Some thoughts on working from home

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

With the ongoing threat of the coronavirus and many organisations looking to allow workers to work from home to reduce the threat of infection and transmission of the virus.

I do a fair amount of remote working and location-independent working and am quite happy about doing this, I have been working from home on a regular basis for about the last twenty years. Even so with the possibilities of forced home working to reduce the risk of transmission, this is going to be a different experience to what I am use to. For those who don’t do this often  or rarely, they may find it challenging.

In this blog post I am going to discuss and reflect on some of the challenges that working from home could entail, in a landscape where lots of people are working from home, schools are closed and there is restrictions on movement and transport. This is not a complete article on home working, more some of the issues I have been thinking about over the last few days on this subject.

Myself, Lawrie and Donna, and did a podcast back in 2016 about location independent working,

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #090: Location Independence Day

The podcast was a response to Lawrie’s blog post on the subject.

Something, not somewhere, and increasingly somewhen

The web affords us new ways of working, new opportunities to connect.  It furthermore allows for a richer experience of work and life, rather than forcing us to segregate our time from ourselves via physical location, allowing us to choose when and where we are most productive, and how to conserve our face to face energy for those times that truly require it.

In this current landscape of forced home working, the issues we discuss are very relevant, however with the challenges of the coronavirus, it’s not quite the same as it was before and there are some issues you will need to consider in addition to the topics covered in the podcast and the blog post.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

You are not alone

Even if you are use to working from home, with coronavirus it won’t be the same as when you have worked from home before.

In Italy they have closed all the schools and colleges, to reduce the risk of transmission. If similar measures are taken in the UK, then you (or your colleagues) will probably be trying to work from home and there will be children at home. Though I work from home a fair bit, during the school holidays I usually go into the office, so I don’t get in the way. You may be lucky and have your own office where you can shut yourself away, but if not you may need to plan how you work around the others in the home. This could mean changing the hours when you work. As result you will also need to consider the times others may be working. 

Asynchronous communication may be more effective than trying to find mutually convenient times.. 

I often use external locations, okay places where I can drink coffee, will these still be open? Will people want to visit them or will they avoid them to ensure less risk of infection? The reason for this is about motivation and productivity, so you will need to think about what you do during a day to keep working effectively, and what you can do instead.

It’s not just a matter of space, there is also the issue of bandwidth. Normally when working from home I have all the bandwidth, but with “forced” home working and schools closed, it won’t be just you wanting to use the internet. You can imagine the increase in demand for streaming services such as Netflix. This also won’t be isolated to your home. Your neighbours may also be working from home, or using the internet so the contention ratio may rise as more people try and use the same data capacity. It won’t just be restricted to home broadband, but also mobile networks. This will have an impact on how you work, if you depend on connectivity. For calls and meetings. You may find asynchronous low bandwidth communication and collaboration tools a better option than the full functionality high bandwidth tools you are use to.


If you are use to people responding quickly, you may find the delay in their response frustrating, if they are working to different hours or have bandwidth issues. One way to overcome this, is to plan your work to take this into account, be more proactive than reactive when it comes to collaboration and seeking responses. Let people know in advance, when you will be seeking their input or feedback, so they can plan accordingly. We usually work in a manner that our environment allows us to (lean over the desk for a chat or a question), but when it comes to constrained working patterns as may happen with the coronavirus, the way in which you work, will also need to change.

Planning your day and sharing those plans with your colleagues and managers will enable them to plan their days accordingly and then be able to schedule calls and meetings when appropriate and convenient.


An online meeting is not the same as a face to face meeting, and though similar there are differences. Chairing online meetings is a skill and they need to be managed effectively. The main challenge is that often the visual cues that are present in a face to face meeting are missing and without these you can cause arguments and frustration. I have found you need to ensure meetings are planned and that when allowing people to talk that this needs to be more structured than in a traditional meeting format. This also needs to be communicated to all people attending the meeting as well.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

The nature of work

The work you can do in the office may not be possible to do at home, so when it comes to planning your work, you may need to take that into account. There may also be opportunities for new ways of working and new pieces of work as well. 


There are plenty of articles being posted across the web about the tools that allow  for more effective home working. As mentioned before with the increase in people working from home, will these services be able to cope with the increased demand for these tools? Are there alternatives you can use?

An assumption often made is that people know how to use these tools and how to use them effectively and efficiently, that may not be the case. There is a question of support and training that may need to be put into place to ensure that tools don’t become a barrier to working from home.


Finally the human side of working is important. You, your colleagues, your team, are all people. 

I found this blog post from Lawrie, Donna and Peter an insightful view about the criss from a human perspective.

Being human in a time of crisis

Your colleagues may be struggling, they may be anxious, they may have friends or family who are infected with the coronavirus. They may be ill themselves. They may have challenges in finding medicines, food (even loo roll) and this will undoubtedly impact on the way they work and what they can do.

