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Productivity

What 10 years of working from home has taught us

As a working parent I’m invested in the unfolding conversation about the future of remote work. When you have a compelling set of competing priorities, few things matter more than a sense (no matter how fleeting) of greater control around the rhythm of your life and feeling more connected to your family.

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So I have to admit to feeling a little panicked by reports of recent research from corporate America. It shows that while the “first four months” of the nation’s recent “remote work experiment” were surprisingly good, the cracks are now starting to show.

According to The Wall Street Journal’s Chip Cutter, the key complaints are: “Projects take longer. Training is tougher. Hiring and integrating new employees, more complicated. Younger professionals aren’t developing at the same rate as they would in offices.”

This may well be true. Working from home has been a global band-aid solution to a frightening problem and few people were prepared.

Jo Palmer is the founder of Pointer Remote Roles, a company committed to supporting remote work transitions that she runs from her family farm in the Riverina, NSW.

“Maybe in the initial period people were working above and beyond scrambling to make everything ‘just work’ until things went back to normal,” Jo told Flying Solo.

“And now that ‘this’ is looking more like ‘normal’ the cracks are showing because the systems and processes needed to build the foundation for remote success were not put in place.”

Australian employers could find it hard to put the genie back in the bottle after many employees have made a success of home-based work.

For example, more than 70% of respondents in an Australian HR Institute survey said they’re very reluctant to return to the office.

Rather than forcing people back to full time in the office, effort should be spent creating the systems and processes to ‘fix’ the things that aren’t working about remote work and support the things that are.

As editor of Flying Solo I have the privilege of speaking to Australia’s largest community of micro business owners. Of the 100k plus members making daily visits to our website, well over 40% have worked at home (alone) for almost a decade.

When it comes to finding reasons to value remote work, they’re bona fide experts.

Here is what our members told me are the most important factors to being productive while working alone at home and keeping it up year in and year out.

1. Routine (and hard work)

The ability to focus is imperative. And while nobody masters that 24/7, our community often speak of their ability to just shut out the noise and put their head down and bum up!

Some swear by headphones and a playlist, others claim it’s a commitment to batch work. Resoundingly most agree that when you alone are responsible for the success of a business and your pay check, there are few things more compelling than getting your work done.

Commitment to routine is also vital – regular exercise, meditation, Pomodoro timers are all very popular among our community. So is both insight and respect for your own energy levels.

Heather Smith founder of Heather Smith Consulting has been a soloist for 10+ years.

Her advice is: “Be nimble and flexible, work to your energy levels. If you wake at 3am with a brilliant idea, go for it and push it out! Those creative energy moments can be many times more productive than your lower energy hours.”

2. Designated work space/area 

The kitchen table is a common place to start a business and often where many in our community return when they’re looking for a change of pace. But most agree it was  getting an office or designated separate office space that really boosted productivity and focus.

Tori Kopke started her thriving business coaching consultancy from the kitchen table of her family farm in rural Western Australia. As she recently shared to Instagram, she spent years working from that table and from her car until business picked up.

“My table now has a big, bright office in the house. It also has been broken up a little bit and lives with a couple of fabulous VAs (virtual assistants) and other team members. But all of that came from those early mornings and late nights and hundreds of kilometers on the road. I wish I tracked how many kilometers I drove in my first year of business. I said ‘yes’ to everything, no matter where in the state it was.”

Kate Toon, founder of KateToon.com is an SEO expert and copywriter and affectionately refers to the home office she built in her backyard as the “Toon cave”.

Kate told Flying Solo that after “five years of scrabbling around working in cafes, the kitchen and a cramped office I felt I deserved it. It felt like a celebration of my success to date.”

What about when physical space is not possible, and you remain confined to your kitchen or dining room table?

Soloist  Shan Watts recommends, “packing away everything on a Friday night so you can enjoy the weekend completely!”

4. Strong boundaries around your time and energy

Okay, strong boundaries are seemingly much easier to do when you’re working IN an office and there’s a clear delineation between home and work. But it’s far from impossible when you’re remote working.

Soloists have shared creative solutions like, posting an ‘open’ and ‘closed’ sign on the office door or writing your schedule on a white board and displaying it where family members can see it and view specific time blocks for communication, breaks and interruptions! Others swear by an efficient use of their email ‘out office’ messages and setting aside certain days of the week for specific tasks.

Good communication and boundaries with family and friends are also seriously important. Copywriter Anne George told Flying Solo recently, “Ability to deal with ‘mummy guilt’ is a huge plus when you’re trying to maintain productivity at home.”

Our audience is 60% female running businesses in the professional services industries, with the majority still caring for dependents under the age of 12.

While far from immune to the impact of COVID stress (latest research suggests 52% of soloists are experiencing mental health challenges); the working from home part is the easiest of all and the most cited reason for starting a business in the first place.

Big business, if you’re listening (and you should be): You’re welcome.

Lucy Kippist

is an experienced Australian editor with experience in writing, podcasting radio and television, with previous senior editorial roles at News Corp news.com.au, Kidspot and Kinderling Kids Radio. In her current role as editor of Flying Solo, Australia's #1 website for solo business owners she is pursuing her passion for women in the small business space. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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