How to Get Things Done When You Work from Home

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As COVID-19 spreads among our communities, and more of us find ourselves working from home for the first time, managers and individual contributors alike may worry about meeting goals and deadlines, and even have concerns about team collaboration.


Before I jump into how you can thwart these concerns, allow me to offer you some peace of mind:  YOU CAN TOTALLY DO THIS.  In fact, many Marketo Engage employees have been working from home for more than five years; some for more than 10 years like myself.  And, it's no secret that these hardworking stay-at-home professionals turned a Silicon Valley homegrown software company into a multi-billion-dollar powerhouse in the SaaS industry.


If working from home really did stifle creativity and collaboration, as some corporate professionals suggest, then we never would have built a best-in-class application that leads in the Gartner Magic Quadrant.  In fact, we created a culture of family, togetherness, and entrepreneurship, and seeded it with driven, tenacious professionals who will stop at nothing to go longer, faster, and harder every day.


So, how exactly do you make the shift from office to home?  It's easier than you think considering you are likely already using many of the tools necessary when working remotely.  For example, most of us already use a Web conferencing system like BlueJeans or GoTo Meeting for daily calls with customers or colleagues.  Presumably, then, we already know proper etiquette when joining online meetings:  Show up a few minutes early to ensure the audio and video are working; mute the line when not speaking to avoid unnecessary background noise and disruptions; take turns when speaking so that you do not talk over someone else; stick to the timeline to ensure the meeting doesn't go over schedule; hit record for colleagues who cannot attend...the list goes on, right?  You totally know this stuff.


For those who wonder how you will continue to conduct productive customer meetings or internal team check-ins when working from home...well, you’re likely already having web meetings…rinse and repeat at home instead of in the office.


But, what about productivity?  I've heard the argument from so many of my friends that they could never work from home because they would be too distracted; they would get lazy or put things off for a later time.  To be honest, this is just fear of the unknown talking.  You end up working longer hours and doing more projects when you work from home BECAUSE there are no distractions.  But, if that's enough to make you feel at ease about productivity, I've got a long list of strategies and tactics to help keep you focused.


The key to working from home is time management and organization. 


I rely heavily on my Outlook calendar to get me through the day.  In fact, I tell my husband all the time:  "If it's not on my calendar, it's not happening."  So, even in my personal life, everything is managed through my Google Calendar.


Because my entire team works from home, it's important that EVERYTHING is on the calendar.  When I have a dentist appointment, it goes in Outlook.  When my boss is picking up her kid from school, it's on the Outlook calendar.  When I need to pull together a PowerPoint presentation, the time it takes for that task is on the calendar.  The entire day guessed it:  on the calendar.  It is virtually impossible to miss a deadline or forget to work on a project when you plan your entire day on your calendar.


But that calendar is only effective as the organization of the content you have behind it.  Luckily for Adobe, I'm a full dinner plate's worth of perfectionism with a side of obsessive-compulsiveness.  In other words, I am hyper-organized, and I get very anxious when things aren't in the right place.


To add method to my OCD, the entries in my Outlook calendar include attachments to the files needed for that task and link to corresponding communications and folders.  Seriously, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, anyone would be able to look at my calendar and know exactly what to do and where to find everything.


I take this a step further as a work-from-homer.  I document every process and every administrative task that I am responsible for in my role.  Recently, I created a Leadership Library in our internal SharePoint site where all my processes are hosted along with any other documents that the leadership team needs to share with the management team.  Why?  Transparency, organization, and succession planning.  Though I don't plan to leave Adobe any time soon, it's always a good idea to have things documented in case of emergencies or absences.


So, what does a typical day look like for a real-life work-from-home professional?


I wake up around 7:30 a.m. each day; sometimes my internal clock pushes me out of bed at 7 a.m.  Getting out of bed earlier than that is just craziness.  Lack of sleep can cause health issues.  Get those zzzzzz people!


Around 8 a.m., the computer is on, and I am diving into Slack, email and open projects...guess what I completely forget to do every single day?  Eat breakfast, brush my teeth, know...the things we need to do.  Work takes over immediately after rolling out of bed.  In fact, I must make a conscious effort to close the laptop and WALK THE DOG! 


