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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
Focus on the right things
Dedicate the appropriate time to each goal
Effectively gauge capacity and commitments
Stay focused on professional development
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.
This article is number two of a three-part series that will help you succeed while working remotely. Part 1 focused on the basics: create a dedicated work space, commit to a schedule, and empower yourself to sign off. This second installment focuses on tips to truly excel while working away from the office. Enjoy!
Develop a morning routine. What do you mean “morning routine”? I thought working remotely meant you didn’t need a morning routine?! While that might technically be true, those who excel while working from outside the office generally have a regular and consistent morning routine—and I am a big advocate for it. You see, morning routines do more that physically shift your body into a certain place at a certain time, they prepare you mentally for the work of the day. How one prepares themselves will vary notably from person to person, but I like to do things that get me into “work mode.” First and foremost is getting dressed. It may seem trivial and unnecessary, but your brain probably links pajamas to rest and relaxation, so getting out of your PJs—however comfortable they may be—is a good first indicator to your subconscious that it’s time to get to work. After putting on a pot of coffee, consider some form of mild physical and/or mental exercise. On the physical side, it might be some light stretching or taking the dog for a quick walk around the block; on the mental side, try setting aside a few articles to read as you enjoy your coffee. This need not be work reading, but it also shouldn’t be fluff; pick articles that are engaging and interesting. Everyone’s routine will vary slightly, but it’s important to build consistent triggers into your morning to help you hit the ground running when you’re finally ready to log in.
Set two goals for the week. This tip can apply to anyone, but I think it’s absolutely critical for teleworkers. Why? Because those of us working from home have ample opportunities to become distracted. Family, odd jobs, solicitors, and a million other things are constantly present to pull you off track, in addition to many of the same work distractions and short-term fires that plague your in-office colleagues. In this wash of distractions and time-suckers, these goals will help keep you oriented and aligned with what’s truly important. And it doesn’t have to be two goals; depending on your day-to-day workload and schedule, it may only be one. It could also be more, but I caution against making more than four, because then it becomes a to-do list—which these goals are not. To-do lists tend to be collections of tasks that are agnostic to timeliness, priority, or both. These weekly goals should be how you define success for the week; these are high-level strategic objectives that will drive you, your colleagues, your partners, and your customers forward. For example, my goals for this week are to support the transition of my development team to a new sprint and to successfully brief my new boss on a suite of internal tools that I manage. These may seem fairly mundane, but each include a number of sub-tasks, as well as significant preparation and follow-up. Looking back at the end of the week, barring any cataclysmic events, if I have been successful in these two areas, I will have had a successful week.
Make yourself visible. By far the biggest downside to working remotely is your physical separation from peers and superiors. This is especially pronounced if most of your team is collocated. It’s easy to take for granted the amount of team building that takes place in the office, even in informal settings. This can make it hard as a remote employee to connect with your teammates. Similarly, it can be more difficult for your accomplishments to get due visibility and credit when you’re not interfacing directly with your superiors. To remedy this, it’s important to find ways to make yourself and your accomplishments as visible as possible. Obviously, this must be done in a measured and tactical manner; no one wants to hear you brag. Instead, send drafts of work out to peers and superiors for feedback. Rather than sending an email for assistance, try to schedule a brief call to talk through what you need. To build better relationships with your teammates, connect, engage, and endorse them on LinkedIn. To stay involved, schedule recurring (but brief) meetings to touch base with peers and superiors to discuss important projects and ways to contribute. If you manage your time closely, as I do, make your calendar visible to others so they can see what projects you’re working on. Being proactive about making yourself more visible will take additional effort, but will be well worth it in the long run.
The final part of this article series, focusing on enjoying your time while working remotely, will be released tomorrow. In the meantime, please share your experiences and feedback in the comments below and reach out via the Contact section above. Thanks!
Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.