We have all heard how important and beneficial routine is, especially for children. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it creates comfort for children. Better said, routine removes worry and apprehension and with this out of the way children, or anyone, for that matter, is freed up to be more engaged in whatever else they are doing.
I have always been a huge fan of routine with my kids. Put your shoes in the same place and guess what, you always find them. In our household, consistent bed times have meant less cranky kids. I realized it doesn’t work for everyone, but when you have a kid who wakes up at the same time no matter when they go to sleep, a consistent early bed time starts to make sense.
In my working life, I was under the impression that I wasn’t tied down to a routine. I no longer worked a fixed 9 to 5 schedule. If it made sense and fit with deadlines I would pop out to do groceries or run an errand in the middle of the day and I regularly scheduled lunch or coffee dates. Day to day or week by week, my schedule was far from routine.
Or was it?
Going back to an office threw me for a loop - I was only off my game for a week, but I really couldn’t understand what happened. How could going into an office for 4 hours a day cause so much havoc?
I had taken my flexibility for granted and in a way it had be come routine for me. I wasn’t planning shopping or errands into my schedule, I was simply doing them when I had a free moment and I had a lot more free moments when I wasn’t commuting into an office.
If it is a family member getting sick, a car breaking down a sudden emergency trip or in my case, needing to go into an office, we have to be ready to break our routines and shift directions. Cali Yosk, one of my favourite work + life fit writers sums it up well in her post, “Top 10 Work Life “Fit” that Every Woman Needs to Know”. The ultimate message? It takes patience, effort and flexibility and you will have far more success if you realize perfection is not the goal.
For me, I now need to do a bit more planning to get it all done. I have also decided to officially stop beating myself up and I will for sure take time each day to reflect on what I need, because if I am the one getting it all done, I need to make sure all is good with me first!
Are your routines helping you or holding you back?
Okay, so that is mostly a headline to get your attention. The office I am working in is far from gross, in fact I like the space and really enjoy the energy in the place and the people. But, I truthfully was a bit grossed out this week by sick people in the office. I haven’t been exposed to sick colleagues in over a year and the thought of it made me want to run back to my germ free home office. Okay, so my home office isn’t germ free, but you know what I mean.
Really folks, why are you going to work sick? Chances are you aren’t going to be productive and you will likely get your co-workers sick too. Know what happens then? Not only are you not productive, but you risk impacting the productivity of your entire organization. All that because you want to be the hero who isn’t a suck staying home with a cold or a flu?
The impact of coming to work sick is significant - a study out of the US says that presenteeism costs that economy up to $150 billion a year due to lost productivity.
I realize I am being snarky, people don’t really come into to work to be heros, the culture of being recognized, rewarded and evaluated for simply being at your desk is the biggest motivator for people coming to work when they are sick.
The best way to avoid this is to create an environment where working from home is acceptable. Obviously if someone is really sick and not going to be effective, they should un-plug and relax. For many people, however, being able to check emails, line up a few meetings, review a file or finish up a report actually makes them feel better and lets them relax and recover quicker.
It is ironic, the reason that most organizations or managers are against people working from home is because they fear people will goof off and not get their work done. But, when management creates an environment where people feel they have to come to work sick, management is the one who is responsible for the drop in productivity, not the employees.
For those of you who can work from home, next time you feel yourself coming down with something, grab what is most urgent and make sure you bring it home with you so you can stay home. Be the hero by sending in that urgent report from home rather than from the office where you would just make others sick too!
Wow I am so out of practice for working in an office, last week was a struggle for me and I ended up feeling so completely exhausted at the end of the week. The reality of working at home is that you have so much extra time to work and deal with life. Heading off to the office, even though it is only for 20 hours a week ate up almost all my extra time and left me scrambling to get things done.
The extra stress of having to be somewhere on time and the pressure of trying to prove yourself to a new team are actually huge energy suckers. It doesn’t seem so obvious when it is part of our daily life, but when it happened to me last week it was a bit of an eye opener.
In retrospect my week wasn’t well planned - I didn’t know ahead of time which days I would be where - it made it hard to plan ahead for anything. On top of that , one morning we slept in (something we never do) and the result was a stressful morning rush. Another afternoon I actually had to call a friend to pick up my daughter from her after school program because I couldn’t get there on time. I can't tell you how many times I had to circle the block looking for a parking spot never mind the number of times I had to run out and put money into the meter.
The result just reminded me how much I love working from home.
There is another side to this as well. It is fun to go to an office especially knowing that it isn’t long term. The team I am working with is great and I am learning and growing in ways that are often hard to maintain when you work at home. I am completely excited about the projects I am working on and even more excited at the prospect if having another long term partner to keep me busy.
