How to organize for remote working?

In the series ” Remote working is more than just putting people at a distance with a wifi connection ” I’m going to talk about some essential practices to organize oneself at home for an efficient work.

Attention: this concerns “normal” remote working, not remote working in containment mode, which requires extra care and rigour, which we will discuss another time. Here we will talk about the basics that are valid in all circumstances.

I remember my first steps in teleworking…it was about 15 years ago (which makes me say that we in France have been really bad at making progress on the subject). My first impressions were no different from those of friends who, since then, have either taken this hard-won right or have been forced to do so recently because of transport strikes or the Coronavirus epidemic.

One is happy not to go to the office, to work in a comfortable, “friendly and warm” environment, away from noise and untimely interruptions. You get up, you get ready, you get ready, you settle down in front of your computer and then two things can happen.

The indispensable work hygiene of remote working

Either everything goes well… for a while. Then one relaxes little by little and things begin to go less well, one loses one’s bearings and one quickly realizes that one has to put discipline back in place.

Either one is too relaxed from the start and it starts badly from the first day. Same consequence: put back discipline and rigour.

But it doesn’t matter which scenario: the lesson learned is that remote working requires as much discipline as office work, if not more.

We are therefore going to talk about this discipline to be implemented in one’s personal organisation, I will even talk about occupational hygiene, because I have already talked about the organisation of work itself here.

1°) Organize your work space: a quiet and dedicated place

Working remotely isn’t working from anywhere at home. You have to put yourself in favourable conditions.

First a quiet place. The living room with the children playing around is no! You complain about the noise of the open space so don’t sit in the playground.

An “efficient” place. You’ll be handling paper documents, computer equipment… the kitchen table in the middle of bowls not cleared is not optimal. And if, logically, you use an office at home, make sure that its “physical” organization is as close as possible to the way your “real” desk at work is organized.

A safe place. I’m back to handling computer equipment. Watch out for the risk of liquid spillage (your fault or someone passing by), the fact that someone could get their feet caught in your laptop’s power cord and make it glide (I’m pretty much in favor of a class action against Apple for abandoning the MagSafe…) or the risk of falling (yes… if you work on the “bar” part of your open kitchen, that can happen.

A “productive” place. No we are not in the same state of mind and in the same conditions of productivity depending on where we are. You don’t work well and efficiently lying in your bed or sitting or lying on your couch. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The context that does not call for a real mobilization of your mind and attention. This is the psychological dimension of productivity.
  • The position (lying down or with the computer on your lap) that is detrimental to productivity. It is the physical or even “mechanical” dimension.

In short, remote working means sitting on a comfortable chair or armchair, in a quiet, uncluttered workspace.

I will add that as in the office it is good to take breaks when you work from home (or elsewhere for that matter) and that it is essential for your mind that these breaks take place in another room than the one where you work otherwise the temptation to dive back in is strong and instead of taking a break you take a coffee in front of your screen while working.

I can assure you that as I have a long experience in this matter, even if the video is cut or a meeting is held over the phone, I can tell simply by a person’s voice or the pace at which he or she speaks whether or not he or she is in a favourable context at work.

So:

Good: a desk in a dedicated room, a desk in your bedroom, a chair and a table in your garden if the children are not playing around.

Not good: the bed, the sofa, a desk in the living room if there is a lot of traffic, the garden with the children playing outside.

2°) An outfit adapted to work

To work you put on an outfit… for work! My advice, and that’s what I apply to myself, is to dress as if you’re going to the office (or almost). Alright you can replace the suit with a shirt and jeans.

More seriously, in the same way that the way you are installed conditions your state of mind and your efficiency, the same goes for your outfit.

You’re not going to change places during the day, just rooms. As I said earlier, changing room, for a break for example, means a break, a necessary and salutary step back from work and in the interest of your own productivity. In the same way, the outfit therefore conditions the state of mind.

To put it another way, one doesn’t telework in sportswear, pyjamas or dressing gowns! It’s not a question of dress code (although for videoconferences…) but because it simply conditions your attitude. If you work in the outfit in which you sleep your brain goes into a sleep/idle configuration.

I might add that this is the beginning of sloppiness. You start by being less concerned about the outfit and then things happen and you’re less concerned about everything.

