How to be an effective work from home employee: 10 Tips!

It seems like it was just yesterday that we were at work with friends, co-workers, and the long talker that would trap folks for what seemed like hours to tell a random story about their weekend. Suddenly the world has changed and all of that is gone as millions of us have suddenly found ourselves forced to work from home. 

For those of us at home, our role now is to maximize the time to be the best possible worker we can while also balancing whatever may also be going on in the house as we deal with stir-crazy children, barking dogs and the reality of spending 100% of hour time with our family. 

It will come as a surprise to many to learn that the transition to working from home can be difficult. First, there is the design of the job itself. Your company may not have previously used tools like Zoom, Webex, Skype and others to connect workers with each other. Fortunately, these can be learned quickly if you have a tech leader that can help others to adapt. 

Next is the work at home transition for the individual employee that may have never had this opportunity before. The worker that is disciplined and structured at the office most likely will be this way as well at home and as a result will adapt quickly. The undisciplined and poorly focused person is going to struggle more and will need to have a solid plan for every workday and in some cases for every hour. 

I have been a remote worker in the past and now am that way again. Here are a few tips that I think will help.

Set up a dedicated space


Already have a home office space? Lucky you! If this is not something that you have already then make the most of a card table, kitchen table, or some other space that you can declare to everyone in the house, “this is where I work now”. Make sure you have plenty of room with good natural light and strong access to your internet connection. This is a great time to try using a stand-up desk and if you do not have that option be sure and get a quality chair since the one you have now may not be designed for long term sitting. 

Remove possible distractions


It can be easy to drift away from work and lose time to the constant stream of news that is blasting from the TV, the movie the children are watching or your various social media outlets. If these are a possible issue, turn them off and be sure your workspace is not near the temptation. There is no need to cut yourself completely off, just be reasonable with the amount of time. Have trouble staying away from the phone, use digital wellbeing, and other similar tools to set limits to your social media accounts.


Establish clear boundaries and rules with others at home


Working from home now is different than the old remote worker normal. Many employers before had clear rules for work from home employees including what to do about barking dogs, kids at home, and distractions. These rules will return but in this temporary world hopefully, most are providing some understanding and flexibility.
At the same time, it will benefit you and the others at home to have clear communication to understand when you are working and when you are available. A good thing here is to transfer much of the same discipline you are using over to the children as they “work” as well on chores and learning activities. If your work area has a door, consider posting a schedule so your new co-workers can be aware of important times when you will be in meetings and do not want to be interrupted. 

Take a shower

At first working from home can seem like a terrific form of a staycation with sweatpants, comfy shirt and lack of hygiene requirements. Even Ferris Bueller took a shower on his day off. The wake-up routine of getting ready for work combined with some decent casual clothes will help with the mental transition into work mode by providing a clear transition from not at work to at work.Those ratty sweatpants are a message to your mind that you are not at work and instead have moved to casual mode. Plus, with the extensive use of conferencing through cameras, it is still important to be mindful of your personal branding to demonstrate your level of professionalism. 


Create goals and checklists


It is always important to have a plan and to know when your todos have moved over to done. Without some set goals for the day, it can be too easy to lose focus, let the day slip by, and then by the end have no idea what was accomplished. Let your checklist help to bring a smile as you reflect back on your accomplishments at the end of another day of work. 

This is best to do at the end of each day and then again at the start of the next next. When you reach your stopping point, reflect on what you accomplished and then sketch out some goals for the next day. The following morning, it is time to tweak the plan with a few clear goals for the day.These goals should involve more than just work productivity as you will want to… 


Move!

On average, I would walk at least two miles during the normal course of the day. The restroom was well down the hall and so was the breakroom with coffee and people for a quick personal chat. At home, things are more compact and it can be way too easy to get into work mode and have very little physical change. 

Our minds are wired to work best in chunks. At least once an hour it is a good idea to do a quick walk around the house just to clear the head. Watch the health too as it can be very tempting to snack throughout the day due to easier food access. You will regret the bag of chips when it comes time to slip on the work clothes and you find you have expanded. 


Take a break


Yes a real break, this means at lunch to step away from the desk and do something very different. You could go for a nice walk around the block, spend some time interacting with your new co-workers (kids, dog, cat), or just do anything that is not work-related. 

