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I’m a big believer in face-to-face communication. It creates a dynamic that can’t be replicated. Research has shown that just shaking hands in person leads to an increase in cooperative behavior and more open and honest communication. High definition video conferencing is the closest you can get to in-person, but everything else is a poor substitute. That said, there’s always a “but” in this digital age, and I’ve learned to adjust.
Years ago, I traveled frequently from San Francisco to Hong Kong for a three-hour meeting only to fly back the same night. The corporate culture demanded that nothing important was ever done over the phone — every meeting was face-to-face. I still believe texts, email and even phone calls create unnecessary misunderstanding. Without reading body language and facial expressions, the receiver of a communication must work hard to interpret the message, and often it gets distorted.
As such, remote working — especially for solving complex problems — is generally a bad idea in my opinion. But, in today’s constantly connected world it does have its benefits, even for someone like me who prefers being in-person. The benefits became more apparent as I had children. There was a period when I hit a six-week stretch of work where I had a total of eight hours of unallocated time. It was exhausting.
For both work and family, I knew that I was running an unsustainable schedule and that I had to make some changes. Following are two of them that might help you too.
Disrupting the unspoken 30-, 60-, 90-minute meeting rule
The first thing I did was to change the structure of my meetings. I no longer take hour-long meetings. I schedule 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or an hour and 20 minutes, with a minimum 10-minute buffer in between. This has helped tighten meetings and unburden the time commitment to them throughout the week.
Then, I rethought my remote working strategy. With so many meetings daily it was hard to get actual work done and I found that sometimes I needed to work alone — and working alone is much easier to do outside of the office. In fact, 91 percent of workers believe that they get more work done when working remotely.
The bifurcated work day
I split my workday into two parts. The first part — the morning and afternoon — are spent at the office where I hold meetings that are best taken in-person. Then I head home.
From 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., I dedicate my time to my children: talking about their day, helping them with homework, having family dinner. From 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., I get back to work on projects from my home office. I also schedule any business dinners for 9 p.m. or later so I always have time to read my kids a story before bedtime and put them to sleep.
Instead of trying to blend everything together across the day, I find this separation gives me more time for both work and family. It lets me be completely present for both, instead of trying to multitask everything. My remote working time became time I look forward to because that’s when I can really dig deep into projects and get in “the zone” without any interruptions.
Working so much remotely would have been unthinkable for me 10 years ago, but now that everything is mobile and in the cloud, it makes it incredibly easy. For those executives like me who value the power of face-to-face time, there are ways to keep that a priority while also enjoying the benefits of remote working.
Give a split schedule a try and you may end up being twice as productive while being there for the people that matter to you.