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Busting 6 Myths About Working From Home

As a long time evangelist for corporate working from home, one great benefit of the COVID-19 global quarantine has been the fact that I no longer need to defend the concept.

Ten or twelve years ago, as I started dabbling in remote work (as a software developer and team manager), most of my colleagues thought that when I was “working from home” that it really meant I was taking a day off, or at least a half-day. I’d endure sneers, winks, and snide comments.

But the reality is that I learned how to become my most productive self when working remotely.

Now in 2020, the corporate world finally believes it’s a real thing and a potentially viable alternative. Corporations across the globe barely skipped a beat as they sent their entire workforces home en masse.

Let’s face it, your CFO just watched the entire employee-base work from home for 4 or 5 months and keep delivering. Those thousands of square feet of office space at between $30 and $90 on the balance sheet is definitely looking like a great target for 2021 cost savings.

Maybe the jury is still out for you, and that’s OK. Hopefully, this article will help clear up some of your misgivings.

Whether you have recently started working from home, are curious about it, or are wondering whether your team can effectively work remotely, here I bust several myths about working from home.

Myth: I Can Work In Pajamas From My Bed (Or Couch)

OK, that was fun for the first couple of days, but now…

Working from home full time, or even for a full day is not the same as sending a couple of emails after dinner.

Not getting out of bed, or off the couch, and lazing around in your pajamas all day will set you up for failure. Both short term and long term.

To be productive, happy, and successful you must employ the same mindset commitment to the workday as you did when you commuted to an office.

Your commute and the physical office space created a routine and a natural transition into and out of your work persona and mindset. Now that these are gone, you must purposefully create those transitions.

And it’s simple to do, with a little experimentation.

Creating a permanent space in your home and sticking to a routine (possibly, but not necessarily including how you dress) help you to make those transitions.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be comfortable (you should), or you shouldn’t take advantage of some time on the porch (you should). Just know that your productivity will follow your mental state, so set your mind up for success.

Myth: I Can Work Whenever I Want

One of the amazing benefits of working from home is the schedule flexibility that it should afford.

You should be able to attend the 2nd grade’s 10am Halloween parade. You should be able to grab that 2pm hair appointment slot. You should be able to keep your IronMan triathlon training sessions basically on schedule (even in week 9).

And most importantly, you should be able to build a routine around the rhythm of your day that works with your family (or roommates) and your own biorhythm.

But that’s not the same as “work whenever I want.”

It’s closer to “work whenever I need.” Which presumably is a fairly regular, if possibly disjointed schedule.

You have colleagues and customers that are depending on you and your work. Your schedule still has meetings and deadlines, and you have to produce.

The ideal work from home schedule doesn’t look like an office schedule of arriving at 9 and leaving at 5. It can be disjointed, and make use of almost the entire 24 hours, but it has to include enough contiguous blocks of time for both work and life.

Just like when you were working at an office, you will need to discover a daily routine that helps you stay on track. The great news is that daily routine doesn’t include an oppressive commute, high gas prices, nor getting stuck at the office till way past bedtime.

Myth: I Won’t be as Productive

The data on millions of remote workers says otherwise.

We’ll need to define what it means to measure productivity and to differentiate between feeling productive vs actually producing.

Productivity should be measured by the activities and output that contribute to your mission. Basically, work that matters.

It’s not, “did I work 8 hours today?” Productivity is never about how many hours you work.

Sometimes the office can feel productive, but in reality is counterproductive, especially when it comes to communication. Maybe that seems paradoxical, but studies have shown that the standard office environment includes too much of 2 productivity killers:

  • Spontaneous meetings with too many people (Is Greg at his desk? OK, grab him quick, because he might want to hear this. Oh, and grab Cheryl while you’re at it.)
  • Spontaneous coworker BS sessions

The remote work environment poses a natural deterrent to spontaneous meetings and unwelcome guests at your desk.

Why have a 30 minute meeting when a couple of Slack messages will handle it? And you never again have to worry about Bob stopping by your desk and going off about Tom Brady when you are in the flow state.

A 2-year Stanford study across thousands of workers found a productivity improvement of 13%, which is the equivalent of an extra full day of work. This is due in part to no commute, and in part to a better environment for concentration.

The team behind RescueTime has been collecting productivity data on millions of remote vs office workers.

