Working offsite has pros and cons, and depending on your workload and expected work effort, can be extremely beneficial for you and your institution. The key to success rests in practicing the same discipline expected of our students taking asynchronous online courses. They are encouraged to approach the online class in much the same manner as an in-seat class from the perspective of blocking out time to complete required reading, quizzes, and other assignment activities. It is therefore important to differentiate between working offsite long-term (semi-permanently) and short-term (project specific). Both require adopting a similar work ethic in order to avoid burning the midnight oil with a cup of Earl Grey!
A downside to working offsite is the potential for feeling isolated or disconnected from the institution and departmental matters; whereas an incentive is the opportunity to work on tasks or projects with fewer interruptions. Theoretically, fewer interruptions should equate to increased productivity; but anyone who’s ever worked from home or offsite, can tell you that productivity doesn't just happen…it must be planned. The well-worn aphorism, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail” is validated in this instance.
Don't try to crush everything into one sitting.
A successful plan is one that takes into account things like sleep, food, and exercise, because while your body is a machine, you are not a robot. There are a number of programs, applications, templates, etc., you can use to set up a reasonable plan of action to get things done. A simple internet search will reveal one that works for you.
Undeniably, one of the first things to plan before embarking on working offsite is to consider whomever you share your space with and establish some parameters. While you might be thinking, "wow, I get to work from home, now I'll have time to do...", your partner, significant other, children, etc., are likely to have very different plans for your time! Balancing your work requirements with your availability doesn't necessarily get easier just because you have the opportunity to work from home. But in all fairness, it is usually worth the effort of trying.
Once you have established your offsite work schedule, you need to ensure you have the tools you need to get the job done. Trust me when I say that once you have your 'flow' going or you are in the zone, it can be incredibly disruptive to have to stop. Returning to campus to retrieve a file, book, USB drive, or equipment from your office to complete the task, if possible, makes getting back into the rhythm of productivity challenging.
Bend Technology to Your Will (make tech work for you…not the other way around)
Something I've found to be ridiculously helpful is using web based applications for work whenever permitted, practical, or feasible. If your institution has secure access and offers virtual desktop applications, you can replicate your office computer on your home system. For projects not requiring that level of institutional security, such as course redevelopment, working on an article, book, or research project, preparing letters of recommendation, and other unclassified work, I go to the cloud. There are dozens of cloud-based applications, programs and websites that operate across platforms, operating systems, and devices.
Working in the cloud reduces the likelihood of a single point of failure, as you might experience using a USB drive (who uses disks or CDs anymore?). Physical devices can be easily, corrupted by electromagnetic charges, accidentally washed and dried (yes really), or any number of mini disasters. Worse, physical devices require you to know where they are at all times, and when they were last updated in order to be of any value.
The free cloud tools I use most regularly are Microsoft OneNote (https://www.onenote.com/), Google Drive (https://www.google.com/drive/), Google Keep (https://www.google.com/keep/), and Box Cloud file storage (http://box.com/). All have pros and cons and are not necessarily ideal for everyone, so I recommend watching a YouTube video on the tool you intend to use. This list is by no means an exhaustive, so if you use some other tool, please share it with everyone in the comments section.
Finally, some 'What If' Q&As
What if I am out of town or out of state?
ANS: I have found some of my most productive times to be when I am temporarily away from my traditional workspace. One summer we spent camping through Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado and I remained fully engaged with our vacation activities during the day, and in the evenings (thanks to the campground Wi-Fi and my mobile hotspot) I taught an online course, finished a couple of projects, and got to catch up on my reading. Similarly, when I go to conferences, between sessions or during the evenings, I can chip away at projects I started before departing. Bottom line, being offsite from your offsite can be very productive!
What if I’m called for a departmental meeting?
ANS: Before you suit up and return to the office, check to see whether you can use one of the institutions conference tools like Zoom, Adobe Connect, Skype, etc., and conference in. [Hint - practice with these tools well before going offsite. Lack of practice and prep is an excellent recipe for disaster!]
However, if your physical presence is needed, don't complain...comply, if possible. Remember that working offsite is an option, not a right, and understand that out of sight and out of mind is not always a good strategy. Not everyone will be enthusiastic about having someone on the payroll whom they don't see, and rarely communicate with, so a little face time can go a long way.
What if I complete all my work tasks or projects ahead of schedule?
ANS: First off – congratulations! Secondly I recommend you tap into some professional development! Here are four blogs and YouTube channels I subscribe to - I have no affiliation with them beyond being a subscriber:
Cult of Pedagogy (https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/start-here/)
Norman Eng (http://normaneng.org/blog)
CoolCat Teacher (http://www.coolcatteacher.com/)
Nuts & Bolts Speed Training (https://www.youtube.com/user/ppptspeed/videos)
What if I can’t compete with the distractions at my home office?
ANS: Consider adjusting your start/stop times by getting up an hour or two earlier, or staying up an hour or two later. Alternatively, as I previously mentioned, take your offsite…offsite! Occasionally, you will need to go truly mobile for a time to get something done. Go to the library, the coffee shop, the park, of some other non-distracting location, get your work done and return. Voltaire is credited, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Working offsite afford you great power.
In summary, it's important to approach working offsite as working on tasks and projects not avoiding students, colleagues, and others. Sometimes you can get more done in less time with fewer distractions offsite than you can in your office, and having a plan and working the plan provides the best opportunity for long-term success and productivity. Share your experiences working offsite in the comment section below!
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