How to Get Better at Working Remotely #FutureOfWork

How to Get Better At working REmotely by Mukesh Gupta

We are entering an era where more and more of our work is going to be done not in office but elsewhere, either because commuting to office is getting worse due to traffic or because a lot of the people who work are not full-time employees but individual service providers or because of ubiquitous availability of connectivity.

My work involves a lot of travel for me and which in turn means that I am working out of cabs or airports, Starbuck’s or hotel rooms. So, in the past six years of working remotely, I have gained some interesting and may be even counter-intuitive learnings about working remotely.

I must say that I found it tough to work remotely. For me, the environment of people all around me working on their laptops or talking into their phones is a big part of my considering myself to be at work. So, my productivity used to be remarkably lower when I was working remotely when compared to my productivity when I was working out of my office. I know that a lot of my friends and colleagues share this loss of productivity with me. This is why, when Marissa Meyer revoked the work from home policy at Yahoo, I was vocal in my support of her decision.

However, I have also realised that my productivity when working remotely has been constantly rising in the past few quarters and I felt it would be a good idea to share some of the learnings from my improvement in the hope that it helps you and people in your team:

Working Remotely ≠ Working from home:

Even though I have a full office set-up for myself at home, I have found that working out of my home doesn’t work for me. Somehow, the physical space of my home doesn’t allow me to focus on work. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work from home. However, it is important for us to realise if working from home works for us or not.

If you are like me and find it to be less productive, then it is important that we find some space close to our home that then becomes our work space.

This could be a cafe close to our home or a hotel lobby or a co-working space that is close to our homes. This way, we benefit from not having to commute long distances but at the same time do not lose our productivity because of working from a space that hinders our productivity.

Work from the same or similar place:

One of the behavioural insights that I have learnt by studying a lot of the works done by many behavioural scientists is that physical space have a significant impact on our emotional state and therefore on our productivity. So, it is a good idea for us to find a specific kind of space that works for us and then stick with that kind of space, so that we emotionally connect that space with productive work.

I find that when I am working out of a cafe (more specifically from a Starbucks cafe), my productivity is much higher when compared to working anywhere else. So, when I am travelling outside my city and at times even within my home town, I prefer to go to a Starbucks cafe and work from there rather than go all the way to my office or work from home. I know that there is a Starbucks cafe in every city that I generally travel to and the physical and emotional space of each one of these cafe is very similar to one another. So, even when I am in different stores, I feel like I am in the same kind of space, which is familiar to me and allows me to increase my productivity.

Specific work at Specific Place:

We all do different kinds of work – some operational, some analytical and hopefully some creative. I find that it is a good idea to associate certain spaces with certain kinds of work. I know that I am extremely productive when I am doing my operational stuff, network to build influence within my organisation, when I am in my office. Same way, I am at my creative best when I am at the Starbucks cafe and my analytical best when I am in a hotel room (or a meeting room in my office), when there is no one to disturb me. I find that it is easy and more productive for me to read when I am in an airplane or in the back of a cab or listen to an audio book when I am driving.

It takes some effort for us to what space works for what kinds of work. But once we do know about this, I think it is best if we schedule our work in such a way that we are able to leverage the best space for the kind of work that we plan to do on any given day.

Conclusion:

Irrespective of where we work remotely, I think it is important that we take time to do the following:

  1. Get up and exercise. It can be as simple as getting up and going up for a short, quick walk or a burst of sit-ups or push-ups or skips.
  2. Stay hydrated. When we are working remotely, from a cafe, for example, there is  good chance that you end-up consuming a lot of tea/coffee vs water. It is critical that we stay hydrated.
  3. Use the time we save productively. One of the benefits of working remotely is that we save time commuting to and from office. It is a good idea to invest that time on educating or training ourselves. I do a lot of reading (you can follow what I am reading on GoodReads here).

Also, by taking time and being mindful of the space where we are working and the impact it has on our productivity, we can start identifying ways to improve our productivity while also continuing to improve ourselves.

The ability to do productive work remotely is going to be critical in the near future. Click To Tweet

A small request:

If you liked what you read/heard, I would request you to head over to my patreon page and become a patron for the blog/podcast. You could do so by contributing anywhere from a single dollar to about 1000 USD depending upon how much you like the blog/show.

