Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Getting the balance right - Homeworking

There are estimated to be over 4 million people in the UK who work mainly from home, and this only counts those working 3 or more days a week from home. There are numerous others who work at least one day a week or at least occasionally from home.

Home working claims to improve work life balance, and there are undoubtedly positives. Homeworkers don’t have to face the daily grind of commuting, for one. Theoretically at least they have more family time and increased flexibility.  

Yet this superficial view can overlook one important consideration. Optimum work-life balance requires a separation of work from your private time. With our 7x24 on-line world this separation is already blurred and for people who work at home it can be even more blurred.

It’s not just work encroaching into your private time by email, phone, mail, work papers around the house and so on – it can also be family encroaching onto your work-time by expecting you to be available for errands at a moment’s notice for example.

Maintaining separation if you work at home requires even more discipline than if you work in an office and clear guidelines both for yourself and others. If you work at home often, think about the following points and see what you can do to help achieve a better clarity and separation.
  1. Ideally have a separate work environment – an office or study – and make that the only place you work in when at home. This helps reduce the spill over of work papers, phone calls etc all over the house – so you’re not constantly reminded of work when you’re in your private time.
  2. Think about the technology you use. Some people have a separate work computer from their family computer for example. Having a separate phone line and at least a separate email account for work can be really beneficial. As long as it’s appropriate for the type of work you do, it means you only need answer the calls or look at emails when you’re in work. It means you’ll always know whether a call or email is work related or not.
  3. Set a pattern as much as you can of regular working hours – with a clear start and end to the working day. The flexibility of homeworking is great but too much mixing up of time between work and personal activities can blur the boundaries – and make it confusing for others to know whether you’re “at work” or not.
  4. Set expectations with others at home also so that they know when you’re at work or not – this is also where a separate environment really helps.
  5. Set expectations with your employer and colleagues also. There can be the temptation for them to think that if you’re working at home you’re always available.
Homeworking offers tremendous advantages, but it isn’t an automatic ticket to a better work-life balance – planning how you will manage your time and your working environment is essential if you’re to reap the rewards.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Why Companies Should Insist that Employees Take Naps

Naps are a powerful source of competitive advantage. Naps are not just physically restorative, but also improve perceptual skills, motor skills, reaction time and alertness.

When Sara Mednick, a former Harvard researcher, gave her subjects a memory challenge, she let half of them to take a 60 to 90 minute nap. The nappers dramatically outperformed the non-nappers. In another study, Mednick had subjects practice a visual task at four intervals over the course of a day. Those who took a 30 minute nap after the second session sustained their performance all day long. Those who didn't nap performed increasingly poorly as the day wore on.

When pilots are given a nap of just 30 minutes on long haul flights, they experience a 16 percent improvement in their reaction time. Non-napping pilots experience a 34 per cent decrease during the course of the flights.

The conclusion is inescapable: the more hours we work continuously, the greater the toll on our performance.

The best time for a nap is between 1pm and 3 pm, when the body most craves a period of sleep. The ideal length for a workplace nap is 30 minutes or less, which assures that you won't fall into the deeper stages of sleep, and awake with that loopy feeling scientists call "sleep inertia."

If encouraging employees to take a half hour nap means they can be two or three times as productive over the subsequent three hours in the afternoon — and far more emotionally resilient — why don’t more companies do it? There is the odd example here and there including Google, which provides napping pods and renewal rooms. That's a good first step, but it's scarcely the norm.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone that has worked in an organisation that is encouraging post lunch napping (besides the House of Lords) in the name of better performance. And/or whether you’ve practised napping yourself and what impact that has had on your performance?

And if you’ve yet to try it in a work setting and you want to, please let me know what happens – to your own productivity and creativity levels – and your working relationships with your colleagues!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Please yourself for once

I have a friend who is a serial apologiser. She starts almost every sentence with “I’m sorry, but…”. She seems to believe that by asking for something, no matter how small, or by saying no to something, will wreck all her relationships. So she lives in the land of apology – the classic state of a people pleaser – and importantly she doesn’t realise how much it limits her, and stresses her.

People pleasers tend to yearn for external validation – as if their personal sense of security and confidence is based on getting the approval of others. It is almost an addiction that makes them feel like they are needed. At the core, people pleasers lack confidence. What they don’t realise is that people-pleasing carries risks. You put pressure on yourself which can ultimately result in being over committed and overloaded. This will probably result in anxiety, sleep deprivation and depletion of energy resources. Not a good place to be. Here are some ideas starting with the most important:

1. Recognise you have a choice – you don’t have to say yes all the time

2. Stall for time – to remind yourself of that choice. Tell the other person you need to think about it

3. Be a fly on the wall looking in on your situation. Try to distinguish when others are taking advantage from those situations where you genuinely want to help. Breaking this habit is not a one track journey to saying no!

4. Don’t give loads of excuses – this will come across as defensive and enable the other person more wiggle room!

5. If something isn’t your fault don’t apologise. Get into the habit of saying sorry only when you need to

6. Think about who really matters to you and who you want to help and say yes to

7. Work out your boundaries and show stoppers and stick within them. If anyone asks for anything out of those parameters then say no

8. Congratulate yourself each time you don’t fall into the lure of people pleasing for people-pleasing’s sake. Then bottle the feeling to act as a motivator next time

9. Reframe what saying no can actually do - it has great benefits such as giving you more time to do with as you choose

10. Recognise there will not be catastrophic consequences. The fallout is never as bad as we think it will be

Remember you can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. And ultimately the only person you can absolutely know you have pleased is yourself. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent”, so don’t give it. Then you can please yourself from time to time!