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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

Home Office Challenges

Working at home has its benefits and its challenges. If you are besieged at the office, it may provide relief from the constant stream of interruptions you are likely to encounter there. But working at home can have its challenges as well. Salespeople often have a home office, besides their car.

One of those challenges may be interruptions from people who are at home with you. They may think that because you are "at home" you are available to run errands, handle chores, or help out. You may give in to these distractions yourself. One of the benefits of being at home is that you have some flexibility to handle emergencies and to build your schedule to accommodate personal needs. But without limitations on those demands, you can fall victim to home distractions and your productivity can suffer.

On the other hand, sometimes we need extra patience when we deal with family interruptions. I heard a story about a fellow speaker who became impatient when his child interrupted him because he was in the middle of work. But then he stopped and thought about it and realized he hadn't set a good example. Fortunately, he was able to remedy the situation.

These tips will help you minimize distractions when working at home.

  • Let people know that they should not think of you as being in your home office, but in the company's office. How often would they call you or come to see you there? Ask them to respect your work environment at home just as they would if you were at your company office.

  • Set up a form of communication to let people know when you are not available. A closed door might be one way to do this. Get a roll of caution tape or a traffic cone at a hardware store and let people know that when the door is closed and the caution tape is up or the traffic cone is out, it is not a good time to interrupt you. Keep the tape or cone up for only a portion of the day.

  • Provide limited, structured time when you can be available for giving attention to your family, others, or personal tasks. Let them know what these limits are and why it is important for your family to help you keep them. Do work that requires concentration at times when you are not as likely to be interrupted, such as early morning, school time, or later in the evening. Make phone calls when you know you will have privacy, but don't be overly concerned about the person on the other end of the phone knowing that you work at home. It is becoming commonplace and acceptable to work at home.

Working from a Distance

You may work with remotely located people who are supporting you on a customer solution. Working with people at a distance presents its own unique set of challenges.

The advent of E-mail, instant messaging, cell phones, and audio and video teleconferencing have given us more efficient means of managing at a distance when compared to the more limited means that still may be useful—namely, travel in person, the phone, fax, or letters. We have a variety of ways to communicate quickly with people regardless of where they are. But these communication channels don't change the basic need for good, timely, and purposeful communication.

Distance magnifies differences between people so that dealing even with small problems can become difficult. Here are ten suggestions for working effectively from a distance.

  • Be extra clear and specific in your communications.

  • Plan what you will say so you don't omit anything.

  • Think carefully about how you will communicate.

  • Give the people you are communicating with time to plan.

  • Build in time for periodic face-to-face meetings.

  • Rotate meetings with people in different locations.

  • Use weekly audio teleconference calls to keep people up to date on changes in products or services or for training.

  • Use daily audio calls for people having difficulties.

  • Think in terms of results, not just activities.

  • Use technology to its full advantage, including E-learning.

Language Differences Matter

There are many diverse cultures in the workforce and in customer organizations. When you encounter people whose native language is not the same as yours, slow down, be patient, repeat what you hear, and use illustrations when possible. I've found that I can usually start to understand most accents, given enough time to pick up the cadence. If you find it difficult to listen to someone's voice, concentrate instead on listening for the content of what the person is saying. Write down key points as a way to concentrate on what the person is saying rather than how he or she is saying it.


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