Understand, it is okay to step away from the computer. Trust is especially important for WFH teams and your team will know the work is getting done even if you are away from your desk. If you are on a more structured team as far as requirements, make sure your lunchtimes and break times are clearly communicated with the team and manager. That will leave you with no guilt feelings or worry when away. 


Continue to collaborate


With the tech we have access to, there is no reason at all to work alone in a silo. Stay in touch with peers on your team with daily check-in calls, frequent e-mails or IM chat groups. This includes people from the fringes of your work circle as well. Out of sight can be out of mind and so this is a good time to reach out to experts in areas of the organization that may be able to provide you with insight or assistance. 


Stay social


Thousands of years of norms have wired us to live in tribes. It is not natural to be alone all the time and complete social isolation can have a negative impact on mental health. For your work tribe, take time to have non-work talks and sharing during a meeting. Consider a virtual webcam happy hour where work talk is banned and all the time is spent being personal.

What a great time to actually build deeper personal connections with your working peers and experts in your profession. Many teams are going deeper with each other with virtual team happy hours and other fun ways to get personal. Every day now is a bring your kid, cat, dog, fish to the workday. Keep these happy hours as a work-free zone and use them to build personal connections with each other. 

If using a webcam, keep in mind that not everyone may have the same level of workspace. This means not being judgemental of what you may see as you peak into the home of another. With that said, it is a good idea to test your camera view in advance to ensure what will show up behind you is work appropriate. Some video conferencing applications like Zoom and Teams allow you to modify backgrounds. If that is a concern, give it a try.

Plan a hard stop


If non-exempt, do not forget the rules regarding hourly work continue to apply. This means work should occur during the scheduled times and any work outside the agreed-upon boundaries should result in compensation. Just be sure and follow the guidelines you have been provided or ask for them if you do not have any. Most employers will ask for advance permission to work outside of expected hours just as they did before the move to working from home. 

For the exempt employee, stopping can be a difficult challenge since work is now always just a few steps away. The temptation to never stop can be strong for work from home employees especially if other teammates seem to always be online. As a team, this is a good opportunity to ensure it is understood that work is not intended to be 24X7. This is not the time to get into every day and every hour work habits as it is not healthy for you or for your family. 

Working from home can be a wonderful experience if treated with a positive attitude and strong discipline. You can get through this and may even find yourself thriving in many unexpected ways.

These are just a few tips based upon my work from home experiences. What about you? What are some of your top tips that you would share with others? 


Leave a comment to share with others.

Now is the time for gratitude. More than ever.

Last year I created a video and wrote a blog post challenging people to start each day in a state of gratitude and to write down their thoughts of thankfulness.

Now with the growing pandemic and fear about where this is going to take all of us I see gratitude as more important than ever. I have to be honest. At the start of all of this, I went into full got to work hard and got to stay focused mode. I forgot for a very short time to take my own advice and spend some time each day reflecting and be thankful.

Gratitude is the enemy of fear. No matter what others may be feeling or maybe doing, for each of us there are many reasons to be thankful. This morning I pulled up my list and the memories flooded back on of the past times and people that have brought such joy in my life even when times were hard. Reading the list and reflecting on all the years of good resulted in a wave of joy and positivity.

Have you got gratitude? Are you clear on the many blessings that are in your life even as the world around you is not what it was just a few short weeks ago?

Now is the time to take inventory of all that is good and thank the world around you. So here we go, time again to throw out the gratitude challenge. Start your list, share your thoughts and for goodness sake reach out to those around you that may be hurting and let them know they mean something and have a future.

We will get through this!

#gratitude

The world has gone crazy. How are you going to react?

What a time we are living in with the Covid-19 virus hysteria that is in progress where I live and around the country. It seems that things are changing almost minute by minute and for sure what we have been experiencing is historical. There has been a stock market crash, rush to buy goods including toilet paper, “social distancing” requiring events and businesses to close down. Now millions of people are working from home and schools are closed. The list just goes on and on.

Wal-Mart Paper shelves on March 15 2020

It is not an exaggeration to say this feels very much like a fictional disaster movie.