Think of it like the following – I will bring thought leaders to your door step and in return all I am asking is for you to spend just enough to get a cup of coffee for the expert that is in your home. 

I would like to keep this podcast ad-free and need your support regarding the same. You can also find some very interesting artists whom you can also contribute for.

I myself support James Victore as a patron. If you are an artist yourself, consider becoming a patron for James as well or even set-up your own Patreon Page here.

Simple Things That Could Hold You Back in Your Transformation Journey

Simple Things by Mukesh Gupta

Do we still need policies

I do a lot of travel as part of my work and one of the side-effects of this kind of travel is for us to submit our expenses to get the expenses reimbursed. One of these expense request got rejected with the reason that this is not according to policy and if I need to get the same approved, I need an approval from my CFO as an exception approval. I wrote to the CFO and he approved the request as it was a valid expense that I had incurred for a business reason.

This made me think about the so many policies that we create and enforce on our employees and customers all the time. I know for sure that not many people read all the policies of their organisations. I certainly dont.

Do they make sense? What kind of behaviour do they encourage? Why do we have these policies and why so many of them?

I think policies are made in good faith and with the right intentions. We have seen from various research that, we humans are emotional beings and act irrationally in predictable ways, as Dan Ariely and other researchers have proved so many times. So, policies are written so that someone, in the organisation knows what is right, what is allowed and what practices are acceptable and more importantly, what is not acceptable.

These policies make it easier to bring in a semblance of order and also create a sense of fair treatment to all who are equal. But rarely, do two circumstances are similar in nature and if most employees do not know all the different policies, do these really help. Also, I know that most of the times, people do not follow policies and exception approvals are never exceptions. So, what could be a better alternative?

A good combination – Policies & Guidelines:

I think what would be a better way to achieve our goals with policies is to have a mix of policies and guidelines.

Some starting points to think about policies:

  • Policies should be about what is definitely not acceptable (either due to the law of the land or due to the culture that we want to set in our organisation).
  • Policies should not be longer than one page in length.
  • Everyone in the organisation should know about these policies.
  • Exception approvals for policy breaches should be rare and only in extra-ordinary circumstances.

Some starting points to think about guidelines. For everything else, that depends on the judgement of the people in a given situation:

  • Create guidelines for everything else & keep them simple to understand and easy to implement.
  • Guidelines could show the way and let the employee or the customer make a judgement call on whether to follow the guideline or deviate from it.
  • Just like we have tolerance limits in manufacturing projects, we could have tolerance limits for most guidelines and only when someone goes above and beyond the thresholds, do we request for an exception approval.
  • Empower the people who are the gatekeepers to understand the relevance of these guidelines and the power to take a judgement call if a specific instance is fine or if it requires exception approval.

These are potential starting point for the teams to sit down and discuss and decide in which areas of business do we need policies and in which areas of business do we need guidelines.

There are already a lot of organisations that have done away with most of their policies and expect their employees to own up the situation and expect them to do what they think is right in that specific context.

Simple yet Profound:

This might seem like a trivial thing that doesn’t deserve a lot of thought by the business leaders and is best delegated to the HR function. But small little detail plays a significant role when we are in an environment, where change is all around and we are trying not only to cope up with the change but also in some sense trying to bring about this change.

This little detail has the potential to either hold your employees or customers to the ground or allow them to be entrepreneurial, take risks and do what is needed to be done in a given situation without having to constantly check back with their managers or the gatekeepers.

This is the small little step that signals employees that it is ok for them to bring their full adult selves, along with their judgement, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and trust that their organisations have their back as long as they do what is in the best interest of their customers/business.

It is these simple things that build one on the other and build the culture of being entrepreneurial and taking ownership for our part of the business. It is these simple things that form the seeds for creating organisational agility, that is so precious in a time that we live in.

Its the simple things that make a profound impact on our businesses.

A small request:

If you liked what you read/heard, I would request you to head over to my patreon page and become a patron for the blog. You could do so by contributing anywhere from a single dollar to about 1000 USD depending upon how much you like the blog/show.

Think of it like the following – I will bring thought leaders to your door step and in return all I am asking is for you to spend just enough to get a cup of coffee for the expert that is in your home. 

