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View From Today’s Office: The Old Orchard, Harefield

View from Today’s Office is a blog series detailing all of the fun and interesting places where I am able to work. As full-time remote worker AND a full-time live aboard on the canals of London, I am always cruising to new areas and finding cool places to spend a few hours on my computer. Follow along for all the fun!

Today’s office is the lovely Old Orchard Freehouse (pub) located in Harefield, England. The Old Orchard is a wonderful place to work when the weather is nice, as it offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

View From Today's Office: The Old Orchard
View From Today’s Office: The Old Orchard

Aside from the odd house and the motorway in the distance, the view from the Old Orchard is dominated by the Colne Valley Regional Park, which includes the River Colne, the Grand Union Canal, and a couple of the park’s over 60 lakes. The landscape between these features alternates between woods and farmland, all situation on lovely rolling hills. You can understand why, when we first visited the Old Orchard a few months ago, my wife and I labelled it “English Italy.”

View From Today's Office: The Old Orchard
View From Today’s Office: The Old Orchard

The pub itself has a pretty short and unremarkable history, compared to many other pubs in the UK. According to the history page on its website, the Old Orchard is “relatively sprightly” at around 80 years old. According to local historians, the property was a private residence until the 1960s, when the owners decided to convert it into a bed and breakfast. Over the subsequent decades, the Old Orchard transformed into the pub and kitchen of today. I have to say, despite its diminutive history, this Yank from the US still looks at this pre-WWII property and sees plenty of character.

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The Old Orchard occupies a special place in my heart, and the reason requires a bit of a backstory. In the late spring of 2018, with my wife’s school schedule beginning to lighten, we decided to occupy much of the subsequent months by cruising our narrowboat out of the city and explore some of the countryside outside of London. Having resided in the city nearly continuously for one year, my wife and I were both anxious to see how far we’d have to go to feel like we were “out of the city.” Looking at the attached pictures, it should be pretty easy to understand why we consider the Old Orchard to be that point; it was the first time we looked out and said “we’re not in London anymore.” As such, it will always serve a beacon of beauty and relaxation for us.

Where are your favorite places to work outside of the office? Any tips, tricks, or suggestions for staying productive while enjoying your workday? Leave a comment below or reach out via the Contact section on The Telework Guru. Thanks!

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

Communicating effectively is one of the most difficult challenges for teleworkers and virtual teams. The physical separation from your team can inhibit trust, visibility, collaboration, focus, effectiveness, and the building of relationships, and is often cited as the least enjoyable part of remote working.

Nonetheless, these challenges can be mitigated and overcome with deliberate practice and effort. Here are five tips to help you communicate more effectively as a teleworker:

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

1. Make your calendar visible to coworkers. In a recent post, I introduced the WIPS time management technique (Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling). WIPS advocates for the use of a calendar tool, like Outlook or Google, and most organizations will have access to this type of technology. I highly recommend ensuring that your teammates have access to your schedule and that you make the details of that schedule visible to your immediate team. When used in conjunction with WIPS, your team will be able to see the meetings you are taking, the projects you are working on, and how you’re spending your time more generally. Now, this may seem a little intrusive, but it will build additional trust with your colleagues and provide everyone with visibility on the projects you’re working on.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

2. Seek feedback proactively and frequently. Because many teleworkers don’t regularly interact with their colleagues face-to-face, we often miss out on opportunities to get feedback on our work. In a traditional office environment, this can come from non-verbal cues during meetings, during chats in the break room, or in a number of other ways. To remedy this, I recommend being proactive about seeking feedback. Techniques like email follow-ups, regular touchpoint discussions, and asking for thoughts on a teleconference can all lead to valuable feedback that you wouldn’t otherwise have obtained. This will not only help you perform better as a contributor to your team, it will often foster enhanced collaboration throughout the team as a whole.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

3. Call out others’ successes. One characteristic of a high-performing team is the ability to share ideas and feedback in an open and safe atmosphere. Many teams take this to mean that they can challenge and debate their colleagues, which is true, but the role of positive feedback and affirmation is often underutilized in this dynamic. The best teams have a healthy degree of both, which can contribute to a sort of positive feedback loop; positive feedback leads to better relationships and higher trust, which in turn leads to more and better collaboration, making the team even more effective. So call out those good ideas during meetings, reach out via IM to congratulate a colleague, and pass along your praise of a teammate to your manager; it will highlight your role as a team player and make your team more effective.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

 

4. Maximize calls and minimize emails. How great are emails? I mean, nothing beats that pile of Monday morning emails that takes you hours to file through, right? WRONG. Emails have value, but they are overused by almost every organization. The vast majority of emails, especially internal emails, would’ve been better as a quick call or instant message. There’s also the added clarity inherent in voice communication. We’ve all received a email or text message with an ambiguous statement and thought, “what do they mean by that?” That’s because vocabulary is only part of communication. According to Albert Mehrabian, words only contribute 7% to a statement’s meaning. The other 93% comes from tone and body language. So not only are voice calls (or better yet, video calls) more efficient in communication, they’re also more effective. By calling more and emailing less, your team will have better time management, clearer messages, closer relationships, and will perform at a higher level overall.