Work is one thing, but at the end of that Teams call, the Yammer post, the e-mail, the Skype conversation, is a human being. In these testing times we shouldn’t forget that we are all human.

Changing hosts…

Image by Colossus Cloud from Pixabay
Image by Colossus Cloud from Pixabay

I recently changed hosting for my WordPress blogs. My main reasons for changing were, my host was unable to update the version of PHP which would result in being unable to update to the most recent version of WordPress. They did offer me a new hosting contract, but I would then have to migrate my blogs across, so I decided that if I needed to do that I might as well review new hosts. I had had reliability issues with my existing host. I was also concerned about upgrading to SSL (https). Both Chrome and Safari were marking non-https sites as “non-secure”.

It’s not as though I was doing e-commerce on my blogs, but it looked like Google would drop non-https sites down in their search results. I also thought the “non-secure” identification might worry people.

There were a few challenges, mainly as I took the opportunity to move a couple of my blogs to a domain of their own. I say opportunity I wasn’t sure I could recreate the same setup with the new host that I had with the old one.

Image by Werner Moser from Pixabay

Decided to record and log what I had done, just in case I needed to do this again. Continue reading “Changing hosts…”

“Eat the frog…”

"Eat the frog…”

Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.

Though wrongly attributed to Mark Twain the concept of “eating the frog” to improve productivity is something that has gained traction over the years.

What it means from a productivity perspective is that if you face down and complete that “big” task that is hanging over your head then your productivity over the rest of the day will be higher.

If you don’t “eat the frog” then that task will be always there in your head, you will worry about it and this will have negative impact on your work and resulting productivity.

Often that task appears to be worse than it actually is, and that thinking about it is actually the problem. Having started to do this, I have found it just works. Not sure if my resulting productivity has increased, but the impact on wellbeing has been positive.

Though it’s every easy to say “eat the frog” I think there is more too it than just doing that task. It makes sense to reflect on your workflow and work patterns and explore why you aren’t eating the frog. What are you prioritising instead of the frog? What are you doing instead of the frog? Can you change that approach?

In my own practice, I would often start going through e-mail rather than face the frog. Once I realised that this was causing me to not to face the frog, then I sorted the e-mail issue out. Initially I did that by turning off and closing my e-mail client, this then stopped those distracting notifications. Longer term I moved to Inbox Zero.

If it was a big “frog”, then I would break it down into smaller frogs or tasks which were easier and faster to complete. That big frog now became a more manageable and easier to get done.

So now I face the frog. Do you eat the frog?

Not quite Inbox Zero

checking my e-mail

I’ve had some interesting feedback when it comes to my previous blog post on my approach to Inbox Zero.

So is it really necessary to have an empty inbox when it comes to inbox zero?

No, despite the name, Inbox Zero is not just about having an empty inbox, nor is it about deleting all your e-mail so that your inbox is empty.

For me, the core principle behind Inbox Zero is about “doing” and “processing” your e-mail rather than just “checking” and “reading” your e-mail.

You can see the aim of having an empty inbox as a goal in doing this, not as an end in itself. Its about doing what needs to be done and then moving onto the next thing.

For me this is also about making the time to do the e-mail and where required I will close down Outlook (or whatever e-mail client you are using) and focus on what I need to do, without the potential interruptions of new e-mail.

A secondary aspect is having a better understanding of how e-mail can be used and when it is better not to and use a different tool.

There are lots of examples of this, moving all staff information to a tool like Yammer for example. Or instead of having a conversation through e-mail, picking up the phone or actually visiting the person at their desk or in their office.

One thing people often say to me is that they don’t have time to “visit” these other tools or spaces. It might be because they’re too busy checking their e-mail, however my view is that if they are too busy to read the Yammer feed, then they probably don’t value what is there. Sending it as an e-mail instead (or as well as) is a flawed assumption, because if they aren’t going to read it on Yammer, then why on earth will they take the time to read it as an e-mail – they’re too busy! The assumption that if it is in an e-mail people will read it, is often the rationale behind sending it as an e-mail, but talking with people, the reality is that these e-mails often get ignored or deleted. At least with a Yammer posting it’s still there and can be read later when you do have time. Similar things can be said about tools like Slack.

You aren’t always going to be able to change people’s viewpoints on e-mail, but I certainly recommend modelling the behaviour you want in others yourself. If you aren’t willing to change then how can you expect others to change.

Do you do the Inbox Zero?

Back in 2007 I was listening to a podcast on the TWiT network, MacBreak Weekly, and one of the podcast participants, Merlin Mann, was talking about productivity and mentioned Inbox Zero. Following the links I found the video Merlin was talking about when he talked about Inbox Zero to Google.

I wrote a blog post about this on my e-learning blog. Since then I have often thought about doing Inbox Zero and occasionally I have reached that point of an empty inbox in previous jobs, however usually I would lose the initiative and momentum to maintain Inbox Zero over the longer period.