I would like to keep this podcast ad-free and need your support regarding the same. You can also find some very interesting artists whom you can also contribute for. I myself support James Victore as a patron. If you are an artist yourself, consider becoming a patron for James as well.

How to Get Better at Dealing with Change

We live in an age where we see accelerating change all around us. Large, extremely successful businesses go bankrupt in a matter of years, if not quarters; companies with billion dollar evaluations are born in the matter of years; as consumers, there is something new that is becoming a rage almost every week.

Change is all around us. Whether we like it or not, we will have to deal with change – in our personal lives as well as in our professional lives.

The question then is the following:

Do we embrace change and benefit from it or resist change and remain stuck in a world that no longer exists?

Change in personal lives:

The speed at which things change in our personal lives is also unprecedented. There are new tools, products and services that are launched with the promise of redefining our lives. Some of them do and some of them don’t.

Having a sense of our true north:

When you are navigating change all around you, you need a map to help you navigate the change. If you don’t have a map, you at least need a compass, which can help you know where is the true north and thereby help you navigate the unknown territory. Today, it has become a lot more important and critical for each one of us to know what is our true north. What is most important and dear to us.

What are the musts (non-negotiables), shoulds (you would love to have/do if possible), could’s (non-critical but nice to have/do) and Won’ts (actively avoid) in your lives?

This clarity will help you identify changes, innovations and new opportunities that you can benefit from and also the changes, innovations and opportunities that you need to avoid.

Personal productivity:

Once you have defined your true north, actively look for opportunities that can help you make your life more productive and enjoyable.

Time is the only variable or asset that is non-renewable and depleting. So, block some time on your calendar to explore new innovations that will help you eliminate/automate activities from your life so that you get more time to do what is most important to you.

This approach will help you not only actively look for change in your life but also make it much more productive and a happier life.

Remember Rule No – 6:

In their book – The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Zanders and Benjamin Zanders share the story of a diplomat. The story goes like something this:

Two ministers were sitting together discussion matters of national importance, when one of the secretaries of the minister who was hosting the meeting came rushing in, all flustered and totally animated. The minister then tells her – remember rule no. 6. The moment she hears this, she totally transforms and becomes calm and walks out of the room.

A little later in the meeting, another assistant of the minister walks in hurriedly and tries to whisper something in the ears of the minister. The minister again tells his assistant – Remember rule no. 6 and he also calms down and bows and walks out of the meeting.

The visiting minister was now curious. He asks the host – if I may ask, what is rule no. 6?

The host replies – Never take yourself so god-damn seriously.

The visiting minister then asks – what if i may ask are the other rules?

The host replies – there are none.

The point is that in our day-to-day lives, we end up taking every little thing seriously. This is what leads to a lot of stress. Once we decide not to take ourselves so seriously, we start to slow down and that enables us to develop a longer term perspective and find some humour in all kinds of situations. This takes all the stress about impending change away, as fear and humour cant be room-mates.

Change in Professional Lives:

The pace at which organisational change their business models, their go-to-market strategies, their product mix, their org structures is unprecedented. In this scenario, there are a few things that you can do to not just embrace this change but also thrive in it:

Understand the reasoning behind the change:

The biggest reason why we fear change is because we don’t know what it will bring with it. As they say,

The fear of something is always worse than the actual thing.

The biggest reason why we resist change is because, forced change makes us feel out-of-control. We don’t like being out-of-control.

Once we understand the reason behind the change, we can feel a sense of control back. Also, once we understand the rationale, we can also understand what the change is driving us towards. Once we know the end-game, we can understand what is in store for us in the new reality.

We then need to use something that is innately a human trait – imagination.

We need to imagine the new reality and what would it look and feel like.

  • What would it take for someone to be successful in that reality?
  • Will our skill-sets be an asset in that reality or will they become liability?
    • If they are an asset, how can we build on that and showcase it to the right people (who would these right people be?)
    • If they become liability, what will need to be done now, so that we can change that and develop skills to become an asset instead?
  • What new opportunities and threats will the new reality bring with it?
  • How can we use these to become a more valuable contributor to the team and the organisation?

