren’t used to working from home.  

Manage the workflow, not the workers

You shouldn’t have to see people working to know that they are being productive.  Instead of checking up on what they are doing, check in on the progress of their work. Keep everyone’s focus on the end result.  Remote working only works if real trust has been built between you and your reports, with crystal-clear expectations, performance indicators and outcomes.  If your only proof that someone is working is whether they are online or not, then maybe you need to rethink how you manage.  Get back in the helicopter (terrible but good cliché) and start with the end in mind.

Ensure everyone is clear on:

Output – standards and deadlines

  • Milestones to achieve them (have a ‘how’s it going?’ call well before the deadline, so you can spot any potential delays)
  • Dependencies – who is waiting for the work from them in order to get on with their contribution and what do they need from them?
  • Potential obstacles (book a group call to discuss them).
  • To keep the energy and motivation up, I’d set smaller milestones and maybe think about some prizes for hitting targets etc.  Set up regular calls, but also encourage people to log out for an hour or two each day so they can get on with deep, concentrated work without interruption.

Find a blank wall at home to map out progress with post-it notes so you can keep track of who’s doing what.

Focus on antelopes not field mice

Cutting out commuting and meeting times and removing office distractions should free up beautiful space to achieve your own priorities.  Use this time to go after some big wins and don’t waste it on small stuff like emails and admin.

The antelope/field mice analogy isn’t mine, but I love it.  Lions don’t bother to chase field mice or whatever cute little critters they see around them.  The effort required to spot one, leap up, chase it, kill it, digest it, share it with the pride just wouldn’t be worth the calorific intake.  They’d die out.  Instead, they spend their days just chasing their priorities – antelopes – that they can get a big meal out of.   In between antelopes, they chill out and re-energise.

Human beings, on the other hand, are hard-wired to be busy.  We love the dopamine hit of crossing anything off a list.  Consequently, we fill our days with small crazy busy stuff that really doesn’t move us forward.  Our days are dictated by our inbox, not our own priorities.

Working remotely is a golden opportunity to achieve your priority tasks, perhaps even that real game-changer that would have a lasting impact on your business and career.  Take a moment to remind yourself of what you would do if you only had more time – now you’ve got it. Take a day or two to sprint through something that you would never be able to concentrate on in the office.

Manage the boundaries between home and work and remove distractions

Rather than slacking at home, your people are more likely to stay connected longer than they need to, perhaps to prove their commitment.  You want them to keep energised and healthy so discuss healthy boundaries with them.

What’s the impact of your own communication style?  Are you sending evening emails that you could send in the morning?  Email hygiene is important now too!  Make a point of having a team or individual check in at the end of your normal working day and sign off with them.

They’ll get much more done at home if they minimise interruptions and distractions (i.e. you), so ask if they can recreate this focus when they are back working in the office.  On that note if you are managing without some of your regular meetings (or speeded up ones) then take them out of the calendar for good.

Demonstrate resilience

Resilience is about our attitude to an event.  It’s not the virus that makes us anxious or overwhelmed, it is our attitude towards it that will cause a stress response.  Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist who survived the horrors of four concentration camps including Auschwitz.  He wrote that ‘everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way’.  Enough said!

You are a manager so you have a responsibility to show leadership and endurance.  Have a quick, daily ‘wallow and dump’ session for people to air their concerns, then get them excited about the projects or tasks they are working on.

Distractions are helpful.  Encourage them to use their extra time to develop themselves.  One of my clients has asked her team to block out time to read around their subjects, do a Coursera/LinkedIn learning course or watch Ted Talks and webinars and has arranged a Friday afternoon team call to share the learnings.  Set yourself a target to make a dent in your book pile.

*More advice from Zena Everett can be found here.

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