As I prepare for the week ahead I know I need to have a better plan for the week. As much as I want to be as accessible as possible, I know that having a set schedule will reduce my stress and ensure that I am actually more affective and productive which will benefit my new clients!
How do you manage the transition back to the office routine?
I can’t believe I am writing this, but its true, I just committed to going to an office over the next eight weeks. And no, I don’t feel like a sell out, I actually see this as a great opportunity to teach a new organization how to work with a flex or remote team. I will be honest, I don’t have lofty plans, it is an old school ad agency that is used to making decisions around the water cooler after all, but I can plant a seed.
Here is the thing, an organization has to want to make flex and remote work successful. And once they want it to work they likely need to tweak their culture to make it happen.
Take an organization that is used to everyone being in the open concept style office. Not only does everyone see each other, they hear each other and likely contribute and support each other just based on what they over hear. I am not going to tell you that you can replicate that situation, but you can get pretty close and improve productivity.
First step, using people’s time needs to get a bit more structured - that means meetings need to be booked in advance and people’s time needs to be respected. Next step, start improving the way you communicate electronically. And that does not mean emailing the entire company or constantly hitting “reply all”. Think about who needs to know, what they need to know and when they need to know it. Pick a key point of contact for a project and be consistent about communicating through that person. This is not about creating road blocks and slowing things down, quite the opposite, this is about improving process and reducing duplication of effort.
And yes, there are lots of tools like intranets or sites like Basecamp that you can and likely should use to centralize information, conversations and track results. But these tools are only as good as the people using them (read “you must actually use them”) and these are great amazing tools regardless of where and how your employees are working.
If I am not careful this is going to turn into a post on how to use an intranet and the need for a solid internal communications plan and consistent follow up to make it work, but that isn’t the point I want to make. For many organizations, to embark on creating successful remote teams, they need to first clean up how they operate in their current in-office environment.
Sure turning to a colleague to get a quick answer is great, but how great would it be if you could get that information off of your intranet knowing that it was updated by the person who is actually responsible for that project? Or better yet, if you are the person who always gets asked questions, how great would it be if you could work uninterrupted for a whole hour or even two?
For this gig, I need to work in-office before I can consider suggesting working remotely, we need to all get a feel for how to work together. It is my seed to plant which means I need to show them how it can work, I need to create the process and standards around how I will work and communicate when I am not in the office that they are comfortable with and I have to do the exta leg work to really make sure it is successful.
I will let you know how the transition goes and I would love to hear about your transition back to an office after working at home.
For flexility to work in any situation, you need to first establish clear guidelines and performance expectations. From there, you will be most successful if you engage your team in creating the solution.
Ensure team members are cross trained so they can help each other and cover for each other.
Collaborate to create the program
Your team is more likely to take ownership and respect a program they helped create.
Give people control
This is probably the most powerful thing you can do for your employees - let them choose when they work, who they swap hours with and how they will make up time.
Provide multiple flex options
If we think about flexibility as a means to improve work life fit, then we need to recognize that most of us have very different needs. The more, easy to use, options you provide, the more likely they will be embraced by your employees.
Train your managers
For a flexible work program to success you need to have well trained managers who can clearly communicate the program and are held accountable for its success.
We suck at change - we do. When we think about creating a flexible work environment there are a million excuses for why it won’t work. I had one boss who wouldn’t consider it because it couldn’t apply to everyone. Hmm I wonder is she felt the same way about how we were paid or our titles...maybe those should all be the same too?
Retention is one of the biggest challenges facing an organization and we often hear about it as it applies to more senior roles but, how many of us have faced the impact of turnover related to more junior or hourly roles? I know I have. In the United States, 75 million people work for hourly wages (61% of them are women).
The Corporate Voices for Working Families study, Innovation Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers, shows that flexibility, "can be as beneficial or more beneficial to hourly workers and the businesses that employ them.” Their research into companies like Marriott International (Hospitality), Proctor and Gamble (Consumer Goods), Bright Horizons (Child Care) and PNC Financial (Financial Services) are proving that flexibility for hourly workers is an option in a variety of fields.
Businesses implementing flex work options for employees are seeing the following benefits:
Improved customer service
Lower personnel costs as the result of reduced overtime
Higher retention rates
Ability to tap into a wider labor pool
Recognition as an “employer of choice” with younger generations
Ability to expand hours of operation
Let’s be frank, the employee benefits, which we can only talk about now that we have clearly shown the corporate benefits, are also benefits to the companies:
Reduced stress = more efficient, less mistakes
Improved well-being = better temperament, and customer service, less sick days
Enhanced work-life effectiveness = ability to retain employees who go back to school, have a family or need to care for a family
Increase productivity = I am not sure I need to qualify this one.
Despite the stats that indicate most flex work (usually cause they lump work at home jobs in this same category) is filled by senior men, more employers are catching on and creating flexible options for hourly workers. Working Mother has even come out with a Best Companies for Hourly Workers list.
