The 405. For us Angelenos, it’s a dirty word, isn’t it? But I must confess – on my worst mornings, what’s even dirtier is Waze and its insipid little voice, self-contentedly guiding me on a two-hour secret cobblestone path between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles.
Flashback to yesterday: I was only thirty seven songs into my Boyz II Men Pandora station and three-quarters of the way through my carafe of now-cold coffee when that blank, robotic voice suddenly instructed my tired wheels to commit minivan suicide by crossing the city’s busiest intersection sans traffic light.
“You want me to WHAT?” I blurted, eyeing my clock and realizing I’d been on the road for more than an hour and a half and was still nowhere near the office.
But let’s stop right there. Because, no, this post isn’t about my hang-ups with Waze, though I could go on (and on).
This post is about work productivity – a phrase we’ve all heard before. From seminars to webinars devoted to the topic, everyone wants to improve productivity, right? To be frank, while online tools and team-building tips are important, sometimes we all just need… time. And every day, precious hours that could be spent strategizing, writing or collaborating are stripped away from annoying time-sucks – you know, like freeway congestion.
Yesterday, in between dropping off my kids, driving to the office and then back to pick them up, I calculated my freeway time at 4 hours total. That put me in the office for a mere 5 hours – so basically, a nine-hour workday with only half of those hours actually doing something other than swearing at a smartphone app and inching along an endless road of insanity.
Enter the idea of working from home – a concept that’s growing in popularity, but still raises eyebrows. (Are you really working, or are you shopping at Target in yoga pants answering random emails on your iPhone to prove your existence while catching up on OITNB post-lunch with your cat on your lap?)
The truth is, working from home has its challenges, but luckily, none of them have anything to do with productivity. My current commute on most days averages about .46 seconds. That’s the time it takes me to walk to my home office, shut the door and crack open my laptop. Sorry, Waze, you lose on this one again. Within minutes, I’m deep into whatever assignment I have at hand for the day, plowing through PowerPoint decks, strategy documents, social media copy, new business write-ups – all uninterrupted. Do I miss the company bagels and lox? Yes. Do I love the fact that I can get more work done during the two hours it usually takes me to drive to the office to begin with? Double yes.
Working from home sounds almost perfect, but it isn’t. Here are some top challenges I’ve faced (aside from missing a bagel here and there), and how I work to overcome them.
- You can feel isolated. There’s nothing wrong with some quality “alone time” to knock out major assignments, but there’s no one around to exchange questions or thoughts. Set up a call with a colleague to review initial drafts together; new ideas can spark from both sides and keep you motivated.
- Your home becomes your workplace. Work can be stressful, so when you clock out for the day, you want to come home to a safe haven. But working from your kitchen table makes it hard to disassociate the two. Devote a space just for work and nothing else – even if it’s a corner in a room devoted to your computer, a corkboard and some file folders.
- You forget to take a break. I don’t hear colleagues chatting about the lunch truck around the corner or hear the ding of the microwave from someone’s nuked leftovers in the kitchen, so I often forget about lunch altogether. (Refer to #1 – isolation!) By 2:30 p.m., I’m cranky and ravenous. Set a lunch break timer, eat a healthy lunch and take a brisk walk to change up the scenery and get some fresh air.
- You lack face time. Lots of assignments can very successfully be accomplished from home, but sometimes, being physically present is necessary. Business pitches and meetings are obvious occasions, but things like brainstorming sessions tend to fare better when done in person versus having the team talk to a black box while you scramble to make yourself heard in a room of loud voices and jokes that you only halfway hear.
- You’re the last to hear about things. Sometimes, objectives and strategies go in different directions, and you may be the last to know about changes. Having someone to check in with on a regular basis helps keep you both accountable and on track.
As a mom of two young girls who lives over the hill and far away from the office, I honestly couldn’t ask for a better arrangement. I feel lucky to work at a progressive company that values productivity on multiple levels, embraces change and has empathy towards employees’ stress levels and lifestyles.
So there you have it. If I had to summarize this post into a few words: I hate Waze, accomplish great things from home but still need to see my colleagues and enjoy a bagel here and there. With lox, please.