Career, Life

Flexing Your Creative Mind: Home or Office?

Work-Life balance, flex scheduling, telecommuting, and working remote.

It goes by different names, and people have decided opinions about the effectiveness of such work arrangements. If you ask people how they feel they will likely fall into one of two groups.  One group thinks it is a waste of time, stifles creativity, and people who work from home won’t be as productive because of immense distraction or laziness. The other group believes those who work from home are more productive, creative, and focused…it is the wave of the future.  Those opposed typically cite lack of productivity, declining work place relationships, and communication struggles as their primary concern.   Supporters proclaim increased productivity, improved work/life balance, and decreased stress.

It is not a one size fits all plan. 

Working from home requires effort to stay focused and productive.   So does the office. If a manager is concerned about the productivity and real work they are getting out of their remote employee, one has to wonder what kind of person they hired?  Managers should not have to micro manage in order to have productivity.  That may indicate a hiring problem and not a work location problem.

Clayburn Griffin: Digital Marketer on working from home:

I really hope employers start to realize (the benefits) and offer more time to their employees to work from home. I think they don’t because they’re afraid of abuse and because it feels like there is no oversight. You can’t see what an employee is doing, and that feels like giving up some control. All that should matter, though, is that they’re getting the work done.” 

The truth is, success of either home or office work location is dependent upon the person. Working from home requires organization, dedication, and strong communication skills.  It isn’t for everyone. Managers and employees have to be willing to make it work, and learn how. Telephone, video conferencing, as well as clear and concise email communication are essential. Regular check-ins are important for maintaining rapport and clear expectations. Skype/IM chat features are an excellent tool that more should utilize.  IM is more efficient than email for quick questions. If a long response or explanation is necessary, pick up the phone.

My husband works from home 90% of the time.  I do not have that luxury, but love it when I can.  My ideal would be part time office/part time home.  We have found that having a dedicated work space makes working from home much easier.  Our home office has two desks, one is your typical office desk and the other is a stand up version of the same. Each has monitors for docking our computers. Having a dedicated workspace helps us to stay focused on work, and feel like we are going to work- not just sitting down at the table.  The dedicated space limits distractions. Each day he gets up and gets ready for work, just as if he is going into the office. Getting ready doesn’t change, even if everyday is casual Friday. However, the stress free commute down the hall is refreshing.

Sitting at the kitchen table, the hub of the household, would not be a productive place for anyone to work in our house.  While four of our five kids are off to college or adulting in the real world, even when home they understand that usually at least one of us is working. Unfortunately, our elderly mother doesn’t quite get the concept. One of the drawbacks of working from home is the distractions others can cause when they don’t know or understand the concept of working from home. In our case, barking dogs or an elderly mother needing something is an issue to be managed. The dogs understand only that they have a lap to nap in when we are working from home. They don’t get the work thing or that the delivery person is not their enemy. Children and/or elderly parents have to be reminded. I will address any non-emergent need at such and such a time, when I’m at a stopping point.  On the flip side, one of us is home for any emergency needs. It offers a peace of mind that going in to the office cannot.

The bigger issues to manage are household chores that beckon for attention. Rosie (the Roomba) handles our vacuuming needs.  However, sometimes “Rosie is stuck on a cliff” and needs attention. Laundry is always waiting and dishes usually need attention. When we really don’t want to face work tasks there is always dusting, yard work, or car maintenance.  Resisting the urge to do anything but work is a discipline that must be established.  Using the laundry as a work timer helps. Put a load of laundry in and work until it’s done. The next work break is to put the laundry in the dryer. The next break is to take out, fold and put away.  Instead of taking time to chat at the water cooler, you are taking time to complete a home task during your work day.  Organizing the work day and managing your work/home tasks is essential to success.  There is nothing wrong with completing a home task during your work day, but the trick is to not let it pull you away. That’s the same with social media or any other distraction. 

