anywhere workers do it with structure

John is getting ready to make a career change. He’s been working in a professional office for several decades. Now he is moving into the next phase of his career as an independent consultant working out of his home office. He wants to know what to expect and how to best prepare. John: ‘Can you teach an old dog new tricks?’ My response: ‘Maybe new tricks, but I’d rather find some old tricks within the true nature of the dog.’ Our approach: Examine the current work structure (schedule, processes) then sketch out the potential ‘new tricks’ for the new role. Once we have a list of both, we can identify which to keep (old dog tricks) and which to revive (old tricks same dog). Let’s get started!

Corporate Office Structure

First take a look at the day to day structure of the current role. As a respected professional in upper management, John is often expected to wear a sport jacket and traditional business attire. He has followed the same schedule of work for the past 30 years getting into the office by 8am and leaving by 6pm. He submits his status reports every Friday by noon. He holds a weekly face to face meeting with his staff each Monday morning. Even on weekends he gets up at the same time as on weekdays. Over the past 30 years John has adapted his personal structure to meet his corporate obligations. What he doesn’t know is if this is how he works best. Now it’s time to find out.

Anywhere Worker Structure

All of a sudden John is faced with creating his own structure. He has complete freedom on how and when to work…or does he? John had an idea of how he would approach his new structure, but wondered if it was ‘the right way.’ The truth is there is no right or wrong way, only the way that works for you. A few things to consider when creating your starting structure: Expectations of your clients; the type of work you’ll be doing; your personal preferences. Let’s take a look at each of these individually.

Client Expectations. John will be working with corporate clients so there is some expectation that he is available during normal business hours (8am – 6pm). His client base is in the same time zone so no worries there. Most clients will make appointments, so John has flexibility in scheduling the appointments when it is convenient for both his client and himself. John has already expressed that he likes to have his early morning to himself so that he can read the news and plan the rest of his day. With that in mind, he’ll try to schedule appointments after 11 am and only schedule early appointments by exception.

Type of Work. John will be working as a consultant to senior executives. His work will consist mostly of consultations and project work. Most of this work is done as scheduled appointments, and can be scheduled well in advance. This allows John to schedule other appointments or activities around his business appointments. Though he doesn’t see himself doing personal activities during the day, he does like to have the option of taking a few hours in the middle of the day if an opportunity arises.

Personal Preferences. John believes he is a morning person. He does his best thinking in the morning and, as mentioned earlier, wants to keep that time for focused work. He also knows that he does not feel productive unless he gets up, showers, and puts on business clothes. Although he is willing to relax this a little, he wants to start out with the same morning routine as when he drove to an office. He also wants to schedule his lunchtime. Although he likes the flexibility of being at home, he wants to make sure his clients know why he is not answering his phone. If he always takes lunch at noon, his clients will know not to call him at that time.

John continued to create the list of structures for his new anywhere worker role. After he reviewed the list, he realized that his plan is not very different from working in the corporate office. Many new anywhere workers begin their new roles with the more structured approach. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

The Anywhere First Week

The Anywhere Worker Starting  Structure established in the exercise is just that – a starting point. Follow your starting structure for one week.  After the first week it is important to assess what is working and what is not working in your new environment. There is a continuum between flexibility and structure. Managing the balance between the two is an ongoing effort. There may be times when you need to be more structured, and other times when flexibility is necessary to deal with the unexpected. Expect the unexpected. Structure helps those create habit and helps those less motivated. Flexibility helps the over achiever and perfectionist. We all have a little of both from time to time.

You may find yourself on the opposite end of the continuum from John. Many anywhere workers take full advantage of their new freedom and sleep late, work in their fuzzy slippers and p.j.’s, and do personal errands during ‘work’ hours. If that works for you, great. But my experience is that somewhere between a business suit and fuzzy bunny slippers is the ideal structure to help you stay productive, creative, connected, and happy! The key is to keep making adjustments until you find what works best for you. We’ll be looking more at processes, schedules, and other tools of structure in future posts.

I’m curious, what was your first 90 days as an anywhere worker like? What structures did you try? What worked and what didn’t? Remember: we learn from experience and from each other  -share your wisdom!