Group panic and group fear is a real thing. It is not out of the question to imagine people fighting over food items as this has happened already over–toilet paper. Meanwhile, there are even fake news stories out there about things that have not occurred which are intentionally trying to magnify hysteria.

With a state of emergency declared, it would not be surprising to next see for the first time in our lifetime the military out in key areas where panic is possible like hospitals, grocery stores, and critical supply chain locations. Again, this is not a movie or a new Netflix series. It is all real. 

All of this for some reason made me think of my wilderness first aid training I took years ago as a Scout leader. In the training, we were taught during a crisis, often the situation is made even worse by poor decisions taken while in a state of distress. Scouts have a great model for this that applies really well in other stress situations especially including what we are experiencing now. When in crises–S.T.O.P.

Sit— Often when there is a crisis in the wilderness the person will panic, take off running, and end up even more lost than before. The key here is to quit moving and take a pause. Often doing nothing is the best way to be rescued. Sounds a lot like staying home in this current situation huh? 

Think–Now that a state of calm has been achieved, it is time to do some deep thinking and begin the process of rounding up years of skills, experience, and training to help formulate a plan. There have been many catastrophes throughout history and yet we are still here. This too shall pass. 

Observe–This is a critical skill to measure the surroundings to identify and additional dangers that may be in the area and better yet additional resources that may be around to help. Be an optimist but also take care to follow all the guidelines provided but the real experts. This is not a time to make up your own answers about the future and what to do in the present. 

Plan–This is where the real work starts. Where others may panic and make the situation worse, now is the time to make a detailed plan for you and your family. No, the sky is not falling but at the same time, you do want to be ready for the impact created by those who think it is. 

S.T.O.P. 

What we are going through now and for the next several months could be some of the worse times ever experienced in our generation. It is the time to remain calm and know that whatever is happening now and whatever is going to happen will pass. 

Years from now, we will all look back and remember how we reacted. These memories can be of how we kept our cool and used our gifts to help those around us or they can be memories of how we contributed to the negativity. Every day is going to be a choice. 

Make sure your choices are such that you will be proud years from now when you are sitting joyfully in your family circle to say, “here is what I did when the world went crazy”.

Kick off the New Year with my favorite Podcasts

The New Year for many people brings a desire to set goals. The most popular of course is usually related to fitness. Other popular goals include reading more, learning more, being a better parent, getting out of debt and on and on.
Getting the right information to make all of these things happen can be difficult. For me, one of my best growth tools over the years has been listening to podcasts. A podcast is great for the convenience of listening while on the go and the vast variety of topics make it an ideal source for learning things that might normally be out of your wheelhouse.
I have many favorites and thought I would share mine in case you might be looking for some new outlets of curiosity in 2017.
The Art of Manliness: An eclectic podcast covering a variety of topics specifically targeted for men. Based on Tulsa, the host Brett McKay graduated from the University of Oklahoma so you know he is going to be great.
Ted Radio Hour: Just about everyone has heard of TedTalks. The Ted Radio Hour is a bit of a greatest hits type program that features a variety of talks and interviews of the speaker. A much deeper experience than just listening to a talk.
Snap Judgement: A favorite while on a walk, master story teller Glynn Washington and his amazingly talented team share stories that are engaging and in many ways eye opening.
Coaching for Leaders: I try to listen to this one often as the topics, guests and conversations have provided me many great best practices to improve my skills as a leader.
Stuff You Should Know: Ever wonder about the history of porta-potties? Why Easter Island’s Civilization Collapsed? What about how a Lighthouse works? Hosts Chuck Bryan and Josh Clark discuss random topics that are surprisingly interesting. The added benefit is that you will know a lot of useless trivia to annoy all your friends at your next party.
Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast: Craig Groeschel is the pastor of Life.Church which has lead the church world with innovation including being one of the first multi-site churches, offering the most downloaded free app in history, church online and more. In his podcast he shares the secrete sauce of leadership he has learned and is still learning along the way.
The Tim Ferris Show: I discovered this podcast very recently and have instantly become a huge fan. Tim Ferris is excellence obsessed and he uses his interviews to glean the best practices of high achievers from a wide variety of disciplines. I like this podcast so much that I got his new book as gift for my college age son for Christmas and I am working my way through all of his past shows.
ITunes makes podcast listening easy and if you are an Android user like me I suggest the Stitcher App as a good choice. 
Got a favorite podcast that you would add to my list? Leave a comment and share.

