How to remain socially engaged in a virtual work environment

Virtual work these days and having a home office as a main base of operation is quite the normal occurrence for many professionals. It is not as easy as it seems to adapt to the whole concept and for most people, it does require some discipline and adjustment. Are you a candidate for virtual work?

I have been working from home for more than ten (10) years as a consultant and I still have days where I long to be with “grown-ups” in an office environment where I will not be tempted by a rerun of my favourite television show or suddenly have the urge to clean up the linen closet that has been causing me grief. Over time, I have gotten better at this, but there are still times where I can get distracted and my productivity is not at its best. For the most part, I can keep on task and accomplish more than I ever could in an office cubicle.

Almost every major organization around the world has instituted some virtual work practices and have begun over the last 5 – 10 years modeling their offices with virtual work in mind. Advantages are numerous for all sides involved, but it is not meant for everyone or for every kind of work. Some organizations are still pondering the concept while some in recent years (Yahoo for example) have reverted back to a different balance. Needless to say, it is a mode of work that is here to stay and finding a way around it that best suits us is key to our happiness and success with it.

Looking at the positives of this arrangement, it is easy to see why people appreciate the opportunity. The following list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to naming a few of the benefits: flexibility, reducing or eliminating commute time and upsets, the ability to dress down and save on expensive clothes as well as costly lunches. Most people will tell you that working from home allows them to be better appreciated when they come to work and that they are quite proud of being able to accomplish what is set out for them without too much supervision.

Ask anyone who works from home what their biggest drawbacks are to work and chances are they will all have different yet similar responses.

The lack of interaction with the rest of the office is most often cited at the top of the list for negatives. It can be quite solitary for some working alone at home while others attend meetings and chat around the water cooler. The most significant item linked to this element is what is generated from those conversations and interactions. A lot of creativity happens without having to give the process a huge effort. Although soothing and more related to taking away stress, working from home does not generate these powerful kinds of conversations. It is also very difficult, next to impossible to get this interaction via a conference call.

How can we still work from home but still maintain the conversational enhancements we get from working in an office?

I do know a lot of people that work from home and they all have a different take on this question. I reached out to several of them and a few provided me with their solutions which happen to be the same, so to me this means a tried, true and field-tested solution.

As a matter of rule, each of the people I discussed this issue with told me that they spend one day a week in their organization’s office location. Too simple, you say. Simple yes, yet easy to keep straight within a busy schedule and not confusing if done right. Each reserve or set a hoteling space in the office for the same day every week and plan to work that day with their team.

Of the five people that have given me the same solution and that are doing the same thing, each said that, at first, they had to admit that they were hesitant as it seemed to counteract the reason why they were working from home in the first place. It did not take long before they noticed a marked improvement in a lot of communications and creativity areas of their work.

A simple solution to avoid blocking yourself from your office’s creative interactions. Mind you, this will not work for everyone working from home and might require some tweaking. Me for example, I am a consultant, so I do not have an organization that I “belong” to, but I do have clients. Using this scenario, for engagements where I am allowed to do so, I try to spend one day at the client’s site with the rest of the team so to generate and foster the same synergies. I can attest that it works, it works really well, and I am the first to suggest it if you feel the need to energize yourself.

So, the next time you are trying to rejuvenate your work from home, try working from the office once a week and see how well it keeps you informed, creative, out of the sweatpants blahs and the kitchen cookie jar.

 

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