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Thursday , Apr 02, 2020
April 2, 2020
In My View . . .
By Jim Tuckwell, Chairman - Vilas County Economic Development Corporation
There are numerous “tips and techniques” articles available (just Google “remote working tips”) for working from home, however, it’s been suggested that a “here’s what works for me” kind of article might be helpful so here are my thoughts on the subject, based on my own 20 years of experience working remotely. I’m currently board chairman for the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation (VCEDC). The VCEDC is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to improving the economy and quality of life in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, and for Vilas County in particular.
In a previous professional life, I spent 41+ years with IBM in a variety of Sales Business Development, and Marketing roles. Almost half of my time with IBM, roughly 20 years, I spent working remotely from home both in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) as well as from Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. I was one of IBM’s very first remote workers when I began in 1997 and at that point, it wasn’t part of the corporate culture, though it did develop into a corporate cultural phenomenon later. For starters, let me state that though I’ve achieved a very solid and successful track record throughout my career, I actually achieved greater career success and recognition while working remotely than I did when I worked from a traditional office setting.
I’ll discuss pros and cons and lessons learned of remote working in a minute, however, I’d like to begin by noting that Wisconsin’s Northwoods, and Vilas County in particular are a wonderful remote worker haven. Here you can enjoy a Fortune 500 career and income, while taking advantage of our Northwoods lifestyle, incredible quality of life, our pristine Northwoods environment, and a lower cost of living. In my current role, I continue to do significant work on economic development from my home office, working with our executive director in Eagle River, board members scattered throughout the county, other partner organizations and state officials.
What are the “Pros” of working remotely
I continue to find working remotely to be much more productive than working in a traditional office setting. It’s easier to focus, there is much less wasted time, fewer interruptions, and you spend much more time actually working instead of commuting, being interrupted, chatting with work colleagues, ducking out for coffee or lunch, etc. The time you were losing is now yours to spend on personal pursuits, or better furthering your career.
Working remotely is also much more cost-effective than working in an office setting as you’ll not be spending nearly as much on car expenses, lunches, coffee and clothing suitable to an office setting.
Being more efficient and productive, as I noted, you also have the opportunity to grow your career more efficiently and effectively.
What are the “Cons” of working remotely
First and foremost among the “cons” is the risk of what I’ll call “hermit syndrome.” Given demanding careers, and demanding employers, it’s easy to slip into a routine whereby you get to the end of the week, and realize that you never turned on the ignition in your car, and you didn’t do much but eat, sleep and work with perhaps some relaxation in the evening, but little to no social contact outside of your immediate family. I fell into this trap myself and will discuss how to mitigate this risk shortly in the “lessons learned” section.
There is also the risk of “24/7 Syndrome” where you find yourself working/multi-tasking virtually every waking moment.
Finally, and to be honest, some skills transfers and learnings are easier and happen more naturally in face-to-face environments (particularly I’ve found, technology learnings).
Lessons Learned – What worked for me
Please note, that you’ll need to develop a remote work environment and plan that works for you. What I’ll cover next, is what worked well for me.
Dedicated space limits distractions
Working on the deck or in front of the fireplace or from a coffee shop, may sound attractive and some people do it, but for me, these offer too many potential distractions so I worked from a dedicated office space as it offered fewer distractions and allowed me to really focus on business. Being in a separate room, it also allowed me to physically segregate my “work life” from my “personal life.”
When I started working remotely, we were brand new empty nesters and my wife worked outside the home so I only had the dog to impact my work day, and walks with him offered good, periodic short breaks. However, if there are other family members at home during the day, they need to respect work time and space.
A professional approach improves productivity
Being able to “dress down” is certainly another perk, however, it was clear that for me, a shower and shave was important to approach the work day appropriately. I suspect that the idea of working in your “jammies” is largely a myth, however it wouldn’t work for me in any event.
Ergonomics are important
It was very important to me to set up a comfortable work space with a computer desk, regular desk, comfortable office chair, handy file space, and good supplies. This set the stage for my “business environment” which helped me focus and dedicate my thinking to the work at hand.
When working remotely your work colleagues can’t see you physically, but you need to be, and can be very visible virtually by being responsive to phone calls, texts, instant messaging and e-mails.
Virtual collaboration can be as good as face-to-face in most instances
Leadership is leadership, whether in person or virtual and as noted, you can make sure that you are visible, and visibly leading in a virtual environment by being proactive and effective. This works virtually as well as it does in face-to-face environments. And, of course, there are a lot of tools (video conferencing, instant messaging, texting, etc.) that can help.
You need to be proactive in reaching out and communicating.
Communicate up, down and sideways to keep in synch and to make sure results are visible (no need to brag, results will speak for themselves)
You can, and I did develop very good virtual relationships
For example, I worked for Claudia, for five years and we never met face-to-face during this time, but developed an excellent “win/win” working relationship
Peer relationships with development, sales, etc. were all virtual and very positive with very rare face-to-face meetings
Being in a dedicated work setting, I was able to limit distractions and stay laser focused on the work at hand. Being physically alone, helped in this as the only interruptions to my concentration would come periodically from the dog needing a walk.
To stay focused, and this is important, at the end of the day, I reflected on the results of the day. Specifically, how much did I “move the ball forward” today, not just how much did I work. In an office setting, my experience is that it’s easier to return home at the end of a long day thinking that you put in a good day at work, without reflecting as much on how much you really accomplished. I found this easier to do working remotely.
Periodic breaks are good and necessary– a quick walk with the dog can be very refreshing. Another advantage of working remotely from the Northwoods is that these walks occur in a beautiful environment.
Avoid “hermit syndrome”
When working in a traditional office setting, much of my social life evolved around being with work colleagues and of course, this isn’t the case when you work from home. The solution is to reach out socially in your local community. Find your “passion” and get active in your church, community groups, volunteer groups, or other endeavors that are important to you and you will find that you can, and will develop a robust network of really wonderful, interesting people.
Avoid “24/7 Syndrome”
At the end of the work day, whenever that was, I left the office and “work life” stayed there, which is not to say that if I had creative thoughts after work that I didn’t jot some notes for next day follow up when I was back in my home office.
I have found that working remotely has provided me with a very fulfilling career, and the opportunity to do something I never dreamed possible when I began my career, that being, the ability to move back “home” to the beautiful Northwoods of Wisconsin, and still work for a company that I really believed in. You can too and the Vilas County Economic Development Corporation is here to help. To learn more, just click on https://www.vilascountyedc.org/remote-workers/