VENTEUR spoke about working from home with Alexis Haselberger, a time management and productivity coach who helps people do more and stress less through coaching, workshops, and online courses. Her pragmatic yet fun approach helps people easily integrate practical, realistic strategies into their lives so they can do more of what they want and less of what they don't. Haselberger has taught thousands of individuals to take control of their time, and her clients include Google, Lyft, Workday, Capital One, Upwork, and more.
How important are comfort and quiet when working from home, and why is this the case?
Comfort is quite important, but the importance of quiet varies by person.
In terms of comfort, when we are in an environment that is ergonomic and conducive to work, we can produce better.
Discomfort can become a serious distraction! If your neck or back hurt or you’re too hot or cold, your thoughts can focus on your physical environment instead of the work in front of you.
In terms of quiet, some people (like me!) need silence to work. Others can better focus with music in the background or other types of noise.
For those needing silence, noise-canceling headphones can do wonders. For those who appreciate background noise, you can use a tool like Noisli or simply find white, pink, or brown noise playlists on Youtube or Spotify.
The important thing is to pay attention to what works best for you and modify your environment accordingly.
What are three out-of-the-box tips you can share to help our readers working from home create a space that works for them, and why these three?
1. Select A Dedicated Workspace
Whether you've got a home office (lucky you!), one end of the kitchen table, or a cushion on the couch, select a single space to set up your workspace.
When you enter this space, it'll signal your brain to get into work mode.
Unless it's the only option, avoid the bedroom for your workspace.
2. Clear Clutter
When our environment is full of physical or digital clutter, our cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase, leading to higher stress and greater distractibility.
Find a physical folder or drawer for papers and a "to file" folder for digital clutter.
3. Close Up Shop
It's essential to create a physical barrier between home and work life.
At the end of the day, shut your office door if you have one, and if you don't, then find a space to store your laptop and work papers under the coffee table, in a cardboard box, or on a shelf.
When the day is over, close up shop.
How can people working from home avoid meeting fatigue, and does this change from the employee to the executive level?
Zoom fatigue is a natural phenomenon, and it can help to take precautions to avoid it. Here are some tactics to try:
1. Give Yourself a Buffer
Either end meetings five to ten minutes early by default or schedule meetings so that you have at least five minutes between them.
During this time, get up, stretch, look away from the screen, get a glass of water, etc.
2. Don’t Schedule Meetings That Could Have Been an Email
Resist the urge to schedule a meeting for every conversation.
Use Slack, email, or even the phone for an unscheduled convo.
3. Use a Standing Desk or Take Walking Meetings
Sometimes it's the fact that we’re sitting in one place all day that leads to Zoom fatigue.
Instead, you can use a standing desk or even take walking meetings.
Furthermore, in my experience, the further you are up the corporate ladder, the more meetings (and requests for your time) are on your calendar. This is often because meetings come from every direction (your leadership, direct reports, and peers).
As such, conducting a meeting audit every three to six months can be a good practice to ensure that the right recurring meetings are on your calendar.
Additionally, you can create a set of guidelines for which ad hoc meeting requests make it to your calendar.
One simple rule will cut down on meetings immediately:
“No agenda, no meeting.”
How can business leaders ensure that productivity remains high while working from home and operating under a decentralized working model, and why might these strategies work best?
The best way for leaders to ensure that productivity remains high in remote or hybrid workplaces is to manage results and goals.
Set clear expectations and clear goals with employees and then manage performance against these goals.
If folks are hitting their goals, it shouldn’t matter how, when, or where it’s happening.
Sometimes managers and leadership feel uncertain about not “having eyes” on employees. But employees with autonomy are generally more highly engaged than micromanaged employees.
If you weren’t concerned about your employees’ productivity in the office, you shouldn’t be worried about it when they’re working from home. Trust your employees to do their jobs.
If you thought your employees needed to be babysat to be productive, you likely wouldn’t have hired them in the first place
How can business leaders ensure that productivity remains high while working from home and conducting all interactions online?
From the pandemic's beginning, we learned that the “room to Zoom” mentality was far too simplistic and didn’t work. It’s not as simple as translating every interaction into a Zoom meeting.
Business leaders can do a few things to ensure that productivity remains high even when our interactions are remote:
Define Communication Norms
Define which tools are used for which purposes and what internal SLAs should be by the tool. Agreeing to norms like how quickly an email should be answered and which communication tool is used to assign tasks allows employees not to feel as though they have to be “always on.”
Notifications from Slack, email, and other tools are highly disruptive to productivity, and employees should be able to pause notifications without fear of repercussions when they need to get head’s down work done.
Define Criteria for Scheduling a Meeting
When we’re not in the same place, it can be easy to default to scheduling a meeting any time you need to speak with someone.
But this results in a too-full calendar, delays, and wasted time.
Instead, work with employees on a set of guidelines around the criteria to schedule a meeting, and normalize an ad hoc phone call or Slack huddle as the equivalent of the in-office “have you got a minute?” tap on the shoulder.
How can businesses adequately protect sensitive information while employees work from home, and why might these ways not work?
Employees took their laptops home long before working at home full time. So I think this concern is a bit overblown.
A few simple ways to protect sensitive info:
- Make sure all employees have signed a confidentiality agreement.
- Ensure that you’re providing the requisite technology to your employees (like a laptop dedicated for business purposes and sometimes a business phone.).
- Reiterate to employees that confidential information should not be forwarded or distributed outside of the company.
- Ask employees to take confidential phone calls in a confidential environment (like a room with the door shut).
How can leaders adapt their organizational culture and employee engagement with a hybrid or work-from-home environment?
The first step is to look at the situation and analyze for gaps.
When companies are moving to a hybrid or remote environment, I often see the following issues that may need to be addressed:
Documentation of processes and knowledge is essential in hybrid environments. Many cultures have relied on institutional knowledge in people’s heads and the ability to ask someone in person or yell across the room.
By documenting processes and knowledge, you are creating organizational efficiencies and making access to information more inclusive overall.
Does your team have the right tools for success, particularly around areas of communication and collaboration?
If you relied heavily on in-person communication and meetings in the past, what tools would help to facilitate asynchronous communication now?
Is there anything else you would like to share?
If there’s one thing business leaders should not do to increase productivity in their remote staff, it’s to use productivity monitoring software.
Such software is infantilizing at best.
If you’re correctly managing goals, who cares if your employee is away from their desk for an hour?
Additionally, software that tracks mouse movement doesn’t produce the intended goals or measure the work product.
Thinking work can’t be tracked by mouse movement.
Instead, show your employees you trust them and build up your management skill set.