Having trouble working from “work”? Tips for staying productive in the office when you can’t WFH.

March 5, 2010 by Lisa Oshima | Consulting, Enterprise

postit businessmanWhen I’m not in client meetings or on the road, I am usually working from my home office.  Friends and colleagues regularly ask whether I get lonely or distracted working from home, and my answer is always  “no.”   They often say things like, “I don’t think I could work from home…” “I’d get lonely…” “There are too many distractions at home…” etc.  Feeling lonely is a rarity since I’m in meetings and/or phone calls every day.  As for distractions go, in my experience there are way more distractions in an traditional workplace environment then a home office…

Don’t get me wrong, working in a traditional office has it’s perks, but a tranquil and productive working environment usually isn’t one of them.  I say this having worked in plenty of of cube farms, where it seemed people couldn’t pass each others’ cubes without saying a friendly hello or starting a conversation for fear of being impolite.

Another challenge of the conventional work environment is “meeting culture.” At conventional offices, meetings are usually scheduled in hour-long slots – even when a full hour isn’t needed. People spend their days running around from meeting to meeting (often meeting different people to discuss the same topic), unable to get much done in between. Working from home, I only schedule meetings when I’m confident that they’ll be more beneficial than a phone call or an email. I still see and/or talk to plenty of people during the day, but I try to schedule my activities in chunks (i.e. meetings clustered together with time set aside for email, etc.), which makes it more productive.

Jason Fried, CEO of 37 Signals, which makes web-based productivity software for businesses, recently expressed similar sentiment:

One of the things Jason mentions in the above video is the importance of coming to a common understanding with your colleagues about how to interact with each other in the office.  Successful management teams make an effort to minimize workplace distraction while fostering a friendly, comfortable, team-oriented working environment.  Here are a few things that I’ve found can enhance team productivity when working in a shared office:

  • Before scheduling a meeting or sending someone a message, ask yourself what the most efficient way is to get things done. Is it a meeting, or will a quick call or email suffice?
  • If you need to have a meeting, provide a structured agenda and key decision points to all of the participants in advance.  If key participants can’t attend the meeting, either reschedule it, or find a way to move the conversation forward by getting their input by email before the meeting, to ensure that there are meaningful outputs by the end of the meeting.
  • Think twice before interrupting your colleagues at work:
    • Minimize “cube-drive-by” conversations in favor of arranging social time over lunch, ascheduled coffee break, or happy hour.  If you walk past someone’s cube without saying hello or stopping to chat, and they’re working, they won’t think badly of you for it, if you’ve suggested that you meet them later for lunch, coffee, or happy hour.
    • If you’ve got a quick question for a colleague in the middle of the day, and it’s not urgent, park the question until the end of the day. By that point, you may have found the answer or come up with other questions that you need their help with.
    • If you’ve got a quick question that’s urgent, ping your colleague via IM and let them know it’s important. They’ll respond to you as quickly as they can (i.e. when they’re not on a call or in a meeting).  If they’re not on IM, call them on the phone.

And, when all else fails, there’s always headphones.

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