Once we have thought through these, the fear of change will reduce and will be replaced by an optimism for the new reality, as you will know what the new reality will look and feel like. Once you already know how you will succeed in that new reality, so there is nothing to fear about.

Stay away from gossips:

The biggest culprit of spreading fear of change is gossips in the organisation. Gossips happen when there is not enough communication from the leaders of the organisation about the reason for the change and the vision for the new reality.

If that is the case, then it is best to stay away from gossips. While it will be very tempting to participate in the gossips, it is extremely counter-productive as these gossips will only increase your anxiety and thereafter your fear for what the future holds. We already know that the fear of something is much worse than the thing itself.

So, lets do ourselves a favour and stay away from gossips.

Be a Corporate Adventurer:

The way we see ourselves makes a big differnce in how we deal with change coming our way. If we define ourselves as a corporate adventurer, who is out there in the wild to do new stuff, explore new territories, learn new things, meet new people and have fun along the way, then every change that is thrown at us becomes yet another adventure to go on.

Instead of becoming fearful of the change, we start looking at the new places this change will take us to, what kind of new people will we meet on the ride and what fun will we have all along.

Instead of feeling out-of-control, you will long for new change initiatives to be launched, so that you can go on your next adventure.

Attitude to change matters more than anything else. Lets invent one that suits us.

Find some humour in the situation:

Finally, it is important for each one of us to find some humour in our professional lives as well. Most of us have forgotten to have fun at work. Play or fun seems to be delegated to when we have leisure time.

In my experience, I have found that leaving fun or play to leisure time is a big mistake and one that we are all guilty of doing. Have some fun at work. Play. Find some humour in the little things in the office.

Conclusion:

There is an inherently human trait that each one of us have – We see what we seek.

So, if we seek anxiety, we will find it all around us;

if we seek fear, we will find it all around us;

if we seek negativity, we will find it all around us;

This also means that

if we seek positivity, we will find it all around us;

if we seek opportunity, we will find it all around us;

if we seek fun, we will find it all around us;

if we seek adventure, we will find it all around us;

if we seek meaning, we will find it all around us.

So, instead of focusing on all the inherently negative emotions, lets start looking for all the positive things in our lives and in the changes that are forced on us and have one hell of a ride with it.

PS: Have some fun watching the below:

When its time to change, you have to rearrange…

Strategies for Employee Engagement in a Gig Economy

EY recently announced the results of a Contingent Workforce Study that unearths key insights into the nature of the freelance or contingent workforce (the “gig economy”). Some of the key insights from the study regarding the future state of the Gig economy that they quote are as below:

By 2020, 25% of organizations expect to use 30% or more contingent workers and the proportion using less than 10% will fall from 35% in 2016 to 22% in 2020.

The gig economy is going to continue to grow, by 2020 almost one in five workers will be contingent workers.

Two in five organizations expect to increase their use of contingent workers over the next 5 years. Biggest increases expected by operations / service / production departments and IT.

Forty-four percent of organizations expect more regulation in relation to the contingent workforce.

You can access more information about the research and the key findings here.

If you are running a business, this will mean that you will need to do two things:

  1. Contingent Workforce: Create better framework to hire, engage, appraise and pay your contingent workforce in a way that moves your business forward. You would have to leverage technology in some form or the other to be able to do this seamlessly.
  2. Full-time Staff: You will need to re-look at how you manage projects, hire, engage, appraise and pay your existing employees. As a business, it would be extremely difficult to have two kinds of systems running in parallel for managing performances within the organisation.

This is where, I would believe that there needs to be a change in our approach to managing all of our workforce – contingent or other-wise.

In his book, Trust Factor, Paul Zak, shares the insight that it would be best to treat employees (all of them, irrespective of contingent or permanent) as volunteers. I also agree to this approach because, at the end of the day, all employees are volunteers – they CAN and DO decide if they want to bring their best selves to work or just do enough to get by without getting fired. They can and increasingly, often do leave their jobs to become contingent workers and their own bosses.

The moment you start treating your employees as volunteers, the whole approach to managing them will need to be re-thought.

How You Hire

Your hiring process needs to start looking at potential employees who are intrinsically motivated vs extrinsically motivated. They need to look at having a shared purpose before hiring the new workforce, as this is becoming more and more important for the new workforce.