These companies go beyond providing flexible schedules and include benefits like tuition reimbursement, paid vacation, job training and more. As for flexibility, some provide things like advance notice of work schedules (up to a month), volunteer overtime and unpaid time off without penalty. Others permit shift trading and split shifts.
According to the news anchor, we slow down in the snow and speed up in the rain. When the rain falls after a weekend of snow and the roads are still slippery and everyone is speeding along, guess what happens. Accidents and a disastrous morning commute. This morning’s accident, which I watched from the comfort of my bed at 6:30 a.m., included a major highway, a car ending up on the commuter train lines and a car hitting an ambulance. No lives were lost, thankfully.
All I could think was, wow, all the people who are being held up likely started their mornings at 4:30/5:00 a.m. in the hopes of beating the rush by coming into the office early. Now they will get in later, likely be stressed when they get there, they will need to stay later to make up for the late arrival time and will hit traffic on the way home too.
The commute was also bad for those using public transit when a major portion of the subway was also closed between 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. according to the Toronto Star.
The cost of a bad commute goes well beyond being late and staying late. According to the Urban Mobility Report that surveyed traffic patterns of 439 U.S. urban areas, the cost of commuting based on lost productivity and wasted fuel, reached $115 billion. The average amount of time wasted per person was 35 hours, or almost a full work week. For commuters in Chicago and Washington time wasted was doubled - 70 hours or two weeks of work per person.
The Urban Mobility report suggests that changing our work/commute patterns to implement more ride share programs and flexible work times to avoid the traditional “rush hour” as a possible solution to this growing and crazy expensive congestion. I can tell you that this morning in Toronto, it was the early birds who were seeking to avoid the rush, that got the bulk of the delays. Improving public transit is another suggestion for improving congestion and rising cost of commutes. In Toronto this morning, the public transit system was hardly the “Better Way” for many.
What we need is more opportunities for people to avoid the commute all together - we need more remote, flex work or telework opportunities and arrangements.
It’s on days like today that I really appreciate the benefits of my home office. No commute, no added stress, no worries about being late and no loss in productivity or wasted gas.
Last week, February 14 - 18, 2011, was telework week in the United States. 39,000 people pledged to telework for the week. In the coming weeks Telework exchange and Cisco will publish a detailed report outlining the total impact of Telework Week on commuting costs in the United States. It is expected that results of telework week will be a savings of $2.7 million in commuting costs and 1,800 tons of emissions.
Although I am Canadian, I really appreciated the flurry of tweets and all the post in support of telework week. Here were some of my favourites:
Huffingting Post, Rethink Workplace Flexibility. This biggest message here (and a bit on how to do it) is that companies need to establish clear policies and they need to create these now.
Huffington Post, The Perfect is the enemy of the Good. A great post on the need for building trust and a reminder that it is necessary (and easier than you think) for remote workers.
Wayne Turnme’s post, Valentines Day and Telework Week are Both Made Up- But They Matter, has great practical questions to review and improve your existing telework situation as well as links to a variety of on-line resources. And as a great example of how video blogs can work, Workshifting.com posted a series of video blogs in celebration of telework week:
They can’t all be positive and in the case of The 6 snags of Telework, it is so negative it is ridiculous. Flexwork or telework, whatever you call it, requires a cultural shift, for the employer, employee and I guess if you consider John Dvorak’s article, for the spouse as well.
CMS Wire does a brief summary of some of my favorite articles this week in, National Telework Week: Rethinking the Way we Work, and most of all I love their call to action: “The mobile workforce is here and companies must get used to it. Build on the momentum of National Telework week to get up to speed so that, by this time next year, you’re not just a bystander but an active participant."
My husband I both work from home, we even share the same office. Shall I pause for you to make your shocked/raised eyebrow face? Don’t feel bad, I get that same reaction from most people. Technically we don’t work together, he has his company and I have mine.
I tell people that working together works for us because Gustavo doesn’t actually speak to me during the day. People think I am joking.
Its true, we don’t spend our days chatting with each other. When we are in the office we are both there to get work done. I like to save the chatting for times when we are out of the office like over lunch or dinner.
One of the upsides of working together means we get to pop out for lunch together on a fairly regular basis. This week we were out for sushi when a couple came in and started talking to another couple who was already sitting in the restaurant. Turns out both couples also work from home, it came up as each discussed how they couldn’t juggle their family responsibilities without the flexibility of working from home.
As small businesses and entrepreneurs in general seem to be the source of recent economic growth, and things like telework and flex work begin to increase, it is likely that more and more couples will work together or within the same space. Its funny how so many of us think that the idea of working together is so unusual and destine for doom. Before the industrial revolution families always lived and worked together.