Remote workers spend 4% more time per day on core work, and 18% less time on communication. Over a year (261 working days), these equate to 58 hours more on core work, and 256 hours fewer on communication.

There are plenty of real distractions to manage. The dirty dishes, the lawn that needs mowing, the kids, the Amazon delivery guy, the giant TV is right there…

But with some simple strategies and tactics to manage those distractions, and some experimentation, you’ll start to become a productivity machine. I also bet that you’ll be more productive in less hours per day.

Myth: I Need To Be With My Coworkers

Fair enough.

Of all the myths about working from home, this is the one that rings through with a kernel of truth.

We are human, and humans are social creatures. Even introverts (like me) need social interaction.

However, let’s put the cards on the table.

“I need…” really means “I prefer…”

You (or your boss) may prefer the office because it provides a built-in social outlet, or gets you out of the house, but the data (see above) shows it’s not required for a team or a company to be productive.

What about the real need to be around others to fight off isolation and malaise?

These issues are real, and if you isolate yourself when working from home then you may fall prey, just as if you isolate yourself in the office. But as with distractions, there are very good strategies and tactics that can be employed to help you overcome those issues.

In a nutshell, you can still work socially in a virtual environment.

Myth: We Need the Office for Team Collaboration

Surely the office provides a better environment for collaboration and teamwork, right?

Again, the data doesn’t support it, especially with conversations.

In fact, the office environment seems to dissuade collaboration. Studies on various office styles and designs point to increased collaboration in office situations that provide more privacy, rather than more openness.

One Harvard study showed that collaboration declined significantly when moving workers from individual cubes to an open office. The results were 74% less time in face-to-face interactions, 67% more time in email, and 75% more time on instant messaging applications.

There’s a balance in every team’s need to collaborate. I readily admit that sometimes the best approach is 3 people in a room on the whiteboard. But it’s not everyday, nor even every week.

The great news about collaboration when working from home is the modern tools that exist to make private and group-oriented conversation effortless and fruitful. Tools such as Slack, MS Teams, Basecamp, Trello, Jira, Zoom, etc are built specifically to keep collaboration flowing amongst remote teams.

Myth: We Need Chance Encounters To Foster Breakthroughs

Ah, the famous “serendipitous run-in on the way to the bathroom” that changed the course of history.

Folklore that is especially juicy in the science and tech worlds. Companies such as Apple, Google, and Samsung have all famously designed office spaces to naturally promote the chance encounter.

Of all the myths about working from home, this one is the easiest to bust.

There ARE fabulous tales of accidental run-ins that led to breakthroughs. But is that the normal, or even a somewhat regular way innovations and breakthroughs are made?

Of course not, because these tales rely on chance, and chance isn’t a winning strategy. That’s akin to your company buying lottery tickets each week to be profitable.

“Just because some innovations stemmed from chance encounters doesn’t mean that creating more chance encounters results in more innovations. Just like buying two lottery tickets instead of one isn’t really an improved wealth strategy. Clear-eyed thinking helps us realize that trying to innovate by creating more chance encounters is like trying to schedule spontaneity. It’s contradictory.”

Marc Bruffett, Principal at Gensler Office Architectural and Design Firm

Teams and companies that continually move the needle forward are doing so through the very boring, yet very effective methods of hiring good people, effective leadership, and putting good systems in place.

All of which can be done with a remote workforce, and don’t require an office.

Bonus Myth For Managers: I Won’t Know What My People are Doing

This ain’t a shop floor nor an assembly line.

Effective knowledge worker management understands that leadership, whether its the office or remote, starts and ends with trusting your people and managing work output. Effective leadership of knowledge workers is more a partnership, rather than supervisorship.

If your management style requires you to be physically watching over your people to make sure they are working, then you’re doing it wrong, and this article isn’t for you.

However, with a base of trust and empowerment, an effective communication strategy, and quiver of the right tools (Slack, Zoom, Basecamp, etc) management of remote teams is easier than ever before.

In Summary

You may still be wondering if working from home will work for you or your team. That’s understandable, especially if this is new for you.

Rest assured that you can do it. If you manage a team, both you and your team can do it.

However, you must employ the proper strategies, tactics, and toolsets that will unlock your potential when working from home. Once you have that, you may start wondering why you ever doubted that this new and wonderful work-life balance was possible.

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