How You Manage

You would need managers to start behaving differently. Command and control structures are getting more and more rare and will continue to lose relevance.

Managers need to start behaving like mentors and coaches who are tasked with primarily creating a culture and an environment, where the employees can flourish, thereby enabling the business to flourish.

In order to be able to do so, the managers will need to first earn the trust of their employees, before they can start coaching and mentoring them.

How You Appraise

You would need to re-look at the way we distribute work and manage the performances. In a world where there is almost 40% of the workforce is contingent, the way you appraise the performance needs to shift. There is already a lot of changes happening, with even large organisations experimenting with abolishing annual cycles of appraisals to regular, on-going appraisals.

I think most organisations would realise that it is not enough to do their regular appraisals, but also include a project based cycle of appraisals. This will afford the managers a way to clearly articulate and appraise performances by their full-time staff and their contingent work-force.

How you Re-assign

If the appraisal cycles will become project based, then the next logical step is for employees to look at the possibility of picking up projects that they would like to be a part of, once their existing projects are completed. We will also see that these employees might be involved in a couple of projects at the same time, for different teams as well. I have written about this in details here.

Conclusion:

Building trust then becomes an essential part of the leaders, which, when done right, leads to a high-performance culture because it impacts the triple bottom line – it is good for employees, increases profits, and builds stronger communities.

A good way to start working on this is to start treating our employees as volunteers. Click To Tweet

To Grow Fast, You Need to Slow Down

Everyone wants to grow! Everyone is running fast towards soemthing that they think will help them grow – in business, in their jobs, in their personal life. Growth is critical in every sphere of life as without growth, things stagnate and eventually die.

While it is important to keep moving and keep growing, it is important to understand what enables us to grow and grow in the right direction. Just speeding towards growth without realising what the growth will bring or if the direction is the right one, only ensures that the growth that we gain not only doesnot help us but in the long run eventually hurts us.

So, if we really want to grow – in any sphere of our life, we need to first slow down and do the following, before we move full steam ahead:

Review & Revise

Slow down and think about the direction that you are planning is the right direction. We need to think about and find answers to the following questions:

  • Does this align with all your long term goals?
  • Does this help me achieve what I eventually want to achieve?
  • Do I even know what I eventually want to achieve?
  • Am I trying to grow just because other people want me to grow in this field or direction or is it due to my own intrinsic motivation and interest?
  • Is this the best way to grow?
  • Whats the fuel that this engine requires to run on?

We live in a world where change around us is always accelerating and keeps changing the environment. This means that rarely does any growth journey goes as originally planned.

This also means that we need to be able to course-correct every time that it is needed. I would even go to the extent to say that we need to expect us to course correct in our journey.

We need to think about these questions before we embark on a growth trajectory or a project that will enable us to grow.

Rethink:

Once we decide that this is the right area where we want to grow, we start the project or the program or the journey to grow. We need to build in a schedule to slow down in our growth projects to reflect on the journey and course correct if needed. The actual schedule could vary depending upon the size and the duration of your project or journey for growth. However, it needs to be far enough for you to have made some progress in the journey but not too far for you to make it difficult to course correct.

During this time of reflection, we need to attempt to answer the following questions:

  • Is my goal still relevant? If not, we go back to our goal setting process and re-define our growth goals.
  • Is this still the best way to achieve the growth?
  • Is there a better or faster or a simpler way that has become available for me to grow faster?

ReFuel & Re-connect

Every growth engine needs fuel to run on and the fuel gets used up as we move forward in our growth journey. So, we need to constantly keep refueling our growth engines. We need to find time, energy and commitment to continue to refuel the growth engines. One way to do that is to think about your Big why and try to answer the following questions:

  • Why are we on this growth journey?
  • Why is it important?
  • What would happen if we achieve our growth ambitions? What will that enable?
  • What would happen if we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve?
  • Who else can I enroll in my team? Who else could support this growth?

I have seen so many people, embark on their journey and at some point later, they dont know where they are or how they reached there. They grew and grew fast but either in the wrong direction or for the wrong reasons.

So, the faster we want to grow, the more important it is to slow down and think about the growth. Click To Tweet