“You work from home?? Oh, I bet that’s great. I’d love to be able to work in my pajamas all day.”
How many times have you heard this? Or for those of you new to the remote-work world, how many times have you thought this? Working from home might seem like a dream environment – sweatpants, no frustrating commute, and fewer office interruptions.
But working from home can be quite a challenge. The lack of human interaction can be isolating and lonely. Home distractions can eat up your time – laundry, dishes, TV, pets, or the one day of beautiful weather. The lack of commute, while sounds appealing, can actually erase the lines between work and home. And if you’re one of the few (or only) remote members on your team, it can start to feel as though you’re an outsider.
Never fear – there are ways to get around these challenges! I’ve spent several years working remotely, so I’ve created a list of tips to be successful in this environment. Be aware – it takes a fair amount of discipline and focus, and the burden always lies with you to not let the hurdles affect the quality of your work. And sooo……
1. Establish a Routine
It’s easy to slip into habits like not setting the alarm, staying in PJ’s all day, and wandering into the kitchen to graze several times a day.
Instead, I’ve stuck to a morning ritual, similar to one if I was commuting. I set my alarm, get up, squeeze in a workout, take a shower, and get dressed (yep, in sweatpants, but not my PJ’s). I make my morning coffee, and sit down at my desk to start my day! I set a scheduled lunch break around halfway through my day, and as I would in the office, have my lunch already prepared (I do this the night before). At the end of my day, I sign off, close up my laptop, and cleanse the palate with a quick walk, errand, or a household chore.
2. Be Disciplined
Oooohhhh, daytime TV. The dishes piling up. And of course, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Wikipedia, Reddit, TripAdvisor…. just to name a few. Distractions are abundant, even for the most focused individual.
So how do I avoid them? First, I stay aware! Just knowing that they’re sucking up my time is half the battle. Second, I make strict rules for myself (you might even consider writing them down). Household chores are for after 5:00. The TV stays off (or at a low volume, and not the lastest episodes of my favorite shows). I don’t allow myself to spend much time on social media. If they’re too tempting for you, you can try tools like RescueTime and StayFocused. They actually block indicated sites during a specific timeframe!
3. Have A Separate Workspace
Separating work from home helps me get into “work mode” and “home mode,” which is crucial to my health, sanity, and relationships. I designate a room (or corner of the home would work) as my office, and keep everything I need for the workday in close quarters. I’ve invested in my office with a comfortable office chair and a reliable computer.
4. Stay Organized
Organizational skills are valuable to anyone, but especially to a remote worker. I keep my workspace free of clutter. I use tools like Evernote to file ideas, notes, pictures, and reminders in one place. I spend a few minutes each day filing floating thoughts or loose notes, creating new folders, and wrapping up the workday. I file paperwork at the end of each day, so that I start my day in a clean space.
5. Create A To-Do List
On Friday afternoons, I like to create my task list for the following week. I list every minute task, divide them by project, and set a deadline. That way, when I start my week, I know exactly where to start. I update my task list every day. This might sound time-consuming and redundant, but it’s been massively helpful in staying focused and prioritizing. I share my task list document with my boss (via Google Docs), so that he knows what my upcoming priorities and goals are, and can modify it when necessary. Which leads me right into my next tip….
6. Stay In Communication
How would I describe my communication style? When I’m not working in the office, I “overly communicate.” This means I share my task list, all of my in-progress documents, and all of my projects’ statuses with my boss. This doesn’t mean constant notifications – it just means keeping him in the loop on everything.
I work in a time zone that was very remote, so I set up a spreadsheet displaying my schedule and time zone – in the context of THEIR schedules, making it easy for them to see each day’s overlap with their own hours. I keep my status “Online” on Chat and other online tools, and if I’m pausing for lunch or a quick break, I update the status as such: “At lunch – back in 20 min.” Transparency is key!
7. Know Your Collaboration Tools
The right tools are a major element of a remote worker’s success! I’ve used Skype, Google Hangouts, HipChat, and Sqwiggle for frequent chats and video conferences. Some folks like to use TimeAndDate in conjunction with these communication tools to chat during everyone’s work hours. For example, I like to start my day (or my coworkers’) with a “Hey there, good morning!”
Also, I work on the cloud! Collaboration tools such as Podio and BusyFlow are great for project management, especially when you can’t pop into my office to ask a question or offer a suggestion. Rather than storing my work on my hard drive, I share my docs with my team on Google Docs, Box, or ShareFile. This eliminates the guessing game on my progress and status.
8. Be Proactive
It’s important that remote team members are aggressive about asking for help, and in giving help to others, to drive projects forward. I made the mistake of not doing this in the early stages of working remotely, and thus, I learned the hard way. I realized that I needed to go above and beyond to directly ask for help, and reach out to colleagues and frankly state, “What can I do to help with this?” or “I have [such-n-such] data that relates to this! I can email this to you, but what else can I provide?” I made a point of asking questions and offering help regularly.
9. Get Face Time
Even if it means working outside of your normal hours or more travel, make sure you get face time with your team. Because of my time zone, I stay up late one night a week to Skype with my team, and I always opt for video chat. I travel back to headquarters as often as possible, and try to schedule my trips around team-building events. I like to schedule one-on-one video chats with my boss, even if it just means a quick session to get on the same page. This reinforces my presence, and clues me in to what’s happening with each of them.
10. Connect With People
Many other remote workers I speak with express the same sentiment as I: it’s easy to get the blues. Not getting quality time with coworkers eliminates some of the fun and bonding that happens in the office. Catching up on a Monday morning, laughing together at lunch, and coffee breaks were all something I valued, so the initial adjustment was difficult for me! However, I began meeting a gym buddy in the mornings, and making sure I got together with friends in the evenings and on weekends. I also recommend a coworking space in your city. These are terrific environments for human contact and meeting new people.
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Do you have remote work experience? If so, I’d love to learn what you’ve done to stay productive and in communication!