Our own Ashita Kulkarni talks about why a flexible workplace matters to today’s professionals and how to work from home effectively. Next week, we'll discuss why connected companies should be on board with workplace flexibility.
Our interview with Ashita is broken out into two sections. Read below as we cover…
- The conditions that make telecommuting and working from home a necessity for a growing number of professionals, including many working parents like her.
- Effective practices for working remotely and maintaining a highly productive work-life balance.
Crowded commutes, kids, and hyper-connectivity.
Change is never easy, and traditions die hard in culture, commerce, and corporations. But due to rising demand for workplace flexibility in today’s ultra-busy and highly connected world, we may be watching—and at Carnegie Technologies, contributing to—the death of the traditional 9 to 5.
The words ‘workplace flexibility’ come across as new-agey jargon to some. All this phrase means is the freedom for employers and employees to agree on the time, place, and manner in which work gets done, in order to arrange the best fit for both parties.
Workplace flexibility is increasingly seen as a necessity to those hoping to avoid irrationally long commutes and other obstacles that make the conventional workday an unreasonable proposition.
In America, public transportation is very much a luxury, available in limited places. Most cities lack a widely available and convenient option for commuters, leaving them to face gridlocked highways at peak hours when traditional workdays begin and end.
All of this is complicated when you’re a working mother or father, needing to account for not just your own commute but that of your children—to and from school, activities, appointments, and so on. The priority you must place on access to high-quality schooling and healthcare professionals can also take you further away from a comfortable vicinity to your workplace.
With the speed and security of Wi-Fi continuously growing, and a broadening spectrum of collaboration-enabling apps and cloud-based tools being released and refined, there is less and less reason for qualified professionals with good work habits to bend over backwards, sacrificing their own work-life balance, in order to fill the traditional workplace mold.
At Carnegie Technologies, we’ve adopted a flexible workplace model to enable a wide array of working-arrangements that help employees handle the challenges a traditional workplace would otherwise present.
Ashita is a high-performing QA Engineer here at Carnegie Technologies.
We sat down with one of our lead Quality Assurance Engineers, Ashita, to discuss workplace flexibility, and the first thing we delved into was what problems the flexible workplace can solve.
CT: Good Afternoon Ashita! Let's start with a brief introduction. Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Carnegie Technologies.
Ashita: Hi, my name is Ashita Kulkarni, and I’ve been a Quality Assurance Engineer at Carnegie Technologies for over one and a half years now. I work on the Longview IoT project, and my basic responsibility is making sure the front-end of the IoT system and the back-end talk to each other; in plainer terms, I make sure whatever you see on the Longview App is what you’re supposed to see. I make sure all the project stories—you can call them features, or functionalities—are validated, and that my teammates understand what the workflow is.
CT: Great! So, as you know, we’re here to talk about workplace flexibility. You split your time between home and office, correct?
Ashita: I work from home two days out of the week, and work the other three days in the office.
CT: Do your workdays mirror each other in each place?
Ashita: Not totally. Recently, I’ve been noticing that, when I work from home and I don’t have a fixed stopping-point, I tend to go on and on. When I’m in the office, I have a certain time I come in and a certain time that I must go to pick up my son, so there’s a more definite limit.
CT: If you could spend more, or even all your days working from home, would that be preferable?
Ashita: Definitely not. I would hate to lose the personal interaction. The way you can talk to someone and get things solved together in a face to face environment can’t be duplicated on Zoom or Slack (two of the video- and chat-enabling collaboration tools we use). I do like coming to the office, and I couldn’t stay at home all the time.
CT: In that case, why do you opt to split time between home and office? Why is it a beneficial arrangement for you?
Ashita: I live fairly close by, but even so it can take one and a half hours to reach the office during peak traffic windows. As a working mother, I don’t have the freedom to come and go when the road is emptier, since I have to take my son to school and pick him up at set times.
CT: How much difference does it make to skip that commute twice a week?
Ashita: It definitely helps to be able to use that commute time. It’s such a waste sitting in the car for that long. It might not be good to admit, but I do check e-mails, check Slack messages, and call in to meetings from the road when traffic is at a stop. It’s not ideal, and it’s not very safe, but it feels very bad to be stuck while others are working. Avoiding the commute is great, since it lets me work in the time I would otherwise be on the road. By the time I’ve dropped off my kids, at 7:20, I’ve already done all the tasks that need doing in order to get the day started. So instead of going into that commute, I’m able to get directly into my work, and am more productive overall.
I’ll also say that, when you’re commuting to the office, there’s a lot of wasted time involved with showing up and needing to leave again. You have to make unexpected, or even planned trips for doctor and dentist appointments, and you can end up losing 2 to 3 hours that you don’t need to lose. It just seems unnecessary. I can’t control when unexpected issues force me to go home, but it’s much easier when I can schedule planned appointments on days I work from home, since the distance is much shorter, and there’s less coordination needed.
The flexibility around where and when Ashita performs her work has given her a way to increase her productivity, while also freeing her to provide better care as a working parent. But how easy is it to manage this work-life arrangement successfully?
How to be a work-from-home wizard.
