Tips for Working from Home (WFH)

I have been working from home for about a year and half now. For some it can be a challenge, but here are some tips I have come up with to maintain focus and balance home and work life.

  1. Get Ready for the Day: It seems obvious, but when you don’t have to leave the house you might be tempted to just roll out of bed and hop online. It helps set the right tone if you get ready as if you were going into the office. (Although I do keep an extra button up shirt hanging by my desk in case I decide to wear a t-shirt for the day but have a video call. Don’t tell my coworkers 🤐)
  2. Set Hours: Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you are always at work. Set reasonable work hours and stick to them.
  3. Set Boundaries with Spouse/Partner: This is especially important if your partner is a stay at home parent. Once you are in the work day, work should be your focus. Communication is key. Let them know when your work day is over.
  4. Exercise instead of Commute: You now have freed up part of your day since you don’t have a commute. You can use it to exercise!
  5. Take Breaks:  Be sure to schedule and take breaks during the day. Even a short 10 minute walk can clear your head.
  6. Leave the House for Lunch: Not only should you schedule a lunch break into your day, but leave the house. Even if you make lunch at home, pack it up and walk to a park. You need a change in scenery.
  7. Socialize with Co-workers Virtually: I like to take the first 5 minutes of my 1:1’s with my co-workers to talk about life outside of work. You can talk about the weekend or items in the news or their interests. Don’t do it in every meeting, but it’s important to have the “water cooler” type connections. You can even setup specific virtual meetings just to catch up.
  8. Setup a Home Office Space: Whether you have a spare room or a just a desk in the corner of a bedroom, setup a dedicated home office space. It’s ok to undock your laptop and take it to the coffee shop, but when at home it’s better to have a location that you know is your work space.
  9. Get Good Equipment: Get a good headset for your phone/computer. Make sure you have a comfortable and ergonomic chair. If possible, I recommend sit/stand adjustable desk. I got a great chair and adjustable desk from Autonomous.
  10. Great Internet: Make sure you have a great internet connection and a backup plan if it goes out.
  11. Be Available: Make sure your coworkers know how to get connect with you at anytime during work hours. Keep your calendar up-to-date and always be logged into your company’s messaging app. Reply right away to acknowledge them reaching out even if it’s to tell them you’ll have to get back to them later.
  12. Turn Your Video on: If your company has video conferencing software, turn your video on! It’s much easier to communicate when you can see body language and facial expressions. If your company doesn’t video software, I recommend Webex. (Disclosure: the company I work for owns Webex. But I really like it too 😃)
  13. Don’t Sit on the Couch/Bed with your Laptop: I know it sounds amazing, but in reality it’s hard to focus on work if you are in your comfortable spot.

And finally, enjoy it! Working from home has some great benefits. Personally I enjoy looking out the window and seeing my kids build a snowman and greeting them when they come home for school. That 2 minutes makes my entire day.

View from my home office:

wfh snow

You can find me on Twitter @rhettweller

Clayton Christensen

clayton christensenClayton Christensen was a giant of a man in every way. Standing at 6’8” tall, he physically towered over everyone. But as smart as he was, he never made you feel like you were less than him. Maybe it was his soothing, calm voice or his perfect way of explaining a principle without sounding condescending. There hasn’t been a person who has had a greater impact on strategic thinking in business than Clayton Christensen. And while The Innovator’s Dilemma is his most famous book, his best book is How to Measure Your Life. He had a profound positive impact on my life, both professionally and spiritually.

In that light, I compiled a list of links to honor Professor Christensen. Many ideas and themes overlap, but akin to his many books, they are worth reading/listening to more than once.

Articles

In memoriam

Articles

Podcasts

Youtube

Other: My very rough sketchnotes of the first time I heard him speak in person.

To end, here is a quote from How Will you Measure Your Life that we should all live by:

“I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.”

Corporate Finance Owns the Map

zion topo mapBen Horowitz (of Andreesen Horowitz) posted this short but interesting article about the CEO owning the terrain, but the CFO owns the map. I like this analogy as it helps explain the relationship between all corporate finance professionals and their business partners. It doesn’t matter what area of finance you work in (FP&A, opex management, budgeting, goaling, treasury, deals desk, tax, M&A), owning and understanding the “map” is the greatest value you can provide.

To me, finance is the keeper of the business model. Businesses exist to make money (shareholder value for your MBAs). It’s the job of finance to remember that principle.