Hello 2017

The calendar has turned to a New Year and as usual for a lot of people I am spending time today being reflective of the year that was and the year that is to be. I started 2016 once again in the middle of the work storm of layoffs. In my 20+ year career with my employer I have survive an estimated 11 of these and they never get easier. Good came from this experience as it was the final factor to motivate me to fulfill a long time goal of getting the SRHM-SCP certification.
Basically this is a competency test for HR professionals and I jumped in to take the highest level of the exam. Fear of failing the test and excuses around the time needed to study had kept me from this goal for many years.
I will never forget those moments in the car right before going into the testing center as I sat in nervous anticipation. A couple of hours later my hands shook as I waited at the computer for my results.  
Yes I passed and as I stared at the screen it was hard not to shout out in joy even as I wiped a tear from my cheek.
So what was the big deal? Would I get a promotion as a result of this? No. Would I get a pay raise? No. Would there be a big celebration and recognition from peers or my company? No again. The big deal for me was simply meeting a challenge that required hours and hours of work in advance that may or may not have resulted in success. I was energized by the process.
Now I have a certificate to hang on the wall. No one seeing it will ever grasp the years of experience and the hours of study it represents.  
I have met many goals in the past that at the start seemed questionable. Marathons, triathlons, duathlons, Master’s degree, debt freedom, surviving stage 4 cancer and the list goes on. The end result has more often not been a celebration but instead a big question of “what next?”
I will have to be honest. There is a big part of me that wishes I could just be satisfied with the now result. Instead within moments a sense of let down and dissatisfaction steps in boarding on depression really. Many prayers have be dedicated to this aspect of my personality.  
Today thinking of the year that is yet to be I am left wondering about the next big next for me. My list is long and detailed with at least one or two goals that once again seem questionable in my ability to make them happen. The good news is that thanks to my obsessive goal setting I know my track record indicates that with hard work and focus I will succeed. The bad news is that I know my track record also indicates that the result will only bring temporary satisfaction.
A goal for 2017 is to ride a total of 3,500 miles or more
Nonetheless I will press on. God wired me this way and my curse is also my blessing to be embraced.
What about you? Do you know your next big next? Very few people seem to have goals and even fewer seem to have a plan to make them happen. Me, I can’t a imagine life without a forward reach. When I am goalless I am lost.

Do not let fear of not making it or worse fear of what happens next keep you from taking that first step. 
Your goal does not have to be climbing a mountain or winning that promotion. Instead it can be small like that phone call to a long lost friend you have been putting off or that choice for a salad lunch today. Don’t start off going to win the war. Start with a small victory or a spectacular failure. Just the fact that you tried will mean that you have pressed on. You unlike most people decided to try. 
I hope that 2017 will be your best year yet. Find your next big next and go for it. 

My twenty year work anniversary

Twenty years….

Launch day of the Sprint network

It is hard to wrap my head around that number thinking how long I have been with my employer as of today. I joined just five years of working after graduating college to be part of something that at that time was totally new.

Prior to 1996 by law there were only two wireless carriers in each town. That helped things remain stable as this newfangled technology was growing and at the same time limited competition. The government decided more players in the marketplace would reduce prices and increase innovation. Of course the billions of dollars that were to be made in the spectrum auctions were not a bad thing either for Uncle Sam.
I was working for one of the two at the time and thought it would be exciting to be part of a ground up new start opportunity.  
During these last many years I have been part of a lot of changes. I stepped into this company as a newlywed and soon had a house, a son and a growing set of responsibilities and challenges that come with maturing.  
In my work life, I saw a growth of technology and an evolution of my skills thanks to being part of a dynamic industry. I encountered opportunities to explore my abilities and found a path that led me in career areas I would not have imagined early on.
I also experienced the full corporate lifecycle with explosive growth, maturity, decline and now (hopefully) growth again. My job titles and roles have changed many times as the organization changed. Co-workers have come and gone. CEOs have come and gone. In the last fifteen years, there has been turmoil and changes with layoffs occurring on average once a year or more.
As a manager I have hired people, fired people, laid people off, celebrated promotions, celebrated life events and consoled life tragedies of peers, managers, and subordinates.