Truth be told, it is the same in the office. There are office distractions and not all time in the office is productive. It requires focus to stay on task and meet daily goals no matter your work location. 

If I had small children, I do not feel I would be able to work from home and be productive.  Some manage. They have developed a routine that works for them and the children understand.  It can work, but not for everyone.  Here I should note, the primary reason for working remote should not be personal care needs or so one can run errands in between completing work tasks. There are many reasons to have a flexible work schedule and environment, but should be pursued with the clear intention of better productivity. If distractions are going to be beyond that of the office, one should probably rethink the flex plan.

Flex scheduling or flexible work spaces should not be a one size fits all approach. Some need more social interaction than others.  Building a team rapport is not impossible.  Everyone does not have to be in the same office, or even same city.  Establishing clear lines of communication can help build the rapport.  Chat, video conference, call, email. Don’t be afraid to build relationships. There are individuals that I have never met, yet consider friends. We have interacted regularly in the web space and I feel that a relationship has been established. I could consult with them on topics of interest and receive valuable, honest feedback.  There are individuals I have worked directly with and cannot say the same.

Working from home also does not guarantee work life balance.  You are usually logged on earlier than if you had an office commute. It is also very easy to get lost in the task and still be working into the night, either straight through or off and on into the evening hours. 

Not every job can have flexible hours or remote options. Businesses have to move beyond the brick and mortar requirements and everyone has to have the same benefits/perks. Every job in the office does not allow for it, and that is OK. It’s also OK to give it a trial run first, or pull the benefit if productivity falls.  Just because it doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Just because it works great for you, doesn’t mean it will work well for someone else. 

Andrew Sonstrom of Deep Core Data does a great job summarizing the pros and cons of both working in the office and working at home.  

The Office

Pros
–  Innovation is born in close quarters
–  There’s a definitive start and stop time
–  Structure is a great motivator

Cons
–  The dreaded commute
–  Office life encourages a sedentary lifestyle
–  The environment is inherently more disruptive 

Classroom to office has been an adjustment for me.  In the classroom I barely sat down. Constant motion, high energy, would be the best way to describe my teaching.  In the office, I have to get up and walk every hour and a half or so just to walk off the daze and keep from getting too stiff.  I find the constant chatter around me to be disruptive.  Cube life has been an adjustment. Noise cancelling headphones are my friend.

It is important to realize that face to face discussion is not required to collaborate and be innovative.  However, it is beneficial.  Communication without body language is sometimes difficult. Sharing presentations, shared screen collaboration, and video calls are helpful in overcoming the communication barrier that telecommuting can have.

Working From Home

Pros
–  No commute
–  Relaxed Environment = Productive Employees
–  You can work for anybody, anywhere

Cons
–  Life doesn’t stop for work
–  Work tends to bleed into non-work hours
–  Extroverts tend to wither when left alone all day

Social interaction is valuable. Finding opportunities to interact with others is healthy. It takes effort to communicate clearly and make a point to get to know your business partners when you are not in the same building. 

There is research supporting flexible work environments and research supporting the brick and mortar office solutions. 

According to Erik Devaney’s HubSpot article, “How to Work From Home: 20 Tips From People Who Do It Successfully”  

51% of workers would change jobs for a role that offered them flextime and 37% would make a move for a role that allowed them to work remotely at least part-time.

I can’t say I disagree.  I would love to be able to work remote on a regular basis.  It takes an effort for me to get going in the morning.  It would be great to ease into the day in the comfort of my home office.  Even better, location would not have to be specific.  I can think of nothing better than waking up on my favorite island vacation spot, setting up my work space and accomplishing the days tasks while enjoying the beautiful bay view.  Then, wrapping up the work day and walking straight to the kayak launch for an early evening paddle with the dolphins.  We would stay on the Island for weeks at a time if our work schedules allowed it. 

