work from home

How I lead and work from home

I feel like it may be more honest to write about how not to lead and work from home. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that I am a model for how to do this well. I simply share some tips and ideals that I aim for as one distracted and imperfect home office user to another.

Set up a dedicated space

I have the luxury of having a large room detached from our house that serves as my home office. If you ignore the fact that this room also doubles as my daughter’s play room and is strewn with Lego, Barbies and craft supplies, it’s just about perfect! I have worked hard over recent months to ensure I have a dedicated space in this room. It is set up with artwork on the walls and all that I need. This allows me to have a place where my brain knows it is work time as well as being able to ‘leave’ at the end of that work time. I do still have times of working on my couch or dining table but I aim to make that the exception not the rule.

Create a schedule

The benefit of working from home, particularly if you work for yourself or in an equally flexible position, is that you can create a schedule that works for you. The downside is that you can be tempted to leave it all completely unscheduled. I find I need some structure to my week so I know when to work and when to ‘be home’, as well as creating time for rest, family and other commitments.

Time blocking

To go along with the schedule, I find it helpful to use the strategy of time blocking. Allocating a specific focus to specific periods of time helps to keep me on track, get the things done that I need to do and focus my mind so I’m not trying to do it all at once. This changes over time. I am in the process of working out a new schedule and rhythm of time blocks now that I am working from home full time and have gained two days from stopping one of my jobs.

Start up and shut down rituals

I have talked about these before so won’t go into great detail. This is simply a way to get your brain focused on work and then wind down from work so that you can be present at home for the next focus.

Pomodoro timer

I find it so easy to get distracted at home alone. This technique helps me to stay focused while still ensuring I take breaks and get bits and pieces done around the house. I have focused work time then stop to make a cup of tea or hang out the washing or stretch my legs. There are many versions of this timer available as apps to use.

Stay connected using technology and in-person meetings

I may only be in my first week of working from home full time but I can already see the issue of isolation rising. This is an issue for many around the world now working from home. Office environments have natural opportunities to talk and connect with other human beings. Connection takes greater intention and planning when at home. I don’t have this figured out yet. My aim is to use technology, whether phone or teleconferencing, to connect with my team more often. Perhaps I could set up office hours once a week where I can meet with my team online to talk about whatever is on their mind.

I am also scheduling in times to meet with people in person. (I know this is a luxury I have where I live that may not be immediately possible for you.) There is something about discussing leadership and ideas over a coffee with people you admire that ignites creativity and passion. At least, I have found this to be true for me. I do usually need to schedule some quieter, less focused time afterwards for my introvert soul to process and settle.

Leading a virtual team from home

Part of me feels that I ‘should’ be an expert in this. My team is spread across Australia and virtual has been my method of leading for the past few years. I still have much to learn, apply and grow in. I am still navigating how to lead a team well when they are volunteers fitting in their responsibilities around work, family and other commitments. Tasks and projects are easier to focus on than connecting and developing my team. I easily fall into the pattern of not addressing issues in a timely fashion or excusing consistent poor performance. This damages the organisation and breaks down trust.

These are some goals I have for leading:

  • Building relationship:
    • More regular one-on-one calls and connections
    • More regular meetings to talk through issues
    • Catch them doing things right and praise them for that- maybe through video text messages?
    • Engage with the wider team often through video and joining in happy hours, calls etc
    • Set up ‘open office’ hours when people can call freely
  • Be clear on expectations
    • Bring correction when not meeting those expectations

What strategies have been most helpful to you when working and leading from home? I learn so much from reading and listening to how others are approaching this. That has been one benefit of this year- so many more resources are coming out about this than were available before. Now the trick is to apply these strategies consistently!