One time a product manager I was working with was frustrated with finance as she wanted to add very costly features to an existing product. Her additions would have made the product have a negative gross margin. As I tried to explain to her the profit model, she finally blurted out “if I do my job correctly, I’ll break your profit model!”. Clearly I had not done a good job of owning and explaining the map.

As a finance business partner, I had to find a way to incorporate the product improvements (they really were great improvements!) but also keep the business model whole (in this case, gross margin targets). I’m happy to say we found some low cost solutions for her product and maintained gross margin.

So no matter what area of corporate finance you work in, remember to own the map!

You can find me on Twitter or Linkedin.

Sketchnoting

When listening to a speaker, usually I genuinely want to listen and learn (while else would I be there?), but sometimes paying attention can be a challenge even with the most engaging speakers. A few years ago I searched for tips on how to better pay attention to speakers and I came across sketchnoting. Sketchnotes are basically little pictures and words instead of traditional written notes. You may have seen a professional sketchnoter at a conference. There is even a TED talk about them!

sketchnotes

I found Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook and I thought I would give sketchnoting a try. My take: sketchnotes are awesome. And I am terrible at drawing. Like really terrible. But even with my limited drawing ability, sketchnotes work great for me.

Sketchnoting forces you to pay attention and find the key ideas of any talk. The act of having to draw a concept really focuses the brain on what is actually being said. You pick out the important stuff and I have found my retention is greatly improved.

Going back later and reviewing sketchnotes is also a much better experience than traditional notes. The pictures act as a trigger to bring back the memories of the moment. Even the context around what was said is more easily recalled than with traditional note taking.

I have tried sketchnoting on paper notebooks and an iPad. The iPad can be cooler as it has different colors and brush styles, but it can also be a distraction (dang you twitter). Both forms work; the key is having a notebook with you.

A friend of mine actually sketchnoted his entire MBA experience. Check out his book The Visual MBA on Amazon. There are also a bunch of sketchnotes on Instagram.

visual mba

You can find me on Twitter @rhettweller or drop me a note.

Job Interviewing Tips

A few weeks ago I was invited to be on a job interview tips panel at San Jose State University hosted by the Latino Business Student Association. Having lived in Chile for 2 years and having Latino family, I was honored to be invited. I was also impressed! The students questions were insightful and they are far more prepared to enter the business world than I was in college.

Aside from the usual interview tips like attire, be on time, research the company and job, general preparation, and sending a thank you note, here is some additional thoughts I have had on how to do well in the job interview. As with all advice, take it with a grain of salt. I might be wrong 🙂

vince vaughn stock image sm

Know Your Story

The first question is either “tell me about yourself” or “walk me through your resume”. This is your moment to shine, to make that first impression. You should know your story down cold. You should be able to concisely explain your history and how it has led to that moment and why you are perfect for the company and the role. Know what makes you stand out. The key is practice. Practice a 30-90 second elevator pitch on why you are awesome. Practice A LOT. All the time and over long period of time. Practice with friends, family, neighbors, whoever. If you can tailor your pitch for the job you are interviewing for, even better. It has to feel natural in the interview and not rehearsed. Confident, but not cocky.

Know the Role and the Company

Before going into the interview you should know what job you are applying for and the company.  Do as much research beforehand has possible. Talk to people at the company, former employees, do internet research, and whatever it takes to be prepared. Know their business model, products, and company culture. If they are a public company, listen to and internalize the latest earnings call (the Q&A at the end can be especially insightful). A friend of mine was interviewing for a sales role at a hot startup. He pitched the company’s product in the interview. The interviewer had never seen that before and was impressed with his knowledge. He got the job.

Don’t Recite Memorized Answers

In finance interviews, many times a candidate will be asked “what is our stock price?” and usually they will answer with the price they looked up that morning. But instead of replying with an answer like “54.62”, how much better would it be if they said “it’s trading around $50-55 per share, but the impressive part is the y/y growth is about 20% which tells me the company is on  a good trajectory”? The first answer is technically more accurate, but the second is by far the better answer. It shows the person really has done their homework.

Ask Insightful Questions

They will almost always give you time to ask questions. This part can be tricky. You want to convey your knowledge and passion for the company, but it has to be meaningful to you. Don’t ask a question just to sound smart. The interviewer sees right through it and can tell when you googled the company that day and pulled something from a headline. Be prepared for the “boomerang” of a question being turned back around on you. Only ask questions that you genuinely want to know the answers to and think the person would have specific knowledge on that question. A recruiter will not know about the latest acquisition or shift in corporate strategy. A marketing person will probably have thoughts on the shift of ad spend to new platforms away from traditional media. Know your interviewer.