To make working at home together you need to respect and support each other, share responsibilities and you need to communicate.
We are both equal contributors to our household, financially and as active parents. This means we share child care drop-off and pick-up as well as extracurricular activities and play dates. I won’t pretend I cook as much as Gustavo and he doesn’t do laundry or go clothes shopping, but we find our balance and we don't keep track. Working at home gives us both the flexibility to have more time for family and life and that matters to both of us equally.
Respect and support
I am not sure we could pull off all the sharing if the respect and support wasn’t there. Gustavo encouraged me to start my own company and today he remains one of my biggest supporters. We both see the potential in the others business and want the other to succeed.
Really how can you share, respect and support without good communication? But for us it is a fine balance. We can’t chat all day, that would drive both of us crazy. I also don’t like to be looped into everything about his company, if I was I would take on stress that I don’t need or want. And hearing everything was a big stressor for me when we first started working together.
Make time for yourself
Is this starting like marriage advise rather than working together advice? We all need time to ourselves and when work and life are so entwined like they are for me, it becomes even more important. Sure a trip away on a beach all alone would be nice, but a yoga class or a walk or meeting a friend for a coffee can also do the trick.
When it works, working together is a wonderful thing. So many people struggle to find time together. For us, it is easy.
We have all heard it before, if you run your own business, finding new clients and projects needs to be top of mind. When we slack off on our networking or business development then we risk not having work when we need it.
What is the best way to find more work? Well that all depends on you. Not what you wanted to hear? We all want a formula that we can easily apply. For many of us, the formula already exists, we just over look it.
A few weeks back I pitched a project - it was a cold pitch, I had a reference but no actual “in” at the organization. From the start I had mixed feelings about the pitch - part of me felt I should pitch a team the other part of me sensed that this client was looking for the magic everything marketer who could do it all and then some. This pitch was the hardest thing I have done out on my own. I was anxious, stressed and feeling very alone. I second guessed myself every step along the way. No big surprised that I produced a lame proposal, a crappy “interview” and in the end I didn’t get the project.
It was however, a big lesson for me. The cold reality was that I wasn’t prepared for this kind of pitch. I didn’t have a templated proposal that I could quickly pull out and adapt. I didn’t know how to reach out to my network to co-pitch and I didn’t have structure or game plan for when they gave me a face-to-face meeting. Although I knew that I could be a great partner for this company, I worried that the project was too big for me and would make it hard for me to support multiple clients which is my ultimate goal. Walking into the face-to-face I wasn’t even convinced I was right for the “job”, not the attitude or state of mind required to “make a sale”.
I need to do some prep work to do these kinds of pitches in the future, lesson learnt, but there is another lesson that surfaced during all of this. Really it was more of a reminder and it came in the form of an email from the “Get Clients Now” team. The email asked, “where do you get your best customers?” For me the answer is referrals from people I have worked with in the past. As a result I don’t do a lot of “pitching”, I usually get a phone call or an email where we discuss timing and rates, I present a plan and then I get to work.
So what does this all mean? For me, if referrals from people I work with is where I get my best work, that is where I need to focus my business development energy. I need to constantly stay in touch and keep myself top of mind with my contacts. Most importantly, I need to do this all the time and not just when I need something. Okay I am going to say this again, we need to do this all the time, not just when we need something!
The phrase, “paying it forward” comes to mind when I think about my networking/business development strategy. I have a list of people I would like to work with that I always keep in the back of my mind. If I come across an article or conference that I think they might like, I will forward the info with a quick note. If I can make a connection or introduction to someone I think they may like or could work with, then I do that too. I also reach out and book time for coffee or lunch on a fairly regular basis. These meetings also get me out and help fight off the isolation that can come from working from home.
This past year I also stepped out of my comfort zone and went to a few conferences with the hope of adding to my network, and at the Ungeeked conference I was successful. Because it was a multi day conference and a smallish group, I was able to make a few “real” connections. I am really positive that these connections will help me grow and will eventually be partners that help me bring in more projects.
I am also slowly but surely starting to make some real contacts via Twitter. True story. No work to date, but it is moving in the right direction and when it comes to be, I can join the ranks of ,who knows how many, that have found work via social media.
I am always thinking about how much time I invest into activities like marketing, networking and business development vs. how much these activities actually return or convert into real business. My measurement is a mix between what is rewarding spiritually and financially. By spiritually I mean how an activity energizes me or depletes me. Cold pitches may eventually land me some big jobs, but I also know they take a toll on my energy and spirt. Blogging on the other hand will have slower long term impacts, but in the short term it energies and fulfills me, beyond what I could ever imagine. Very often my network does the same thing. A lunch, coffee or a phone/skype call doesn’t alway produce an immediate project, but it often stimulates and energize me and my spirit.
How do you find clients? What lessons have you learnt?