Workplace flexibility is a broad term that can apply to many different working arrangements. It can simply lead to a more accommodating in-office schedule for an employee who needs to arrive and leave later or earlier. However, it often does include some amount of work performed outside the traditional office.
The prospect of remote work is immediately attractive to most who hear about it, and according to statistics updated in 2018, “80% to 90% of the US workforce says they would like to telework at least part-time.”
While many wish to work remotely, and think telecommuting sounds like a wonderful alternative to sitting in an office-chair under fluorescent lights, it’s not for everyone. Or put more directly, not everyone has the skills to succeed in the isolated and at times distracting environment of a home workspace.
However, those skills can be acquired and honed if they are needed.
Ashita is someone who consistently gets great feedback from co-workers and her manager. It made us wonder how she is able to perform so highly while working from home. She provided plenty of great advice for anyone trying to learn how to work from home effectively.
CT: Let’s talk about your setup. What does your workspace look like at home, and how is it different from what you’ve got at work?
Ashita: Sure, well right now I’m in an apartment, and my teeny tiny dining room is my office. I have two monitors set up there, and it does work as a dedicated office. The kids know they can’t mess around in there. All I have to take between home and work is my laptop. At work I also have a two-monitor set-up, which is very helpful for what I do.
CT: Is there work you save specifically for home or office? What goes into that decision?
Ashita: I prefer not to send status updates, fill out timesheets, or do minor or solitary tasks while I’m in the office. I like to reserve my office time for the tasks that are of highest priority and the ones that require collaboration, office resources, or systems whose access is limited to being inside the building.
CT: While you’ve had a good experience overall, what single factor, commonly considered a negative of working from home, do you find most frustrating? (I gave Ashita a list, and she ranked them.)
Ashita: The most frustrating is probably that always-on-the-clock mentality that you can get stuck in when your home is also your workplace. I don’t set work boundaries all the time, and since I take my work home with me, sometimes I just go on, and on… and on… [laughing] That’s one of the things I’m still working on, is trying to set consistent boundaries, and giving myself permission to stop.
CT: Do you have a strategy for dealing with that?
Ashita: Yes, these days I use a system my husband helped me to learn, called SMART goals. What it comes down to is I decide ahead of time what my highest priority goals are for a given day. When I know that, it’s easier to start working in the right place, and it also makes it easier to stop in the right place, since I know I’ve finished the highest priority work first.
CT: I see, so would that be your main piece of advice for someone thinking about working from home?
Ashita: Well, if I was going to give advice on working from home, the first thing I would say would be to have a dedicated area as your workspace. That way you won’t keep moving around the home, or spending time deciding where and how to set up each day. A dedicated workspace should be comfortable, but it should also make you feel like you’re in a place to work, the way you would feel in an office environment. Probably avoid trying to work from the couch, or with the TV on, or music playing—if you can have all that, and still be productive, that’s great! I'm not that kind of person.
Another thing I would say is yes, going back to what I was saying about setting SMART goals, prioritize appropriately and make sure you are putting the most important work first. Be organized with your tasks. For example, if you have a release coming up and you’re on a hard deadline, think about which tasks are the most important to finish prior to that date, and schedule your time accordingly. If you have important e-mails to send, mark those in your calendar, because communication is extra-important when you’re not in the office.
The last thing that I also think is crucial is to remember to take breaks! It’s important to relax your mind, and not to keep working for hours on end. For example, if you are writing an automation script, every twenty minutes or so, take a five-minute break. Stand up, take a short walk, stretch, and do whatever will help you relax. I have a tendency to not let things go, to keep struggling and struggling with a problem. But it’s much more beneficial to step away, relax your mind, and come back with a clearer perspective, especially when you feel you are getting stuck. When your mind is relaxed, answers will come to you, and you’ll be more productive.
A dedicated home workspace is a huge contributor to work from home success.There are great online guides for creating your own.
CT: It sounds like you do a lot of self-assessment, and implement strategies to help yourself succeed. How much of that do you think is necessary in order to work from home, and what’s the most important thing to account for as a remote worker?
Ashita: The most important thing to me is being truthful. Be truthful to yourself, and to the company. If your manager trusts you, don’t take advantage of that, or use that time to do other things. Breaking that trust can impact the entire organization, because it means that when others come looking for that same level of trust, it won’t be there. Ask yourself, do you think you are able to work from home and produce your best work? If you can’t confidently say yes to that, then you shouldn’t make that promise.
Once you have committed to it, then I would say, again: keep yourself organized and set daily goals. If you’re meeting those goals, great. If you aren’t meeting those goals, or you’re underachieving, revisit how you prioritize your daily work, and how much you’re cramming in or leaving out. Eventually, if you find yourself unable to perform well, revisit the decision to work from home in the first place—and be honest about it.
It makes less and less sense for those in non-ideal commuter situations to sacrifice large portions of their workdays to lengthy commutes, or to contort their own preferred workflows in order to match traditional workplace requirements. We have the connectivity we need to fill that time with productive effort, and the resources to thrive in remote work environments. Workplace flexibility can be a positive for both the employee and the employer, and at Carnegie Technologies, this has certainly proven true.
We hope you've found this informative and helpful! We'll dig deeper in next week's post, as Ashita returns to discuss why more companies should offer workplace flexibility.