In a work world where now the average worker changes employers every 4.6 years according to the U.S. Department of Labor, I am an anomaly as are the many others I know that are long time employees here. 
Through it all I have remained singular in my corporate life for reasons I am not sure I even understand.
So how does one stay at one employer for so long, through so much change and still stay engaged, challenged and growing?

Know your purpose
My purpose, mission statement or whatever you may want to call it has evolved over the years as my interests and roles have changed. What has remained the same however is that I have consistently taken time to define why I work and then have used my why as a magnet to pull me forward in my actions and in my growth.
The tumultuous life that is the ever-changing world of the wireless industry has resulted over time in a need to constantly adjust my brand as organization shifts. Having a true north by knowing my why has provided focus even when all else around me is seemly in chaos.

Grow your skills through opportunity
My undergraduate degree is in Government from a small regional state college. Not exactly the credentials that will land you that high-level corporate position right out of the gate. Fortunately, work has provided many growth opportunities through in the trenches experience and formal learning programs. Even better, once I locked into my career path I was able to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement program to go on to a master’s degree in my field of work and later a senior-level certification. All debt-free and reimbursed by my employer.

Forget luck
“I don’t believe in luck, I believe in preparation” –Bobby Knight

Having faced many staff reductions over the years, I would like to say that each time I was chosen to continue it was due to my skills and my performance outcomes. While I have confidence in those areas, I have at the same time stayed prepared.  I am always striving forward, learning and keeping an eye on the external market for new ideas as well as the skills that others see as valuable.
Just as importantly, I have worked to stay forward thinking and positive through good relationships with those in the organization that are influencers and performers. I believe you learn best from those that are excelling in what they do.
Most importantly, I have continued to believe in the future. I have steadfastly held that no matter what change may come my way I will be able to handle it and the outcome will result ultimately in a positive impact.
We get back from the world and our careers what we put into it.
No longer after twenty years is there a reward of gold watches, celebrations, pension and retirement. Instead, the work continues so, therefore, I will quietly go about my day and press on while giving my best to the future that has yet to be revealed.   

Really, I would have it no other way. 

Happy 21 years to us

This week is our 21st wedding anniversary.

I can clearly remember the days as a teen and later as a young adult longing to have love in my life. I was never much of a ladies guy and there were times when I was sure I would never find the right person. It turns out I did not need to find anyone as thanks to a mutual friend we found each other through a blind date.

Imagine that! A simple lunch set up turning into a lifetime of togetherness. We are proof that it can happen.

Someone this week through e-mail made a comment about our length of marriage success and kiddingly said he should get advice from me. Me being me I could not help but respond with some top of mind thoughts. Here they are

  • Marry the right person to start (people are not fixer uppers)
  • Be partners (no separate accounts; no secrets)
  • Have common interests (hobbies that you do together)
  • Have uncommon interests (Hobbies that make you/her happy and provide “me” time)
  • Honor with actions (Always strive to think positively and speak positively about spouse)
  • Never stop perusing (dates, adventures together, random acts of kindness)
  • Never stop moving forward (plans for the future—dreams)
  • Surround yourself with successful marriages(If we are the average of those around us be around couples that will lift you up)
  • Make sure you are yoked (philosophy on God, money, health, children etc)
  • Marry your spouse and not your career. (Jobs come and go but family should be forever)
  • Communicate
  • Communicate
  • Communicate

Like any couple we have faced many challenges over the years but along the way there has never been any question that no matter what we are in this together and forever. Neither of us would have it any other way.

Happy 21 to us. There is no doubt in my heart that the best is indeed yet to come.

