Working from home is all about duvet days, right?

(This post was first published on the GoToMeeting blog here)

I remember listening to a scientist a long time ago who was making the point that while we make astounding advances in certain areas of science, other areas remain frustratingly the same. Take for example, the way in which blood is extracted in medicine. The humble needle is still the primary tool – a tool, which hasn’t changed significantly in a considerable period of time. This point came to mind the other day when I listened to a conversation on the radio about working from home. It appears that attitudes to remote working have not evolved significantly while work practices and other attitudes relating to our work lives have changed greatly.

The presenter of the radio programme made the obligatory reference to the dangers of the lazy, crafty remote employee who naturally has endless “duvet days” and regularly “nips out to run errands”. Of course office based workers never do this! This attitude amazes me as much as it frustrates me.

As someone who works remotely, I want to challenge the way in which working from home is discussed and presented in the media, online and beyond. I want to highlight the positive impact remote working can have for the employers, employees, the environment and society at large. Below are some of the benefits broken down by the beneficiary:

The Employer

  • Remove location as a barrier to hiring the best talent. Where physical location of your office can sometimes isolate you from the very best talent, remote working can spread your potential net wider.
  • Create loyalty amongst employees through demonstrating a high level of trust in them by providing remote working as a viable option.
  • Create employees who are more self-sufficient. As walking over to someone’s desk for help is not an option for remote employees, they have to work harder to create the networks they need to succeed. In many cases, this can make employees more self-sufficient.
  • In some cases with remote working, employers can realise savings on potentially expensive desk/office space.
  • Remote workers can bring a different perspective to challenges. As remote workers are not involved in those little conversations that happen around the office, remote workers can sometimes offer a fresh and new perspective on problems.

The Employee

  • Greater job satisfaction due to a healthier work-life balance which allows for the lines between the two to bend more naturally around each other. Also due to knowing that your employer has trust in your ability and integrity.
  • Greater productivity due to less external ‘noise’ during a working day – less distractions basically.

The Environment

  • So this one is a no-brainer. Less people travelling to offices means less carbon emissions.

Society at Large

  • Speaking from an Irish perspective, we have a country where the bulk of the population is concentrated on the Eastern seaboard around Dublin. De-population of the rest of the country is a very real problem. This follows for many other countries across Europe. Take the UK for example – London and the southeast is the economic centre for the UK with other regions struggling to maintain population levels. These areas are, in many cases, places of astounding natural beauty and great places to live, yet there are few employment opportunities that would make living in those locations a real option. But what if people who worked for companies in Dublin or London had the option to locate wherever they wanted and started to populate some of rural Ireland and the UK? Taking working from home seriously could help to address one of Ireland’s more challenging social problems, as well as helping to even out the population distribution across the UK.

So that is my pitch – my plea is simple, take remote working seriously. No, it is not always possible or advisable but where you have roles where the physical location of the employee does not have a material impact on their ability to deliver – don’t rule it out! The face-to-face interaction that offices provide is something that we cannot reproduce but maybe Pareto’s principle applies and twenty per cent of the face time can deliver eighty per cent of the benefit.

I would love to hear your thoughts! These are just my own opinions – for all my arguments, there is a counter argument – I just think we need to move the conversation forward. Help me to do it!

The Marketer’s Alter-Ego: The Project Manager

Behind every great marketer there is a…what? How would you answer that question? My answer isn’t the most glamorous, but it rings true: Behind every great marketer is a talented project manager.

Some of the skills any effective marketer needs are obvious, like the ability to understand and make good decisions based on marketing analytics. Last month on the blog, Jon Miller shared lessons he learned about marketing in the physics department of Harvard. This week, I’d like to share lessons I learned about marketing from my experience as a project manager.

Here’s why marketing and project management go hand-in-hand:

1. The Beauty of the Business Case

Most project management methodologies focus heavily on a business case – a set of information which captures a project’s essence, and is a statement of its value and viability. The exact mix of information in a business case can vary, but it generally includes sections on expected benefits/disadvantages, timescales, costs, and risk.

When it comes to marketing, the idea of assessing a project launch or continuance based on a consolidated set of information is powerful. Now that marketing activity is more measurable than ever before, there really is nowhere to hide your marketing spend – nor should there be! Whether you are running online or offline campaigns, you can build attribution models. These  allow you to gauge the impact of your campaigns on sales, and how effective those campaigns are.

Whenever you invest time or money in any marketing activity, you should be using marketing analytics to judge its value. In some cases, this might be as simple as knowing your ROI; in others it may require a more comprehensive set of information. Your business case doesn’t need to be a 100+ page document – in the ever-evolving marketing world, even a much simpler case can be a powerful tool.