And finally I’ll return to the moments of healthy breaks. At the end of your workday, when you are free to change your clothes, it will send you a signal that says “the work is over”.

I really insist on this point: at a distance or at the office, work remains work and requires the same attitude. But it also means respecting the same working hours and contrary to what the critics of remote working claim, the risk is not so much that people work less but on the contrary that they are unable to cut back and will put themselves in their red zone. So you need markers that tell you that you are no longer at work.

So for the “physical” installation as well as the outfit, it is both a requirement for a well-done job and a distinction between work and private life, which is all the more necessary as both take place in the same place.

Good: the same outfit as at work, a slightly more casual and comfortable version.

Not good: pyjamas, dressing gown, sportswear

3°) Sticking to one’s working hours

In teleworking you don’t work less but not more. One starts on time, makes breaks at the same times, and finishes at the same time.

First interest: it preserves your balance and even that of your family.

Second interest: you may be at home and not with your colleagues, but you still work with them. So being available when they need you is important.

Third interest: you avoid falling into the trap of doing too much.

Yes, you can say to yourself, “I can start an hour late, it doesn’t matter, I’ll finish later”. That’s the worst thing. You’re out of step with your rhythm, your family, your colleagues. And at the end you use up hours to work that could and should have been used for leisure or family.

The worst thing is that in the end the result will be a lower quality work, the impression of being “eaten” by your job, friction with family and colleagues. And only because of you.

Good: keep exactly the same hours as at work, don’t sacrifice breaks, especially the lunch break.

Not good: starting late, letting the breaks drag on and thinking “I’ll catch up”, getting swallowed up by your work and neglecting the breaks, forgetting that even at a distance you are part of a team and that you have to keep up with its pace.

4°) Organize one’ s visibility

It is not directly related to your working conditions at home but is part of a good “installation” because it is on the border between home and other people.

I won’t go into too much detail on the subject because I mentioned it when I wrote about the remote working uses a short while ago.

In teleworking, one loses sight. Your colleagues don’t know whether you are busy or not, so they may disturb you while you are on a task that requires concentration or in a conference call. And we all know that interruptions waste a lot of time and disturb when we are doing something else.

What’s more, if they expect something from you and don’t see it coming, they may get impatient wondering what you are doing. There’s no need to create unnecessary friction.

Your shared calendar must always be up to date! And lose the bad habit of putting only your meetings on it. Put in all the slots you are going to work on something and don’t want to be disturbed. That way there is no risk of being disturbed while you are working on something important or getting impatient for an answer you don’t send.

And if while you are busy somebody tries to contact you urgently, answer immediately with a message, even laconically, that you are busy and will answer later. This will avoid the repetition of calls or messages.

At the office you can wave “not now”, here you have to send a signal visible to all. That said, I recommend this practice even when you are not remote working.

Good: Keep your calendar up to date and block time slots when necessary to focus on a topic or task. And look at your colleagues’ calendars before contacting them.

Not good: leave your agenda empty, only put meetings in it. Do not look at other people’s agendas before contacting them.

5°) Organizing with your family

Remote working alone at home is one thing, remote working when there are people around is another. What’s more, this is a time of containment, which I hope will remain an isolated and exceptional episode.

There is no other solution than to draw up rules, especially if the partner is also a teleworker or if the children are there.

  • No third party access to the teleworking room(s) or area(s). It’s disturbing and not serious to see baby playing with the dog behind you in videoconferencing, especially since you’ll be the last to notice.
  • Respect for everyone’s quietness (yes it’s hard)
  • Defined eating range for all.
  • Take advantage of the breaks to meet and talk.
  • Phone calls or video conferencing with a headset, not the speakers.
  • Plan activities for the children and give them a defined program (well, that’s the theory, it depends on the age).

I will not go further on this point because it is too specific to each context and it is up to each couple/family to define its own telework life charter and too many elements are taken into account (number of teleworkers, children, size of apartment or house etc).

But one thing is certain: without organization, hell is not far away.

Good: Develop a charter for living at home while home-working by involving all members of the household.

Not good: don’t set a charter, do it in an authoritarian and autocratic way.

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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