Let my life be the proof

While out at lunch the other day I had to pull the car over for a rather long funeral procession. As the police motorcycles, hearse and other cars streamed by the King and Country song “Let my life be the proof of your love.”
Let my life be the proof,
The proof of Your love
Let my love look like You and what You’re made of
How You lived, how You died
Live is sacrificed
So let my life be the proof
The proof of Your love
Some pretty serious words to ponder sitting there in my car at lunch on Monday. I have no idea who was in the hearse or what kind of life that person may have led. Just judging by the number of cars in the procession this was a person of great impact.
 As I waited, I thought a lot about my life. Is it proof? Do others know through my actions what I feel in my heart and say in my head? When the end of my journey comes will I leave any legacy?
Here is the good news. My ride this Monday was far different from the person in the hearse as I was upright and heading into a new week. The procession turned into a motivational Monday moment with a simple reminder that life is too short to be complacent.
Each day is a new chance to make a difference. As long as you are alive you can be a difference maker and be the proof.

What a good reminder to start the week. 

Can following your passion lead to suckatude?

“Just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it” Mike Rowe
I grew up with a passion for music.  My greatest thrill as a youth were the times when I was performing as part of the high school choir, show choir, or the marching band. What an amazing feeling to be in front of hundreds of people and to relish in the accolades of their feedback at the end of each performance. As a senior, my peers were even so kind to vote me as “best male singer”.  
There was only one problem. I actually kind of sucked.
In spite of my great passion for music and my strong desire to be good with an instrument or an amazing singer, I did not possess any innate ability to be any good. I have a terrible voice, poor rhythm and a lack of psychomotor skills. Heck, even after four years in the high school band I was never able to fully memorize and play the school fight song. Now that is bad.
Had I followed this passion for music without a realization of my actual ability, I surely would have failed.
This is one reason I am such a fan of Mike Rowe’s advice on this video. It is okay to have a passion and to follow your dreams. The real key when it comes to our careers is to align passion and dreams with our abilities.

There are people that discover this secret early in life and go on to find fulfillment through an easy path.  For many people, however, the juncture between ability, passion, and dreams happen only after years of trial. For others, this critical path to fulfillment is never realized due to too much time wasted following the passions and dreams dictated by our societal norms while ignoring their natural gifts.
It has been my observation that to be a real success and experience happiness, we must find what we are good at doing and then become the best we can at doing it.  
I agree with Mike. Find your talent and then your dreams as well as your passion will come.
What do you think?

Oh and by the way, if you happen to find yourself standing near me at church during the time everyone is singing. My apologies in advance. 

How to make your goals happen in 2016

Yes 2016 is here and it is time once again to reflect on the year that was and plan for the year can be. For years I have taken time to write down my goals and think about what I can do differently and what I can do the same to ensure the coming months go well.
There is always a lot of excitement about the start of the New Year. I have read that somewhere between 40 to 50 percent of people set resolutions or goals. I have also read that as many as 80 percent of people break at least one resolution within the first five days after setting them. Pretty sad huh?
I have been there too and have at times found myself not following through with my goals and soon I am angrier and disappointed at myself more then I was before making them.
One goal I have is to ride the bike 2,000 Miles in 2016
It is this feeling of repeated failure after not achieving that I think prevents many people from bothering to even try to have goals. After all, what is the point if you know you will fail again and not follow through?
I may be naïve but I truly believe there is always hope to strive to be better and to get started no matter how many times in the past you have tried and not succeeded. Perhaps these were just lesson on what not to do the next time. The mere fact that there are people that do change and do have success shows that it can be done.
So how do we make sure the goals happen?
Write them down! Just saying you have goal is not enough. You need a battle plan to succeed with very specific details. This should include very small success milestones that will allow you to celebrate along the way.
Want to lose 30 pounds? Great set that as a goal then add details around the healthy eating steps you will take. Instead of focusing on the big number make it small and think big picture. What if the goal instead were to lose 2 pounds? Sounds way better huh?
Share with others! There is no doubt that peer pressure and support from people that care about you will make a difference. Just be sure and share with true accountability people that will call you out in a loving way when you need a push to move forward.
Don’t give up! “Successful people consistently do what others will not” This is one of my all-time favorite quotes and my motivation theme for 2016.
Others will quit after their first failure. You will not!
Others will start each day expecting defeat. You will not!
The key word here is consistently since consistency lead to habits and habits lead to change that becomes so natural soon you will not give it a thought.

I believe 2016 can be a break out year for me and for you. Set your goals, share them and then get to work. We can do this!