Home Working or The Art Of Teleworking

Home working can for some people be a means to balancing work and life commitments, a way for an employer to cut back on office costs, a preferred way of working, or a necessity born from self-employment. People work from home full time, part time, or on occasional days as a way of focusing on a particularly pressing pile of work.

Love it or loath it home working is growing. A survey by CBI/Harvey Nash found that in 2011 59% of employers offered teleworking as an option (up from 14% in 2006). But it is something that divides opinion. Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer in an internal memo sent in February 2013 ruled that staff could no longer work from home. She stated that:

“Some of the best decision and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.”

A study at a Chinese call centre concluded that home working lead to a 13% performance increase, increased job satisfaction and decreased turnover. After the study the participants were given the option of either continuing to work from home or returning to the office. 50% chose to return to the office.

Whatever your opinion is on teleworking the truth is that not every job, or every person is suitable for working from home. Here are some of our tips to make sure that homeworking works for you:

Create a great working space
If you are going to be working from home you need the space in which to do it. The space needs to be practical. This includes having a space that you can use which is away from your family, or the people that you share your home with. Home working doesn’t only impact on you, it impacts on the people that you share your life with. Is that space ergonomic – does it enable you to work comfortably and safely? Is there somewhere you can lock away expensive equipment or sensitive material?

If you are going to be working from home on a regular basis, carve out a space that works for you.

Get the technology
Working from home requires an adequate broadband and the technology to help you to do the job. This might not only include a computer and mobile phone (supplied by your employer and preferably for work use only), but the software to help you access shared networks and internal systems.

If your employer does not supply them, explore collaborative working tools such as Dropbox, Huddle, or Google Drive.

You might want to check that your employer’s insurance covers your work technology for home working.

Set your hours and keep to them
If your employer sets your hours then ensure you are available during those times. If your hours of work are more flexible set the hours that you are going to be working and let other people know when you will be available. Working more hours than you need to do does not make you more effective (just less focused), and working less hours than you are contracted for will be noticed by your employer.

If you work from home several days a week or more then communicate, communicate, communicate. To counteract the argument that home working leads to a fragmented workforce make sure that you communicate with your colleagues and your clients. Use opportunities to meet and interact with them. Not just virtually, but in the flesh. Don’t allow yourself to become an invisible cog in the corporate wheel.

Learn to self-motivate
Read our blog on the art of self-motivation. In the blog we talk about creating routines and to-do lists, the need to keep positive and to minimise distractions.

Put your commute to good use
On the days that you are working from home your commute is likely to consist at its furthest you falling out of bed and staggering down the stairs. Calculate how much time you are saving by not having to travel to the office and put that time to good use. Think about a daily meditation practice, taking the time to exercise, or to make homemade dinners. Anything that appeals to you and that contributes to your health and wellbeing.

Keep home life and working life separate
And finally, separate your home life from your working life. Just because you are working from home does not mean that you need to be spending 24 hours a day 7 days a week thinking about work. Make sure that the paraphernalia of working life can be hidden away when you are not working, ensure that your work email and telephone are different to your personal ones. If you get work posted to you arrange for it to be kept at work when you are on leave so that you don’t have a constant reminder of work dropping through you front door.

It is equally important to ensure that you home life does not impact on your work. Let your friends know that just because you are at home it does not mean that you are available for impromptu coffee and a chat. Make sure that you don’t try and complete house hold chores during working hours, they really will distract you. And if you have conference calls or telephone calls booked in hang up a sign on your front door telling people that you will not be available to answer the door and politely requesting that they don’t ring the bell.

Home working can result in a more productive, engaged workforce. But it isn’t for everyone. Spend time thinking through the consequences of home working before you start, and ensure that you have a physical and mental space carved out to help you to be as effective and focused as possible.

Is Great Happiness Always Better Than Moderate Happiness?

In a previous blog I wrote that happiness is good for us. Happier people are more creative, healthy, productive, wealthy and successful, they live longer and they develop a greater number of significant, lasting relationships. But is it true that the happier you are the better it is for you? Should we all be striving for maximum levels of happiness?

A longitudinal study by Diener et al (2002) analysed the happiness levels of students entering college in 1976 and found that the most cheerful students in 1976 were making substantially more money in 1995 than those who were less cheerful ($65,023 compared with $49,770). Interestingly, the highest earners had rated themselves as having above average levels of happiness rather than the very highest levels of happiness. People who had above average levels of happiness were earning more than people who had the highest level of happiness. So, when it comes to income the optimal level of happiness isn’t the highest possible level of happiness, but rather the above average level.

The same is true with educational attainment. Moderately happy people are more likely to stay in education and achieve higher academic qualifications than very happy people. So for income and educational levels moderate happiness is better than the highest level of happiness.

This isn’t true for length of intimate relationship though. The happier you are the more likely you are to stay in a long-term relationship. But why are there different optimal levels of happiness?

