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Working at Home?

Terence Channon
23 March 2020

Working at Home?

Working at Home? Remember Occupations Almost Always Fail. Consider a Guerilla Warfare Campaign to Succeed.

Approaching working at home as a sniper rather than a full-frontal assault may let you get more done with less time and keep the peace at home.

Name a list of the world’s top military strategists and these two names likely won’t make the top 10, but their advice would likely be met with nods of consents by the likes of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and other great military minds that tried to occupy enemy territory.

“Occupations pose staggering logistical problems.” ~Barbara Ehrenreich, Author & Political Activist

“Occupations always fail. History has taught us that 1,000 times.” ~Harlan Ogilvy, War of the Worlds

Thanks to COVID-19, you have probably given the order to work from home. Excitement and freedom abound. No traffic, close to family, more time to pursue hobbies and new learnings. Well, prepare to leave the secure bastion of your office space. Where you have your own office or cubicle; conference rooms can be reserved with reservations respected (most of the time); a closed-door means do not disturb so you can finish that assignment on time. At the office, all the surroundings are on your side.

Then you set-up your workspace and realize that you are now an enemy, occupying foreign professional soil. Enemies abound, including children, spouses, pets, your refrigerator, and TV — just to name a few. And these enemies indiscriminately attack your usually unbreakable work spirit. Couple that your work immune system is not yet used to handling these distractions, and you have a real challenge on your hands.

Children knock on your door or barge in wanting to show you their latest drawing. Your dog is so happy (or confused) that you are home. It will be hard to get a minute alone. One of your favorite movies from childhood makes a surprise appearance on cable TV and you find yourself saying “I will just watch a little.” Your spouse asking you to change the air filter because you know, you are working at home and have all sorts of free time and nothing to do.

Even worse, it’s hard to make any of these threats to your professional workflow understand. You may have better success explaining the situation to your cat vs. your children. And your spouse? Forget it. And unfortunately, the manufacturer forgot to install a positronic brain and ears on the refrigerator — and did not give this appliance a shred of empathy.

Occupations often fail because the occupying force (you, in this case working from home) gets cut off from its supplies (e.g., your quiet conference room for a phone call); the occupying force loses its will in the face of internal nuisances and revolt (e.g., your dog jumping on your lap every 7 minutes); and the inability to set up the right infrastructure (e.g., good luck having your children willfully put the volume down their favorite songs without creating an argument).

While most advice will suggest you bunker in a specific workspace and set boundaries, these are not without their weaknesses. How much can they be respected and enforced without various interruptions and family conflict? You would be surprised how many couples end up in a 47-minute debate about lightbulbs when someone broaches the subject about a household chore. And lastly, how much can you protect yourself from yourself?

Rather than forcing occupation, we may look to the world of guerilla warfare tactics that saw much less equipped and smaller enemy forces wreak havoc on the more powerful enemy and give you the peace of mind and space to succeed.

“The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” ~Mao Zedong

Initiate the Attack
Are your kids laser-focused on a TV show or their tablets? Is your spouse deeply enthralled in a book? Is your dog enjoying a nice nap? A sneak attack to lovingly interrupt these activities with a question or thought about your day will do wonders. Showing your family and those around that you do care will make it seem like this work at the home situation is more of a team effort and not just about you having your space. As a bonus, if you do this enough, everyone might get a little annoyed with you and have their fill of you for the day — leaving you in a peaceful area to get some work done.

Catch Them Off Guard
On a big deadline and lunchtime approaching? When you see this coming, get ahead of the curve and initiate a delivery order for a pizza or other food your household loves. The goal is to keep the focus off everyone wanting to check in with you and instead distract those with happiness. While you are in the heat of a conference call, the doorbell will ring, someone else will answer and what a great surprise a hot lunch will be. That will buy some time.

Leverage the Full 24/7 Window
No, I am not saying to work 24/7 and into all hours of the night and weekend. This will for sure burn you out. In your normal office life, work time was likely Monday-Friday, 8–5 or some variation of such. Requiring you to fit your workload into that rigid timeframe. Now that you are at home working, that window is a lot bigger. Everyone sleeping in on a Saturday morning? Getting up 1–2 hours earlier and having the entire home quiet may give you a great head start for the week — and you may even be able to squeeze in a Mimosa while you are at it. Is your spouse becoming enthralled by the latest reality TV show or news report on COVID-19? Quickly sneak off to your work quarters to knock out a few emails or reports.

Unless you feel you can comprehensively, lock down a part of your home that can replicate your office environment, you might find yourself constantly at the mercy of the forces around you. And rather than forcing the situation to go somewhere it likely cannot, being creative, nimble and opportunistic can help you keep the peace at home, buy you lots of time to get more done with less, and keep the hearts and minds of your ‘enemies’ on your side.

P.S. — Big thanks to David M. Epstein and his article, “Occupational Hazards: Why Military Occupations Succeed or Fail” from the Summer, 2004 edition of International Security.

Author’s Note: It is my pleasure to answer any questions or offer any specific advice on improving remote working effectiveness. Find me on LinkedIn and send me a message and I will gladly reply.

Working at Home? was originally published in Terence Channon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.