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How to Work from Home Successfully

Rachel R. Jacobsen, Principal, Wellness Works Consulting, Inc. – Medicaid Request for Proposal (RFP) and Business Development Consultant (19 years’ experience), Behavioral Health Therapist, and Yoga Teacher

After over ten years of working mostly from corporate offices and cubicles as a health insurance proposal writer and project management director, I made the transition to become an independent consultant in the same field. The points below outline a summary of the skills and behaviors that have helped me to successfully work from home (WFH) for the past nine years:

Use an online calendar to:

  • Schedule both work and personal activity to stay on track
  • Meet deadlines and realistically assess time needed to complete tasks
  • Track and record progress (for your timesheet/billing and if a client ever has a question about when something was worked on and by whom)
  • Easily invite others to collaborate and/or shift assignments and responsibilities

Designate a specific working space to:

  • Minimize distraction
  • Create a space that you can leave when you are done with work so that you can mentally separate from the tools and reminders that may prompt your brain to be in work mode when you’re in personal mode. I find that when I’m able to fully break from work mode, I go back to this space feeling refreshed and motivated to complete tasks.

Break large tasks down into smaller tasks using self-imposed due dates:

  • Most of my job as a proposal management director requires me to do this to keep as many as 40 people on track and accountable for their deadlines.
  • When I have a large task to manage that doesn’t have as many public deadlines that involve input from others, I make a small project plan and create internal deadlines for myself. I schedule time on my calendar and use a different color to designate this time so that I can be realistic about how much time in the day is left for other things.
  • I always overestimate the time needed because to me, it feels better to finish early and have more time for personal things, than to be rushing to finish something and risk turning in a poor quality product.

Assess and understand what motivates you:

  • Being a leader, trainer, and someone who people seek out for help is one thing that motivates me. If I’m in this role as a consultant, I feel useful. I come away from training sessions, presentations, and leading meetings with a sense of renewed energy that I’m able to channel into growing relationships and inspiring good teamwork. Being in these roles allows me to have authentic connections with people and enables me to feel a sense of pride and positive energy. As long as I’m able to integrate these things into my role as a consultant, I now know that I will be motivated to produce high quality work and be inspired to keep getting better at the tasks required by each project and grow my career.
  • I’m motivated when I’m paid a good rate. Salary and rate negotiation can be tricky. Knowing how much to ask for and having limits around what you will accept or say no to are important; write it down before each interview and every time you update your resume. Do research – ask your colleagues and competitors about what people are paid. Also, use your intuition and if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Working with teams virtually:

The following points include brief descriptions of methods I like to use when working with teams virtually for successful collaboration, consistent engagement, accountability, and transparency – all with the goal of meeting deadlines and completing projects.

  • Use of a shared document platform like Dropbox or Sharepoint is key. Asking all team members to post their work on a site that everyone has access to (read only, if editing and collaboration isn’t required) increases the percentage of people who turn in assignments on time. I find that when someone is asked by one person to complete a task and this conversation isn’t seen by the group, the person may feel less motivated and accountable to get it done. Requiring everyone on the team to post their work in a place that others can see will boost productivity.

Daily or weekly check-in meetings with all team members increases group rapport, knowledge, and collaboration. I like to have a short 30 minute mandatory conference call each day or at least two times per week. During this meeting each person gives a summary of what they are working on, the status of how complete it is, and a few minutes to ask any questions that may help them produce better quality work. Instead of having individual calls with each member – which can take an entire day – I find that several people in the group usually have the same questions and some of them may not ask so, if one person asks, the group is educated at the same time – which saves time. This is also an opportunity for any content crossover or potential work duplication to be identified, documented, and reassigned.