2. The Sanctity of Stakeholders

Another fundamental principle of project management is to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. You should identify everyone who will be impacted by your project – before you start. As you’re developing your business case, different grades of stakeholders should be identified – for example, you might choose to rate them as critical, essential, or interested. Critical stakeholders are those who have the authority to stop or reject a project; essential stakeholders can impact project delivery but not actually stop it; interested parties are just that – those who have an interest in the project outcomes, but can’t impact the project.

So what does this mean for marketers? Let’s say you’re planning a large email campaign that offers free trials of your product. You have to remember the teams who are impacted when you carry out that sort of campaign – sales, customer service, and provisioning, to name a few. For every marketing action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. (Sorry Jon – bad Physics analogy!) Respect your stakeholders by communicating with clarity and transparency. This can make all the difference when trying to win their support and buy-in.

3. The Relevance of Related Projects

In project management, we believe that no project occurs in a vacuum. Whenever we plan a new project, lists of all related projects are identified and categorized based on the type of relationship that would exist – do they share resources, budget, data, or technology? A view of on-going and planned projects makes it easier to plan for potential conflicts, giving your project a much greater chance of success. If your project involves software, make sure the involved development has capacity when you need it. In project management, knowledge is power!

This kind of approach is also critical in marketing – no marketing activity can or should exist in a silo. Take a page from project management when planning  your significant campaigns, and remember that the people you need won’t always be waiting by their phone for your call.

So, what do you think? Have I convinced you that behind every great marketer is a talented project manager? Share your opinions in the comments below!

The psychology of remote-working: Tips from the trenches

(This post was first published on the GoToMeeting blog here)

Today was a day in the office for me. Office day’s involve a 650km round trip from my home on the south coast, into the heart of our capital city and then on to our head office. As a remote worker, these days are the exception rather than the rule but serve as an incredibly important part of my remote working experience.

The changing landscapes of these trips (sea, country, city) never fail to make me reflect on my remote working. It still feels like a privilege mainly given its relatively limited adoption. I am a major advocate as you can see from my previous postbut like all good things, you get from it what you are willing to put in.

The benefits of remote working are both quantitative and qualitative for employers as well as employees; yet the way in which the remote worker is set-up for success varies wildly. The employees themselves have many challenges to face, the most obvious being how they deal with the shift from daily face-to-face interaction in an office environment to stretches where they might not see or talk to the people they work with for days. The psychology of remote working is something that rarely gets much focus; yet, it plays a huge part in the success or otherwise of the remote worker.

So how can the remote worker survive the shift? Here are my top tips for making it work:

Strong team relationships
Before I started working remotely I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a significant amount of time face-to-face with my fellow team members and colleagues within the wider business. This time with the team was critical as it gave me the chance to create a solid foundation for the days when I wouldn’t be available physically – a trust was established. This understanding has been crucial in moments when I have felt disconnected or distant from the rest of the team. There is no doubt that periods of isolation are a real challenge for the remote worker but a timely instant message or a call from a colleague can make all the difference.

Now this won’t be possible in all situations but I would strongly recommend as much face-to-face time as possible in the early days. In my own experience, I would credit this time as one of the key building blocks to my ability to thrive remotely. It gives the remote worker and their colleague’s confidence; it establishes relationships, which have a great foundation on which to keep growing despite the different physical location.

Replace the ‘hubbub’ of the office
One thing I have sub-consciously started to do is to nearly always have some type of background noise in my home office. Mostly I listen to podcasts, keynotes or music. This is great for a number of reasons, firstly you can artificially replace the hubbub of the office – not exactly the same but it definitely breaks the silence that can at times be hard to ignore. It is also a great way of consuming content that is related to your area of work and picking things up as you get about your work.

Keep on moving
Exercise is a critical way of improving your remote working experience. As often as possible, I exercise at lunchtime and get out for a minimum of 30 minutes to run, cycle or do some weights. Walking is also great – taking some fresh air and getting some sun is a huge boost to productivity. It can also help to break-up those days when your calendar is clear and you are surrounded in silence for hours at a time. These can be tough so whatever you like to do, whether it is walking, running or swimming – make the time to move.

The benefits of exercising during the day holds for office based workers as well but it isn’t always possible depending on time and facilities. The benefit for remote workers is that they can save the showering for after work – that approach wouldn’t work so well in the office!

Keep lines of communication open
One of the most important ways to deal with any challenges you face while working remotely is to talk about them. It is especially important in the early days as you adapt to your new situation but ideally, you should feel like you can discuss this throughout your journey with your friends, family and or course your colleagues at work.

Sometimes, you may not even realise that you have an issue or feel challenged by some aspect of your set-up, which is why it is always good to discuss your progress with your manager. More often than not, you will hopefully be saying that all is going well but the acknowledgement of your situation in meetings is a huge benefit for the worker and the manager.

So that’s my take on mastering the mental side of remote working. Do you agree or disagree with my tips for making it work? What am I missing? I would love to hear your thoughts – please add any you have in the comments!