One explanation is that the happiest people may become complacent which prevents them from seeing their weaknesses and working on them. People who are very happy are more likely to be content with who they are and won’t see the need to strive to make changes. People who are less happy may be more self-critical and therefore more motivated to change. They may be more motivated to work harder or to stay in education. Self-criticism brings with it self-improvement often leading to higher performance. Self-criticism isn’t as important in our intimate relationships. The positive illusion (seeing the world through rose tinted glasses) that comes with the very highest level of happiness serves well in romantic relationships, leading to us glossing over our partner’s flaws and focusing on romantic idealisation resulting in relationship stability. The ability of the very happiest people to see the best in the world around them helps them to maintain stable relationships.

One of the downsides of chronic happiness (reporting the very highest level of happiness) is that we can become more sensitive to negative events. Research has shown that chronically happy people need 2 compliments to overcome 1 criticism; where-as moderately happy people are able to recover from 1 criticism after 1 complement.

There is also evidence that people who are in sad moods are more detail-focused and critical in their thinking, which is important in certain roles and certain situations and in problem solving.

While most of us want to strive to achieve the greatest level of happiness we need to remember that great happiness doesn’t always make us successful in life. Most of us would be better off remaining moderately happy.

Reference: Diener, E., Nickerson, C., Lucas, R.E., & Sandvik, E., (2002). Dispositional affect of job outcome. Social Indicators Research. 59, 229 – 259

For more information: Oishi, S., Kurtz, J.L., (2011). The positive Psychology of Positive Emotions: An Avuncular View in Sheldon, K., Kashdan, T.B., & Steger, M.F., (Eds.). Designing the Future of Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward. New York: Oxford University Press.

Self-Motivating – the art of getting things done

Many of us are lucky enough to be self-employed, in a creative role, or in a job that is self-determined. For us, the trick to being productive is self-motivation. Finding the enthusiasm, confidence, energy and creativity everyday to not only get our work done but to excel at what we do.

Here is our 10 Top Tips on self-motivation. All based on the WorkGuru team’s experience:

1. Create a great space to work in.
Wherever you work make sure it is a great space. Both practical and conducive to fabness. Research has shown the importance of views, windows and plants in the working environment. Natural light, views of nature and the presence of indoor plants are all shown to increase feelings of wellbeing and reduce stress.

Do you have the tools you need to do your job? Is your technology right? What about your physical space, does that work for you? Make sure that your workspace is ergonomic; that your chair supports you and that your computer screen is at the right height. If you use a laptop have you thought about plugging in a different keyboard and placing your laptop on a raised platform? Nothing can demotivate you faster then an uncomfortable working environment.

2. Create routines to allow the space to be productive.
We mentioned these next two in our last blog – they are so great we couldn’t miss them out. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you, create a routine to help it happen. If you have a self-determined role and your daily hours and routine is not set for you, set it for yourself. Set the times for when you are going to be at your desk, or in your workshop etc., let people know you are available at those times. Work does not get done unless you create the space for it to happen.

3. Align your tasks to your energy.
Our energy changes during the day and the week. Learn to align your work tasks with your energy levels. So for me my energy is more focused and creative in the morning. This is the time I set aside for writing or tackling complex problems. It is also the time I use for tasks I have been putting off – I am more determined and focused in the morning. My energy begins to wane after lunch so I might switch to more routine tasks at this time, answering email, completing paperwork, engaging with social media. I know that my energy picks up again in the early evening so I might take some timeout in the late afternoon to walk the dogs or take some exercise, knowing that early evening is always a good time for me to get some more work done and begin to plan for the next day.

4. Create a to-do lists
Create a to-do list. I tend to have 2, one for the week and one for the day. At the end of each working week or at the beginning of a new one write down the things you want/need to achieve for the week ahead. Prioritise them (either in order of importance or underline the ones that are most important/urgent). At the end of each day use your weekly to-do list to help you to create your to-do list for the next day. Write your daily list on a post-it note to stop it being too long. Make sure it is realistic, there is nothing more deflating then setting yourself up to fail, and give yourself the pleasure of crossing off the tasks you have completed.

5. Just start
Sometimes you have to stop thinking and just start doing. Faced with an impossible report or a new project you are struggling with? Just begin – start somewhere, anywhere, just start. By making a start you will begin to build up momentum and become more focused. In the words of American Novelist Barbara Kingsolver “I have to write hundreds of pages before I get to page one.”

6. Keep positive
Lots and lots of research shows the links between positive thinking and people who have higher mental wellbeing, less negative stress, better immune systems and achieve better outcomes. In his book Authentic Happiness, one of the founders of positive psychology Dr Martin Seligman even argues the positive thinking can provide you with an intellectual boost.

Positive thinking begins with understanding your thought processes. In WorkGuru we talk about automatic thoughts; how thoughts can stream into your mind one after the other, often in a negative spiral, and often involving habitual unhelpful thinking styles that we are unaware of, such as a tendency to over generalise, jump to conclusions or catastrophise. Being aware of these thought processes helps us to form more realistic, positive thinking patterns.

7. Visualise success
There are good reasons for doing this one. The first one is that we can learn new skills through the power of imagination alone! Research by Alvaro Pascual-Leone has shown that mental practice (imagining a new skill or behaviour) creates the same physical changes to the brain as physical practice. So never underestimate the power of your imagination.

