While recent research by YouGov may have found that flexible working is far from commonplace, there’s no doubt it’s on the rise. In fact, according to the Institute of Leadership and Management, 94% of UK organizations apparently now offer staff some form of flexible working and 73% of managers say their organization is largely supportive of it.
Books like the 4-Hour Workweek have been in the best-selling list for seven consecutive years from 2007 to 2013. We like the idea of working from home, of spending more time with our loved ones, and really, of not having someone telling us what to do. However, for those inexperienced folk, working alone can be daunting, confusing, and even non-productive.
If you have recently found yourself in such position, no worries. Here is the best advice on how to make the most, and master the art of flexible working.
1. What exactly do you want? Most people have no idea what they want. They have no set goals, no clear strategy. All they have is a vague agenda. If you are working from home, whether as a solo entrepreneur or as an employee, you will find that you have more time in your hands – no work commute, no office time-wasters, no meetings, no co-workers wanting you to see a cat Youtube video. You get the idea. The best thing to do is to decide exactly what your goals are, how productive you want to be. Also, set some strict deadlines along the way. If you don’t know when something has to get done, you won’t do it.
2. Get rid of all that clutter. You can call your mess a 'creative chaos' as much as you want. The truth is that is that there is more laziness to it than creativity. “A home environment that works is one in which, if your co-worker/business partner walked in the door, you’d fine with that,” says Christie Cordes, expert on work flexibility and founder of Ad Recruiter.
Watch how your home office space makes you feel and how it makes you act. Your posture needs to be one of power, of being in control. Be professional, be clean.
3. No, it will not take 5 minutes. Your neighbours know you are home. Your children know you are home. Your spouse knows you are home.
Be prepared to get requests followed by the proverbial, “it’s only going to take 5 minutes” all the time. “Especially young mothers and women in general seem to get those requests,” says Nelly Reffet, interior designer at Twinkle and Whistle. In order to avoid that, you need to establish strong priorities.
Say you work best at night. Establish a four hour block where you know you will get stuff done. Once those four hours are up, take a break and work for four more hours, or however long you need to get your stuff done. Your working hours need to be non-negotiable. If they are not, people will know that you seem to be always available. The truth is, you are not. You are working as much as they are, but instead of doing it from an office downtown, you are doing it from your living room.
4. Dress up. A recently published study from professors at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University shows that clothes systematically influence wearers' psychological processes. You act different when you dress up. Your self-esteem goes up, you feel better, you work better.
You need to be in your power to be productive. Shower, put some nice clothes on, and go to work. Notice the difference it makes.
5. Have clear boundaries. I don’t do anything that does not serve the well-being of my family. I don’t lend money, I don’t lend books, and I don’t lend my car (money and books never come back, and the car always comes back with funny noises). Those are my non-negotiables. Friends and acquaintances know that those are my boundaries and they don’t test them. You need to educate people on what you stand for and what you are willing to do, and not do. If you don’t, you will become a jack-of-all trades who does everything for everyone. I know too many people who give too much of themselves to others, and in the end, instead of fulfillment, they come home depressed and angry because they allowed others to suck so much energy from them.
When your friends find out you are working from home, they will think you are in this state of perpetual vacation. Police yourself. Do not allow drop-ins, children issues, etc, in your working hours. They have to respect you. But they will only do so if you respect yourself enough to set clear boundaries and lines you won’t cross.
6. Justify the investment. You need to justify this newly gained freedom to your stakeholders. They could be your boss, your family, your business partner, or yourself. How do you justify it? By earning great results. No one will ever bother you if you can produce 1.2 times more at home than in the office. No one.
My good friend James Marshall Reilly, author of Shake The World, says that he was once very stressed out about a new hire who wanted to work odd hours from home – and in a different city! This particular agent, however, went above and beyond. He produced more than anyone working in the office did. Soon James’ worries turned into confidence and the agent was given more trust. Similarly, when you find yourself in the position of working from home, do your best to justify the trust and the investment. Produce more than anyone does.
7. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Entrepreneur Janice Fraser recently shared with Success magazine that the reason why one of her companies failed was because she thought she had it all figured out. When trying to cope with personal loss and run a business at once, she felt she did not have permission to ask her investors and friends for help. “Perhaps an interim CEO could have been hired,” she adds.
There will be times when you will have no clue what’s going on. You may become less productive working at home, you may not fulfill expectations, you name it. When that happens, realize you are not alone. No one’s life is perfect. No one has it all figured out. Ask those more experienced than you and those successful at what you do how they can help you.
I got in the habit of asking early on as a child wandering the streets of Brazil. On a recent trip to Dubai with Emirates, I noticed the first class was almost empty. I enquired about how much it cost for me to upgrade. A few minutes later, the flight attendant came back and said that they would love me to fly first class... free.
Have a problem with your home-office software? Ask for help. Have a problem setting deadlines? Ask for help. Keep asking. In the end, life will give you what you ask of it. You just never know.