There are ways to make it work and opening the door to telecommuting broadens the talent pool for employers.  The market becomes much more competitive, forcing those being hired to be more productive whether they are working in the office or at home.  Some corporations have extended the work from option and are now pulling back stating that office rapport is suffering.  They contend that coming to the office is essential for team building and collaboration. Corporations who have offered work from home options have met with resistance when pulling this benefit. Employees want flexibility. Maybe it’s time to be more creative and establish processes for boosting collaborative environments while still offering flex options. 

Life, Self Improvement

Finding Balance- Hobbies

While work pays the bills, all work and no play does not keep stress at bay. Sometimes life just gets in the way. (OK, if I keep on this track I’m going to have to cite Dr. Seuss. Not my intention.) I’m on a quest for balance and getting back to the things I love. While it was a great day for being on the water, we chose a different path- one that definitely classifies as a road less traveled. There is one hobby that I rarely mention in ice breakers. If I do there are usually several raised eyebrows, even more than when I share that we have 5 dogs, a cat, a bunny, and a grumpy Mali Uromastyx lizard. We spent today geocaching.

What is geocaching? Basically geocachers use multi-billion dollar government satellites to search for tupperware in the woods. It’s not always tupperware. Sometimes it is an ammo can, a bison tube, or a camo pill container. People post the geographic coordinates of their hides on the geocaching website. Cachers use a GPS or the GPS on their phone to search for what has been hidden, find it, sign the log, and put it back, then logging the find on the website. Sometimes there are items to trade or track/move to another location.

So, what’s the point?

  • It’s just another hobby.
  • It occupies the mind.
  • Puzzles are fun.
  • It gets you moving.
  • Finding a cache is a quick win, a fun success. It has nothing to do with work or responsibility.

What I really like is finding something new. Going off trail you see things that you ordinarily wouldn’t. For instance, nearby there is a geocache hidden at the site of an old one room school house. I had no idea it was there. Another is at a local mall that happens to have the family grave sites of the original land owners. Maintaining the grave sites was part of the land purchase agreement. That’s a neat tidbit of local history that I never would have discovered had I not been looking for a cache that someone hid there with the purpose of sharing the site.

Caching is certainly not for everyone, but it is something we enjoy. Part of work-life balance is finding something that makes you happy, brings you joy, and relieves the stress of life. Having a hobby and taking the time for it is another key element to finding balance.

Career, Empowerment, Life, Rambles, Self Improvement, Self Reflection

Work Life Balance (Part 2)

What is work life balance? It doesn’t matter what you do, work can take over if you allow it.  For that matter, so can life. Work-life balance requires life management.

Work-life balance defined:

The balance that an individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life.

“The balance that an individual needs.” That statement indicates that it is different for everyone. Stage of life, married or single, children or not will all play into what a person needs regarding balance. Personality, work style, job type, and personal ability are also factors. A little research will provide a plethora of resources for achieving balance and what it actually is.  Three things remain consistent.

  1.  Work life balance is not equitable time between the two.
  2. Work life balance changes…and sometimes frequently.
  3. Work life balance is not a one size fits all approach.

When work disrupts life or life disrupts work, it is time for reflection and change. Time to evaluate the two and discover management changes necessary.

Think about your work day. What is your scheduled arrival and departure? How much time is spent commuting? How much time is actually spent working? If you just thought “all of it” stop lying to yourself.  Did you check your phone? Your personal email? Your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram? Did you chat with a co-worker around the water cooler? No, we aren’t counting that as networking, not for this. Review your day for the things not work related. Now, if you still got the job done was the balance of work and life disrupted? Probably not.  Those things external to actual work keep us sane. Taking a the occasional brain break is beneficial. When the job doesn’t get done, there’s imbalance.

When you left work, did you take work home? When at home, did you stop thinking of work? Were you able to do what YOU wanted to do?  What if what you wanted to do was work? Does that count as imbalance?  Remember, balance is based on personal need and it is different for everyone. If your life outside of work suffers because all you can think about and do is work, life and work need better management.