The other reasons are possibly more mundane but still important. Visualising success keeps you focused and motivated and it also helps you to know when you have got there.

Here is a bit of a sad example, but boringly it is true. I am trying to lose weight at the moment, the way I keep myself motivated it to visualise myself being able to comfortably fit into my jeans, and I hold onto that image. It does 2 things for me it reminds me of why I am trying to achieve the change (I hate not being able to fit into my clothes) and it tells me when I am going to be successful (when the jeans fit). You can easily change this example to a work focused one. Maybe success for you is going to be when you get 10 orders through for your product a day. Close your eyes and think about what that would look like, how it would feel and what it would mean for you. Hold on to that vision. What are the things that you need to be doing to get closer to that success? When you begin to feel despairing or lose your focus use this vision to remember what it is all about.

8. Minimise distractions
We can all find lots of reasons to not start work. I remember when I was studying. My house was always at its cleanest when deadlines were approaching. Now the distractions for me tend to be linked to technology. Becoming distracted when using the Internet – commonly known as cyberloafing. Did you know recent research has shown that 60 – 80% of our time on the Internet at work is not work related. Other distractions include checking email (listening out for the sound as emails come in and then checking them just in case it is urgent), checking facebook and twitter, and responding to text messages.

Technology can be both the distractor and the rescuer. “contemplative computing” is a move towards turning our information technology into agents of serenity. “Zenware” is designed to block distractions. Examples include www.ommwriter.com, www.justgetflux.com, www.macfreedom.com (works on Mac and PC) or for 2 minutes of total relaxation try www.donothingfor2minutes.com.

The simplest solution of all though is to turn things of, and limit your access to them. Try checking your email just 2 or 3 times a day. Limit your social networking and encourage friends to contact you when you aren’t working (whoops sorry, got distracted by an email coming in – it’s all easier said then done).

9. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Some days and weeks you will be flying. You will feel energised, motivated and enthusiastic; but other days and weeks you wont. Keep the faith; believe in yourself. Your mojo will return.

10. Do other things: learn to switch off
Have you noticed how solutions can often come to you when you are thinking about something else? I have some of my best ideas when I am walking the dog, driving my car or cooking. You might not always be able to think of a solution during work hours, but by just letting it, unconsciously tick over in your mind, a solution can appear when you least expect it. I once woke up with the whole outline of an essay in my head – I even remembered it. Take the time to do things that you enjoy, take your mind off your work and most importantly learn to SWITCH OFF. Keep yourself motivated by keeping your work and life in balance.

Save energy, work more effectively and find time for things you love: Create routines

In my last blog I talked about the importance of prioritising where you focus your mental energy and the idea that mental energy is a finite resource. I think this is particularly true when you are making creative choices or complex decisions.

One way of preserving your mental energy is to create routines for everyday tasks.

In 2012 author and journalist Michael Lewis spent six months with Barack Obama. In one interview he asks Obama: “Assume that in 30 minutes you will stop being president. I will take your place. Prepare me. Teach me to be president.” Obama replies:

“You’ll […] need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia”.

Obama’s focus on creating routines for as much of his day as possible is reflected in research. Research by Baumeister et al (1998) looked at whether decision making does draw on a limited resource, akin to strength or energy and would therefore impact on the resources remaining for future decisions. They concluded:

“Acts of self-control, responsible decision making, and active choice seem to interfere with other such acts that follow soon after”(pp1263-4).

We can preserve our energy by creating routines. Begin by thinking about the things that you do everyday, eat, get dressed, walk the dog etc. where possible see if you can create a routine around these activities. Can you decide your weekly menu at the beginning of the week? Can you lay your clothes out the night before? Prepare your lunch in advance? Walk your dog on the same route at the same time as you do every working day?

Creating routines is not only a good way of preserving energy it can also help you to be more consistent and effective. In a book edited by Jocelyn K Glei the author writes “Don’t wait for inspiration; create a framework for it”. By creating routines in our working day we “set expectations about availability, align our workflow with out energy levels, and get our minds into a regular rhythm of creating”.

I know that my energy is stronger in the mornings. So my routine is to be at my desk by 8 am. The night before I would have created my to-do list for the day, in the morning I focus on creative of complex tasks. I try very hard not to answer emails first thing as this routine task takes away my focus from more important work. Later in the afternoon when I know my energy isn’t so good I focus on the more routine tasks such as, responding to emails, checking twitter, making telephone calls and clearing paperwork.

Authors often talk about the importance of routine. E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web) wrote: “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper”. We can use a routine to create space for us to work (especially important for those of us that work from home or are in the creative industries). By sitting at our desk, or in our workshop etc. we give ourselves the time and discipline to be productive.

As well as using routines to preserve my energy, align my energy with my tasks, and create the space to be productive I also use routines to create time for the things that are important to me. If I know that ‘every Tuesday evening I go to yoga’ then I am more likely to prioritise the time. Decide on an activity you want to do and create a routine around it making it more likely that you will achieve it.