5 Tips for Improving Your Communication as a Remote Worker

5. Use collaboration tools. Speaking of reducing emails, an entire industry has emerged based on this principle. Slack, Microsoft Teams, and other platforms focus their business on helping teams work more effectively. The reduction of emails is part of these platforms, but their missions are beyond that; to help teams collaborate better. And while this includes more emphasis on voice and video calls, they also incorporate hubs and channels where teams can work together in a shared virtual space. This principle is also shared in project/task management software, like JIRA, Asana, and countless others. And while none of these tools are perfect for every team, and team members can dread using them at times, they really do work. So try them out! As a general rule, the more ways virtual teams can emulate co-located teams, the better they will perform as a single unit.

As you can see, there are many ways to communicate more effectively as an individual, and as a team. The 5 tips highlighted here are the best in my experience, but I’m sure there are others out there! What communication tips do you have for remote workers and virtual teams? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly! Thanks for reading.

View From Today’s Office: Smith’s Coffee Company

View from Today’s Office is a blog series detailing all of the fun and interesting places where I am able to work. As full-time remote worker AND a full-time live aboard on the canals of London, I am always cruising to new areas and finding cool places to spend a few hours on my computer. Follow along for all the fun!

Today’s office is Smith’s Coffee Company, located in Hemel Hempstead, England. My wife and I stumbled upon this location while jogging along the canal a few days ago. We were both struck by the delicious smell of roasting coffee, so we diverted our workout to investigate. When we located the front of the building, the window had a sign that read “Cafe Open,” so we went right in. Despite being rather unattractive in our appearance, the folks at Smith’s couldn’t have been nicer, so we agreed to come back later and spend some time at their facility.

View From Today's Office: Smith's Coffee Company

And return we did. Lee, the office boss man, told us all about the company, their facility, and some of their cool side projects. He was even kind enough to give us some pointers on coffee preparation using our new french press. Of course, we also talked coffee brews and his team helped us decide between a couple of fresh bags to take with us. They ground the beans to our specification right there while we waited.

View From Today's Office: Smith's Coffee Company

My wife and I spent a few hours chatting and working from their on-site cafe. Before we left, however, we had to check out the museum adjacent to the cafe. This small room is packed with hundreds of historical coffee pieces, from beautiful authentic Turkish coffee sets to antithetical stove-top peculators from the 70s. And they had plenty of funny coffee signage as well.

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Overall, Smith’s Coffee Company was a great place to work for a few hours. The hosts were amazing, the coffee was delicious, and the setting was relaxing. I definitely recommend stopping in for a cuppa if you’re in the Hemel Hempstead area. Check out their website at: https://www.smithscoffee.co.uk/.

Where are your favorite places to work outside of the office? Any tips, tricks, or suggestions for staying productive while enjoying your workday? Leave a comment below or reach out via the Contact section on The Telework Guru. Thanks!

Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling (WIPS) & Why You Should Be Doing It

Getting the right things done at the right time is a challenge for everyone. And balancing the demands of work (projects, meetings, deadlines) and home (cleaning, kids, errands) is especially difficult for the teleworkers of the world. There are countless tools and endless advice out there to help, so I’ll throw in my strategy as well; everyone working outside an office should be using WIPS.

What is WIPS? Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling. As the name suggests, this is a personal scheduling strategy done at the weekly level and, most importantly, done with intent. That means that those practicing this strategy need to commit to the schedule they keep; after all, a huge part of remote work is holding yourself accountable. Now, that’s not to say WIPS isn’t flexible, it absolutely is, but there is a framework to work within. But we are getting ahead of ourselves; first, we need to discuss how to properly use this strategy.

Part 1: Schedule Your Week

WIPS starts at the beginning of the workweek; Monday morning for most of us, Sunday evening if you’re really proactive. The first task is to set your high-level goals for the week. As I wrote in part two of my series Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely, this should be no more than three objectives that, once complete, will signify a successful week.

Once those goals are set, schedule the time required to accomplish those goals. I recommend using a digital scheduling tool, like the Outlook or Google calendars, but any old fashioned planner will do. Work around your previously-scheduled meetings and reserve this time in one-hour blocks. And be generous with this time; after all, these are the goals that will determine your success for the week. At the same time, be realistic; these goals are your most important commitments for the week, but not the only commitments. Lastly, choose the time slots where you’re most productive to work on these goals. For most people, that will be the early portion of your day, before any fires flare up that require your attention.

Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling (WIPS) & Why You Should Be Doing It
Part 1: Schedule Your Week.

Once you’ve scheduled time to accomplish your main goals for the week, pencil in time for those secondary objectives, like preparing for meetings and more routine to-do items. Stick to one-hour blocks to ensure that you have enough time to do quality work, but feel free to lump similar smaller tasks together, like “respond to queued emails.” Also, feel free to reserve “open time,” especially toward the end of the week. Workweeks rarely go as planned, so anticipating and scheduling time to fight fires and high-priority action items will reduce time swapping and the associated headaches down the line. In the rare cases where these timely action items don’t pop up, you’ll have some extra time to work on important future objectives or focus on your personal development.

Part 2: Regularly Review, Re-Prioritize, and Reschedule

So you’ve dedicated the 30-60 minutes needed to set your goals and schedule your week; that means you’re done scheduling until next Monday, right? No way. In Part 1, you’ve built your ideal week based on the inputs available on day one. During the week, new inputs are constantly streaming in, which means that you need to review your weekly plan and make the necessary adjustments. We do this by weighing the priority (‘importance’ x ‘time criticality’) of incoming items against those that you’ve already scheduled.

Say that you’re in the middle of a two-hour block of time reserved to accomplish one of your three weekly goals; a critical time for the success of your week. Zooming in on your email comes an ALL CAPS email from your boss requesting that an excel sheet be put together and sent over immediately. In the WIPS system, you don’t blindly redirect your attention to this new shiny object, however important it may be. Since this system is based on commitment, you must first determine the new item’s priority, evaluate its impact on your weekly schedule, insert it where appropriate, and adjust the remainder of your schedule around it. WIPS allows for adjustment, but you must still commit to the schedule you keep, before and after adjustments take place.

In a situation like this, I would probably redirect my attention to this timely task and reschedule the work I had been doing for later in the day or the next morning, reshuffling any other tasks that may be affected as appropriate.

Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling (WIPS) & Why You Should Be Doing It
Part 2: Regularly Review, Re-Prioritize, and Reschedule

That’s the beauty of the WIPS system; it’s a balance between setting rigid goals for the week and flexibly responding to new requirements as they come. The value of this system is that it’s built on informed decisions. While building your schedule in Part 1, you’re setting objectives with the full context of your competing priorities at the time. You’re doing the same thing in Part 2 as new items emerge to challenge those established priorities. Without this system or something like it, most people will chase the newest, shiniest item that comes across their screen. This diverts attention to fighting fires, while also distracting people from the truly important items.

When done right, the WIPS system will help remote workers:

  1. Focus on the right things
  2. Dedicate the appropriate time to each goal
  3. Effectively gauge capacity and commitments
  4. Stay focused on professional development
  5. Appropriately accommodate personal time

 

What do you think of the WIPS system? Ever tried anything similar? How did it work out? Drop a comment below or reach out via the Contact section.

Thanks for reading!

 

View From Today’s Office: Cassiobury Park

View from Today’s Office is a blog series detailing all of the fun and interesting places where I am able to work. As full-time remote worker AND a full-time live aboard on the canals of London, I am always cruising to new areas and finding cool places to spend a few hours on my computer. Follow along for all the fun!

Today’s office is Cassiobury Park, a 200-acre park located in Watford, England. The Grand Union Canal cuts along the western edge of the park, so I moored my boat here for several days. Add in a couple of folding chairs, a WiFi hotspot, and a fully-charged laptop, and I was productive for several hours while staying nice and relaxed.

View From Today's Office: Cassiobury Park
View From Today’s Office: Cassiobury Park’s lavender plants.

During my breaks, I took a couple of walks through the park and the nearby golf course. The UK is great for hikers/walkers in that much of the land, including most golf courses, is open for people to explore. A farmer’s field near the park had a lovely trail running through.

View From Today's Office: Cassiobury Park
View From Today’s Office: A field near Cassiobury Park

Within the park, there’s plenty to explore as well. There are loads of walking trails, picnic areas, and open space for the dog to run. The main pavilion, which is surrounded by a small water park for the kids, includes a quaint cafe called Daisy’s. The snacks aren’t anything mind-blowing, but it serves coffee, has plenty of outlets, and isn’t overcrowded; a winner in my book!

View From Today's Office: Cassiobury Park
View From Today’s Office: Cassiobury Park pavilion.

Although it can be crowded, especially on the weekends, there’s enough space in Cassiobury Park to be plenty peaceful for a day’s work on the laptop. Check out the park’s website here. If you’re going to make it out, I recommend also walking through some of the surrounding land. That means packing your comfortable shoes and setting aside a few hours.

Where are your favorite places to work outside of the office? Any tips, tricks, or suggestions for staying productive while enjoying your workday? Leave a comment below or reach out via the Contact section on The Telework Guru. Thanks!