Establishing your personal balance is essential to success in both areas. It is extremely important to your health, both mental and physical, to find your balance. If you are unable to step away from work and recharge, you will burn out. Stress will consume life. Taking time to relax and detach from work can make you more productive. Increased productivity and efficiency, in turn, leads to less work after hours.

When balanced, work and life have a nice symbiotic relationship. Work provides the necessary resources for life needs and life enjoyment allows you to recharge for work. Let’s not pretend life is always easy and if all is balanced then all is right with the world. Not the case. It’s easy to say work needs to be during work and life takes place when the work day ends.  However, it unfortunately doesn’t always work that way.  Sometimes the paths will cross and creative management is the only solution.

Balance is just one piece of the puzzle. Sometimes life throws lemons and what you really need is a lime. There are so many ways to helps us achieve balance. Increasingly workplace management is coming on board with creative solutions. More on that another time.

 

Live life. Give joy. Be at peace. 

Career, Change, Life, Rambles

Work Life Balance (Part I)

As June begins, former colleagues are wrapping up their work year, preparing for their “summer off”. This will be the first time since I started school at 5 years old that I have not done the same.  Many of my years spent in education I wrapped up the school year, took a few days, then jumped into my summer school teaching opportunity.  There have been only a handful of years that I remained unemployed over the summer.  Those years, I attended training workshops for teaching AP courses, special needs students, or technology improvement. From 2003-05 I attended classes for graduate school.  Summer 2016 and 2017, my husband insisted that I take the “summer off”.  By “summer off” I mean I did not get paid for any of the work I did, and relaxed a few hours each day.

Disclaimer: This is not a complaint. I chose the path and I chose to work without pay. This is more of an explanation or evaluation of my time in the classroom…

Why work for no pay?  Short answer= Long term planning to make my life easier.  Long answer, keep reading.

In 2015 I went from teaching AP, IB, advanced, and general classes at the high school level to teaching, 7th graders.

Culture. Shock.

Middle school was new to me, a complete surprise, and extremely difficult.  There was NO time.  I had never had so many meetings. I had never had to watch students during my 25 minute lunch. With only three minutes between classes, where students still had to be supervised, there was no time to relax or take care of personal needs.  Life in middle school was a considerable adjustment. My teaching style had to change. Not a new stumbling block, but there was no textbook. Every resource I had for World History was too advanced for this group. Since planning periods were reserved for meetings at least three days each week, I was spending immense amounts of time planning before and after school.  Work-life balance had been completely destroyed. Grading and planning were nightmares, nothing new. Middle school parents? Vastly different. It is very difficult for some to allow their child to grow and accept personal responsibility.  I was not prepared for the level of difficulty and extreme change middle school brought.  Fortunately, I had an amazing teammate who was my sounding board and middle school adjustment counselor. Others were also helpful with resources, and guidance. At least there was a support system, and one that I desperately needed.

Middle school students cry rather easily. Their parents pounce rather quickly. The transition to increased personal responsibility is difficult for both student and parent.  It wasn’t that I didn’t know this, I simply did not grasp the magnitude until I was too far in to get out!

After that extremely stressful school year, I vowed to not struggle like that again. My “summer off” was spent gathering resources, planning lessons, and building my entire course in Canvas LMS. When August came, I was ready. The year was planned and I was not planning on spending all of my personal time, after school hours, working.  Yep, I felt good about the upcoming year.

Any teacher reading this knows what’s coming. It happens all the time and there is little to be done.

My principal called.

School starts in less than a month, and I’m assigned to 8th grade.  “Do you mind?” YES I MIND!  “Well, all of my plans are done for 7th grade and I already have the course built in Canvas.”  After explanations of being needed etc…  “No sir, of course, whatever is needed. Thanks for letting me know of the change.”  RIGHT BEFORE CLASSES BEGIN AND NOT AT THE BEGINNING OF SUMMER TYVM!  “Yes, you have a great rest of summer too.  See you in two weeks.”