Meetings and work continue throughout the day until the hunger pangs begin...then around 3 p.m. I think to myself:  oh wow, I haven't even eaten yet today.


Before I know it, 7 p.m. rolls around and I think: where did the day go?  I find a stopping point in my work and I close the laptop to have dinner.


Later, around 10 p.m., I remember that I need to get some info over to a colleague in Sydney, and I can catch them in this office if I do it now.  The laptop lid opens, and I'm able to get my colleague chatting on Slack.  This, of course, opens a can of worms and I don't shut down again until midnight.


This happens every day...I would love to say just Monday through Friday.  But, the reality is that when you work from home, you remember that one little thing you can get done and out of the on Saturday at 2 p.m., you open your laptop and check that task off your list.


This is a typical work week that clocks in around 50-60 hours.  How many hours are your colleagues clocking in when in the office?  Add to that the time it takes to commute in the morning and the evening...for some people this could mean you are less productive.


Now, I know I'm not totally selling the work-from-home culture with my scenarios.  The truth is that 50-60 hours is because I manage a global program, and with it comes great responsibility.  In fact, during large-scale initiatives, that time commitment can be even more.  But, even with longer hours, I have some flexibility to get up, take a short walk and get some fresh air.  I can work feverishly on my projects with little or no distractions from colleagues (when I pause notifications in Slack), which means I get things done faster, and I can tackle more.


At the end of my day, I feel good about my accomplishments and my contributions to building our business.  I can have web conferences with colleagues from around the world and maintain a great working relationship.  When we do see each other face-to-face, it's like we knew each other for years.  And, there's something special about building strong relationships with colleagues through digital means.  When we hop on that next call, we know our counterparts are experiencing the same workloads and challenges; we know they also may have forgotten to eat breakfast, and they are working hard to get things done.  We're in it together...even if we're not in a physical location.  We're all running toward the same goal, and nothing can stop us...not even a measly ol' office.


Here are my top tips for embracing a work-from-home culture and getting things done:


  1. Plan your entire day, including all tasks, projects, meetings and personal events on your Outlook calendar.

  2. Get organized.  Include links to project materials in your Outlook meeting entries and/or attach the files to the invites.  Everything you need for that meeting or task should be included in the calendar entry.  Use the “Categories” feature in Outlook and assign a color and name to things like “Team Meetings”, “Cross-Functional”, “Customer Name”, “Private Appt”, etc.  Also consider using a microsite or hub to manage the hosting and dissemination of your files.  At Adobe, every team has their own SharePoint site.  For the Marketo Engage Professional Services team, we call this the PS Hub; a one-stop-shop for every deck, job aid and training course our delivery teams need.  As one our newest team members said recently “This is the most organized and content-rich library of information I have ever seen, and it is light years beyond other companies I’ve worked for in the past.”

  3. Strictly adhere to scheduled meeting times.  Try not to let your meetings go over the scheduled time.  This not only pushes following meetings out; it wastes precious time of attendees.  It also leaves an impression that you are not able to manage your time properly.  In one of my partner workshops, I teach consultants to drive meetings toward your desired outcome and stick to the agenda.  Keep a “Parking Lot”, or as I like to call it “Bus Station”, for questions on things that are not on the agenda.  Make sure you create a task in Outlook to revisit the Bus Station items and follow up accordingly.

  4. Document everything.  Working as a consultant for more than 20 years in my career, I learned the value of documentation.  Get your processes onto paper and file them in a central location.  Make note of important decisions in meetings, including goals, objectives and timelines, and action items.  Be sure to assign responsibility to action items and give your colleagues a clear call-to-action.  In Outlook, use the “Follow-up” feature and schedule a reminder for yourself and the responsible parties.

  5. Don’t forget to block some time for breaks and lunch!  Though I often work longer hours from home, I do find time for breaks.  This is especially important so that you don’t experience burnout.  Get up, take a walk, and get the blood flowing back to your creative center in the brain.  Research by The Bob Pike Group shows that we are susceptible to learning and creativity when we feel energized.  The best way to boost energy is to do a physical activity:  stretching or walking will do the trick, and you will be amazed at how much of a difference this makes in your daily routine.

What strategies and tactics do you use to get things done while working from home?  I’d love to hear them!

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