As a freelancer, I spend hours every month writing about the virtues of flexibility and the benefits to both employers and employees of remote work.
But that’s just my “side hustle.”
My full-time job as a middle manager in a midsize corporation keeps me in the office from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or later) five days a week. In that role, I try to encourage flexibility within my team, making sure they have opportunities to shift their hours or work from home when necessary. However, I rarely take advantage of those same options myself.
That all changed recently when I came down with the nastiest cold I’ve had in at least five years. It started descending on me on a Saturday night, and it really blossomed on Sunday. By Monday morning, I knew there was no way I was going to make it into the office. Not only was I feeling miserable, but I also didn’t want to infect my colleagues with the bug that was tormenting me.
The problem was, I had a bunch of meetings and other tasks on my agenda for Monday, and I really couldn’t afford to miss them. So, after rejuvenating myself by sleeping in a bit, I decided to test everything I’ve been writing about for the last few years and spend the full day working from home.
I’m so glad I did, as I learned a lot during those eight hours.
For example, my experience that day confirmed that a person can, indeed, participate in meetings remotely thanks to the video and audio conference technology available today. I even led my weekly team meeting from home, while the rest of my group gathered in a conference room at the office.
My three meetings that day all went smoothly, and I felt like I kept up with the discussions fairly well. However, these experiences also confirmed that participating via video is not the same as being at a meeting in person. When my team members or other colleagues all started talking at the same time, it was easy to lose track of what was happening. It was also sometimes difficult to break in to make a point within the flow of conversation.
I made the mistake of leaving my video camera on for one meeting, meaning I had to figure out how to manage my cold in a discreet way. There’s no good way to deal with a runny nose when you know your face is showing up larger than life on a conference room screen!
These are lessons I’ll remember in the future when I’m the person in the conference room, working with remote participants. It’s important to make sure remote workers have a chance to make their voices heard and to give them clear opportunities to speak. And if they don’t want to have their cameras turned on all of the time, I’ll definitely be more understanding.
I’ll also be more understanding of the struggle to avoid distractions while working remotely. Since I rarely do so, I don’t have a home office established that would allow me to eliminate some of the sights and sounds of daily life in the Kratz house. Rather, I was working from the kitchen table, which is right in the thick of things.
This really wasn’t a problem while the children were at school. My wife, who is also a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom, was happy to give me my space, and she didn’t make a ruckus when I was participating in a meeting. But I soon realized that my last meeting of the day would start just as the kids got home, and that was going to be a problem. There was no way I could stay at the kitchen table and not get distracted as three teenagers arrived and started talking, laughing, and eating.
Without many options, I fled to the bedroom, plugged my headphones into my laptop, and participated in the meeting that way. It’s rare that I actually have my laptop on my lap, but it all worked out. I was able to take notes and participate, ending my workday on a positive note. And best of all, once the meeting was over, I was able to walk 10 feet and see my children’s smiling faces. That always makes for a better day.
Perhaps the more immediate distraction for me during the day was food. I rarely snack during a day at the office. I drink a bunch of water, but I usually only eat at lunchtime. While working in my kitchen at home, though, a huge array of snacking choices were constantly within my peripheral vision. Talk about a challenge! If my cold hadn’t blunted my appetite a bit, I probably would have snacked all day. Kudos to all remote workers who manage to avoid eating their way to unhealthiness while working from home. You have my respect!
Overall, I’d rate my day of working from home as successful, and it’s something I’d like to try more often when I’m actually feeling well. I found that I was highly productive in the hours between meetings, as I didn’t face interruptions from people dropping by for a chat. And even though I’m a fan of public transportation, I wouldn’t be too upset about completely ditching my commute.
I do love my job, and I don’t mind working in an office most days. However, I’m glad I had a chance to add to my work-from-home experience on that January sick day. They always say you should write what you know. I’m grateful to have a bit more knowledge to help inform my writing about remote work in the future.
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