Follow up with Value

When you send your follow up thank you note, add something that provides value. Whether it’s a link to an interesting article you read or a follow up to something discussed in the interview, adding something extra to the standard “thank you” is a good way to stand out.

Qualities I Look For

There are 3 qualities I look for in a candidate.

  1. Hard work with progression. It matters less exactly what you were doing and more that you were working hard to get things done. I also want to see an increase in responsibilities over time and a desire to improve things.
  2. Trust and reliability. Can I trust you to get things done accurately and on time? Will you admit to a mistake when you make it rather than cover it up? Can I count on you when the going gets tough? Will you help others even if it has no direct tie to your role?
  3. Intellectual curiosity. Are you invested in the work we are doing and do you want to learn more about it? It doesn’t matter if the subject is boring, I want to see that you want to know the “why” behind things and that you care about the business we are in.

Unless the job is really specific, less important to me are the technical skills. If you are a hard worker and have the intellectual curiosity to learn more, you can learn the technical skills.

And finally, be yourself! Don’t create a work persona version of yourself. There is obviously ways to behave at work versus in your personal life. But don’t make up things that aren’t true about you. It rarely works and if it does, the job probably isn’t for you anyway.

You can find me on Twitter @rhettweller

Getting Rid of Operational Debt – A Light Bulb Moment

light bulbWhen was the last time you researched light bulbs? It’s one of those small things in life that we don’t want to spend a lot of time thinking about. Bulbs go out, we buy new ones, and replace them. It’s what we have always done right? When a friend told me I could cut my home electricity bill in half by replacing all of my old 65 watt light bulbs with LED 8.5 watt bulbs I didn’t believe him. There had to be a catch right?

Turns out there is no catch. Well at least not anymore. LED bulbs used to cost around $10 a bulb making their payback period really long. Now they are less than a dollar on Amazon. They give off the same brightness, illuminate immediately, and use about 13% of the electricity required of a more traditional bulb. So what was stopping me from reducing my electricity bill?

Technical debt is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional rework caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer. Outside of the software world, many of us experience what I call “Operational Debt”. Similar to technical debt, operational debt is the ongoing overheard/tax we pay by not taking the time to make processes more efficient. For the light bulbs in my house, it was the upfront cost of researching which bulbs to buy, buying them, and the hour or so of labor to replace them.

In my current job, I own the revenue forecast and actual reporting for a large portion of our services business. I have an incredible team that does an amazing job each month making sure we are as accurate as possible with our forecast and reporting. The nature of the work is very demanding, especially during our month end close and forecasting periods. Even though we are really good at what we do, over time we have built up a lot of “operational debt” in the form of inefficient processes resulting in sub-optimal performance. This is business school speak for “the process works, but if I had time I would improve it.” As you can imagine, the processes that need the most improvement coincide directly to the busiest times of the month.

And while I felt like my team was already performing at a high level, it was time to get rid of our operational debt.

A few days before our latest close and forecast weeks, I proposed that as we went through our normal processes everyone should take notes on needed improvements. We wouldn’t try to clean up anything right away, just note it down. After the forecast week, we had a short meeting to compare notes and divide the work among the team. I then blocked everyone’s calendar for an entire day and suggested they turn on their out of office status. This is critical not only to give a sense of priority, but to provide managerial cover to avoid distractions. During the day we checked in on each other’s progress and provided support and suggestions.

The results were incredible! A small sample of what we accomplished:

  • Forecast model enhancements
  • New automatic reporting capability
  • Linking to systematic data sourcing
  • New metrics
  • Allocation file simplifications and enhancements
  • Transition documentation for our rotational analyst

Even simple formatting changes were huge upgrades as it eases the mental energy needed to understand complex models. All of these refinements improved our team’s agility and speed for when it’s needed most (business school translation: it makes our jobs much easier which let’s us do more.)

One consequence I had not anticipated was the increased energy and excitement around this project. Operational debt tends to weigh on the minds of high performers. Given the chance and the managerial support to do it, people will jump at the chance to improve processes and work streams. Spring cleaning always feels good after it’s over right?

I would highly recommend holding a “remove operational debt” day. With proper planning and prioritizing, it can dramatically improve your team’s performance.

Oh and yes, my electricity bill was cut almost in half 🙂

You can find me on Twitter @rhettweller or drop me a note.