In my current job, I have managed to reach and importantly maintain Inbox Zero for sometime now. Reflecting on this I realised that part of this is down to following the Inbox Zero process, another aspect is using different tools to reduce the quantity of e-mail in the inbox instead of using e-mail for things which it isn’t designed or suited for.

Inbox Zero is quite simple and easy to remember and follow. The core though is ever check your e-mail, but do your e-mail. What this means is that constantly checking and re-checking e-mail means you aren’t actually doing anything productive, you are spending time reading e-mails more than once.

So rather than check e-mail across the day, decide to spend time on the e-mail and for each e-mail undertake one of the following five actions:

  • Delete or Archive
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do

Here is how I interpret these five actions.

Delete or archive,

With e-mails that fall into this category, rubbish stuff or notifications are immediately deleted. One of the misconceptions about Inbox Zero is that some people think it’s about deleting e-mails and that e-mail history can sometimes be useful. However that is a misconception, as well as deleting unwanted or unneeded emails the other option is once read is to archive the email. So in my inbox I have a whole series of folders which I archive into. This means I never lose an e-mail and all e-mails on specific subjects are grouped together. Occassaionlly I will copy an e-mail into more than one folder if it is appropriate to do so. Every so often I rationalise my folders and move them around or aggregate them.

An example of this is an e-mail about an event that I am not attending or relevant to my work, so it gets deleted.


Whatever the e-mail is asking , then pass whatever action or work needs to be done to someone else or another team. I used this action as a manager a lot, less so now. What it means is to pass the e-mail to someone else, this could be a member of your team, passing it up to your manager or management team, passing onto a different team.

An example of this is when I get a request about being a pilot in a project, I pass the e-mail (forward) to the member of the team who has responsibility for pilots for them to action. I may respond to the original sender to let them know I have done this.


Simply write a reply and respond straight off. It could be a request for information, a request about something you have or haven’t done. The key here is not to procrastinate and think too long about this, or leave it, just do it, respond and get it done. I then usually archive the email to a folder. One useful thing to do is to create templates for stock answers and informations, so that you can respond more quickly.


Sometimes you can’t do something until something else has happened, or you need a response from someone else. Sometimes you need to defer as the request or task is too big 90% of the time I defer by creating a relevant task in my task management software (JIRA). Deferring should be seen as a last resort, otherwise you find your inbox will start to fill up again. If you really don’t have time to do stuff, then you should really stop “checking” your e-mail as you certainly don’t have time to do that!


Just do it, go on do it, don’t wait, don’t defer, just do it and get it done. So asked to tweet something, tweet it, fill in a form, fill it in. Someone wants some text in a blog post, write the text. Someone wants a meeting, organise it. This is the powerful aspect of “doing” your e-mail rather than just “checking” it. Checking means looking, thinking I need to do that, but I don’t have time to do that. If you really don’t have time to do stuff, then you should really stop “checking” your e-mail as you certainly don’t have time to do that! Making time for e-mail means making time to get things done. One of the key messages form the video, is don’t check your e-mail, deal with your e-mail. So unless I have actual time to do stuff, I don’t check my e-mail.

Wasting time

I know that a lot of people “check” e-mail in their “dead” time, whilst waiting for a train, on the train, waiting for a meeting to start. I think this is wasting that time. It might be better to deal with a single e-mail then just going through the whole list and doing noting about them. I also think on those dead times, why not make better and more productive use of that time, listen to a podcast for example, or read a journal article instead of glancing through your list of e-mails.


I think another factor that impacts on checking over doing, is that checking means going through all the e-mails and then deciding which ones to deal with. Often you will choose the ones that you want to deal with rather than the important or urgent emails. Using an Inbox Zero approach you deal with ALL the email you don’t pick and choose. You can use rules to flag emails and these can be dealt with first, or you can just go through them in the order they arrived.

Other tools

I find it interesting how often we default to e-mail as the main communication tool, to the point where it replaces other forms of communication or discussion. People also often use e-mail for various activities that really e-mail wasn’t designed for. So the other thing I am doing is trying to move the majority of my e-mail conversations to tools such as Slack, Confluence or Skype for Business. I find myself engaging less with email as we start to use a more diverse set of tools. A lot of internal conversations and other things people use to use e-mail for, have moved to these new tools. To a lesser extent, the same has happened for some external conversations. For many of these external conversations, Twitter and Google+ seem to have replaced some e-mail discussions and conversations. The same for other kinds of activities, such as task management and auditing. Need an update on work done so far, go to Confluence (a wiki) to have a look for example. Often people say they don’t have the time for other tools, probably because they have too much e-mail, however using other tools can be more efficient and more effective. Just think about a tool like Doodle for planning and scheduling meetings? So using the right tools in the right way means a lot less e-mail as a result. Yes you need to check those other places, but the end result is more effective and often more efficient.

So I never “check” my e-mail I always (try) to DO my e-mail.

What do you do?