Fitter, happier, more productive close

David Hart
David Hart
In Musings
19th March 2013
Fitter, happier, more productive

Last Friday I had four meetings: 9am in Reading, 10am in Holborn, 11.30 in Manchester and then back down to London for a 2pm in Victoria. I also managed to go for an early morning run and be around to let the electrician in and pick my son up from nursery. After my meetings I wrote a proposal which I was able to complete and send three days earlier than arranged.

How did I manage this feat of time-bending efficiency? A super-fast driver who sat around outside each meeting ready to ferry me to the next? A helicopter and a series of strategically-placed landing pads, perhaps? Or, just possibly, the internet and a VOIP phone.

In the light of Yahoo! firstly, banning working from home, then back-tracking a bit, I thought I would wade in, in defence (at least partially) for the practice.

Don’t get me wrong. In the creative industries especially there is nothing like getting around a table with your colleagues and sketching out your ideas until you reach a consensus. It is much easier for people to interact and allows for the free-flow of ideas when you can clearly see someone and a spoken sentence isn’t spoken over by someone else because of the delay on the line. I also think, when you’re under pressure and you’re working as a team, being able to spin around in your seat and ask someone for their help or opinion makes things happen quicker. And the workplace should also be a social place, having lunch with your colleagues, bringing a cake into the office, a few drinks in the evening, that kind of thing.

But sometimes you don’t need the buzz and banter of your colleagues all around you. In our studio, when someone has their headphones on it is normally the equivalent of hanging a sign up saying “do not disturb”. Putting your headphones on is basically saying “I need to have some uninterrupted thinking time and I don’t want to hear what everyone else is saying or listening to”. Frankly, when you’re in that place, you may as well not be in the office anyway: you’re not contributing anything and you’re just using up space. The only thing you are achieving is demonstrating to your colleagues that you are busy. But they probably knew that already.

My view is that it is not beyond the wit of man (or woman) to organize your week so you have conference calls on some day, physical meetings on other days and focused concentration and production on others. Not always and not religiously because things happen at the last minute, but broadly and with a bit of forward planning these things are not only possible, but positively beneficial.

Take my Friday. I woke up in the morning and thought about nothing else other than the conference calls I was going to be attending and what documents I needed at hand for each. I avoided my hour commute into Old Street and used that time instead to go for a run and clear my head. For that morning and early afternoon, I was in the zone. Compare that to a jumbled-up day of rushing to a physical meeting, getting back on the tube to get to my desk for a conference call, then squeezing in 20 minutes on a proposal before I had to rush off to a second meeting. By the time lunchtime arrives you’ve achieved very little.

And let’s not forget the welfare and sanity of each and every one of us. Psychologically, being at home some days and being at work others makes you feel more in control: you can avoid that Sunday night doom, or that mid-week slump. And for those of us who generally snatch moments of work in the evenings and at weekends, nothing much changes: it’s a bit like having a longer weekend but with less wine and roast potatoes.

No, the reason working from home has taken a bit of a bad rap I think is twofold: firstly, old habits die hard. We’ve grown up learning that you go to the office to do your work. That's what our parents did. But the reality is that today we’re so connected, it’s become harder and harder to leave the work at the office. And you can’t have it both ways: you can’t say ‘you can only work in the office’ and then expect people to work on the train or in their PJs on a Sunday morning, too. I’m convinced this inability to leave work at the office is why everyone is getting so worried about middle-class drinking habits: opening a bottle of wine in the evening is the modern-day equivalent of punching your card to clock off. The familiar pop of the cork, replacing the mechanical clunk of the time-clock. The other reason why working from home can be seen negatively is that a few people have ruined it for the rest of us. It can still be perceived as having a day off and doing the barest minimum to give the illusion to your boss and colleagues that you aren’t just having a beer and watching the cricket. Even when we say the words “working from home” I picture the person saying it enunciating the inverted commas with their fingers to imply that it is code for “getting up at midday and sitting around in your pants eating crisps whilst watching Jeremy Kyle”.

“OK, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I don’t agree”, you might reasonably respond. So, do the facts back up the hunch? Well, as a matter of fact, yes they do. There seem to be numerous studies that support the idea that people who work from home are more productive, happier and richer. As an example, in a recent (February 2013) study from Stamford University of 16,000 employees, measuring the impact of part-home-working/part-office-based group against a test group of office-only-based, they found the following to be true for the group that worked some time in the office and some time from home:

• A 13% increase in productivity

• 9% of which was because they worked longer and had fewer sick days

• 4% of which because they achieved more per minute worked

• Attrition dropped by over a half: the percentage of staff leaving went from approx 35% over a 9 month period to around 17%

• Costs to the employer were reduced by an average of $2,000 per employee in that same 9 month period

As someone who runs an agency, I know that it would be difficult, like herding cats if we became a wholly virtual agency. But I also know that with technology, a little forward planning and a professional attitude, the odd day at home isn’t a bad thing at all.

David's top 10 tips for working from home:

  1. Value the fact that you are able to work from home. Make sure you can justify to yourself why you are doing it and try your best to make the most of the time.

  2. Create a proper work environment: being sat on the sofa won't work for the entire day

  3. Get to your desk half an hour earlier than you normally would, convert the time you would have spent commuting into something productive

  4. Arrange your time into blocks. It could be quarter days, it could be hours. Work out what you need to achieve in each. Use a tool like Pomodoro if it helps you.

  5. Be always available online if people need to speak to you or if you need to ask people questions. We use Skype and we create rooms within Skype for different functions or client-teams.

  6. Reward yourself with coffee breaks, lunch breaks, only once you have achieved what you set out to do. Avoid constant trips to the fridge.

  7. Don't drink alcohol at any time during your working day, even if you might have had a cheeky lunchtime pint if you were in the office, avoid the temptation at home.

  8. Enjoy the fact that you are at home: go for a run or take an afternoon stroll to get some air and stretch your legs.

  9. Try to avoid personal admin. Sometimes it's useful to combine working from home with getting your fridge delivered and there's nothing wrong with that. But you want to be focused, so spending an hour on researching a holiday in the middle of the afternoon will derail you and make you feel like you've squandered your time.

  10. Leave your desk half an hour after you would normally leave work.