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Today we have a guest post from Gihan Perera. Gihan is a consultant, speaker and author, who helps thought leaders and business professionals leverage their expertise. He’s based in Perth, Australia, but considers himself a true digital nomad, who carries his office in his backpack, and has worked from homes, offices and cafes in Prague, Florence, Auckland, Vancouver and around Australia.

He’s a co-author of the book “Out of Office: Using the Internet for Greater Freedom in Your Work Life”. He’s written many other books as well, and Forbes magazine rated him the #5 social media influencer in book publishing.

He blogs at GihanPerera.info and his website is at GihanPerera.com.

I’m sure that I’m one of many thousands of people who were influenced by Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Dr. Covey passed away recently, so I thought I would write this as a tribute to him.

Covey’s seven habits are about life in general, not about workshifting, and this article is in no way as broad nor deep as his wonderful book. But all of the principles apply equally to certain aspects of workshifting, so it’s worth considering them in this context.

1. Be Proactive

As a workshifter, you have more control over your work environment than office workers do – including when you start work, when you stop work, where you work, who you interact with during the day, and how you structure your work day.

This flexibility also comes with greater responsibility and self-discipline. This includes things like achieving outcomes (rather than counting hours worked), taking regular breaks, not working too hard, creating a comfortable and ergonomic work space, managing computer security and backups, organizing insurance and other protection, and taking the initiative in collaborating with colleagues.

2. Begin with the End in Mind

Most workshifters choose this lifestyle because it helps them achieve other goals – such as greater convenience, a more comfortable work environment, freedom to travel and work from anywhere, more time with family, and so on.

If you have been workshifting for some time, reconnect with your original goals, and be sure your current workstyle is still aligned with them. You might discover you’re still on track with these goals (which is wonderful), or you might find some of them have fallen by the wayside.

If you have others who are an important part of these goals – a partner, children, close friends, and even your boss – involve them in this process as well.

3. Put First Things First

Covey urges us to focus on what’s important, not merely what is urgent. We might have the best of intentions, but every interruption can seem like it’s both important and urgent, when in most cases it’s neither!

Here are some things you can do to stay focused on what matters (so we don’t “major in minors,” as Covey puts it):

  • Know the most important things you need to achieve this day, week, month, quarter and year.
  • Set rules for handling interruptions. For example, don’t use email for urgent communication – use the phone or instant messaging instead.
  • Coach your colleagues and clients to follow the same rules.

4. Think Win-Win

When you’re not working in the same office as colleagues or clients, it’s easy for simple things to cause conflicts – for example:

  • A colleague calls an important meeting that you can’t attend in person
  • Your manager complains she can’t always reach you during “normal” working hours
  • A client insists on using the phone for discussing things that can easily be resolved by email

Instead of giving in (which is “Lose-Win,” where they get what they want, but at your expense) or refusing to change (which is “Win-Lose”), look for options where you both get what you want. You might find it surprisingly easy to make everybody happy – for example:

  • Tell colleagues the days you’re available for in-person meetings, so they can schedule them on those days if possible.
  • Gently educate your manager to start assessing you on your ability to meet goals rather than being there at certain times of the day – and then achieve the goals!
  • Schedule a regular weekly phone call with the client.

5. Seek First to Understand – Then to Be Understood

This habit is about making a commitment to listen to the other person – listening for both feeling and meaning. This can be difficult for workshifters, because you sometimes don’t have gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, and even the familiarity of an in-person conversation.

Workshifters have to work even more diligently to listen – for example:

  • Start by asking what they want to achieve from this phone call or meeting.
  • Look for subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle!) clues about the emotion and feeling behind their words.
  • Ask for clarification is something is unclear or ambiguous.
  • Put yourself in their shoes, and see things from their perspective.

6. Synergize

Workshifting sometimes means it’s harder to collaborate, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Look for ways that workshifting can help you find better team solutions. For example:

  • Working in different time zones might mean you can be working on a project while your colleagues are asleep, and vice versa.
  • Working in a different location gives your team a “local” presence in that location.
  • You can introduce online collaboration tools to your colleagues and clients.
  • Some of your workshifting habits might be adopted in the office.

7. Sharpen the Saw

This habit comes from the phrase, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I would spend seven hours sharpening the saw.” In other words, this is about working on yourself, not only on your work.

As a workshifter, you have to take responsibility for this yourself, because you might not be included in personal renewal activities at the office itself. So you need to take care of things like healthy eating, exercise, professional development, team-building activities, social interaction during your working day, and so on.


Photo credit: Seuss