In hindsight, I should have said no.  I should have insisted. Despite explaining how 7th grade was 100% planned and I was ready for the school year teaching world history, I was needed in 8th grade. I politely tried to maneuver out of the change. I did not insist.  Would, shoulda, coulda.

August was spent scrambling for 8th grade. At least it was predominantly US history and I would figure out the state component.  The bulk of my career focused on US.  That was why the change was “needed” and crucial that it be me.  Yay, experience.  I still should have said no.

My first year in 8th grade was not as difficult as my previous middle school year.  Despite abandonment by my middle school adjustment counselor who chose to pursue new adventures, I still had great team mates and I have come to a place of forgiveness for said abandonment. There was still a support system and the content was much easier. The year was still difficult, and I still hadn’t found my way out.

2017-18 was to bring new challenges. The school was moving to a brand new building, the other team went from 4 to 3, and all would have to teach social studies on top of their regular preps.  All were inexperienced with the curriculum. The bulk of planning and course guidance fell to me.  I embraced the challenge.  Why should they have to struggle with the extra prep? I have to plan for myself anyway and it is mostly done.  In an effort to reduce the upcoming chaos we met as an 8th grade and as a social studies PLC numerous times during the summer. I outlined the course pacing, matched it with state and local requirements, and took the Canvas course from the previous year and improved it.  By August, we had met several times over the summer and the team was essentially planned and ready to go for the year. It was a great “summer off” and I was starting the school year prepared. Just like I like.

Summer work and summer planning make the school year smoother. Summer workshops bring new ideas, and reinforce known tactics.  Training is an accepted part of any profession.  In education, sometimes it is paid for by your district, and sometimes not.  You become a borderline hoarder of ridiculous materials…just in case you find a lesson use.  I can look on my side shelf now and see a gallon bag of marbles, a tub of beads, and a container of pipe cleaners.  I used marbles as currency once. Beads and pipe cleaners were part of an assembly line simulation. Last week I consolidated my books to a single bookshelf.  I have various US History textbooks, each presenting a different perspective on the same topic. With difficulty, I donated many of my grad school books. It’s been 13 years, I didn’t enjoy them the first time I read them, and I wasn’t planning to read them again. I kept my favorite history reads, a few classics, and books that I want my children to read to their children. Most of what I read these days, I read on my device. It is portable and I have an unlimited library through a monthly membership service. What I describe here is a characteristic of most teachers. Books and lesson plan materials are what we collect.  Our minds always on our students. Consuming knowledge and collecting supplies. It never stops. From August to June we harbor guilt for papers ungraded and time spent not preparing for the week ahead.

From 1999 to 2018, I suffered from an unbalanced work-life.  The above very long explanation is only a snap shot. My entire summer was not spent planning and creating. Only a few hours each day. I still had some to do during the school year, but it was reduced and manageable.  The summer sacrifices made the work year more balanced. Grading was the only major concern. Grading is like laundry, it will always be there for you.  During my teaching years, my mind was always on school.  It was constant, and I couldn’t turn it off.  Common teacher problem.

Now that I have left teaching, I clearly see how unbalanced my work-life was. January of 2018, I reclaimed my personal time. In the six months I have been out of the classroom, taking work home has been minimal. There is no longer Sunday stress, prepping for the upcoming week. Grading is no longer looming over my head, inspiring guilt and building stress.  I don’t know what I could have done differently in my teaching career. The last several years were mostly easier than the first few years as a new teacher.  You learn how to manage.  Middle school threw a wrench in that for me, but adjustments were made.

Changing careers has been the #1 factor for me restoring work-life balance. Stress is reduced. Enjoyment of personal time increased. Evenings and weekends are mine!  Even without “summers off” I am happier…and probably easier to live with.

My next step is to take a look at what work-life balance means in this new world I’m in. Right now, I’m feeling pretty balanced.