Last week, we discussed the pros and cons of working remotely in Part 1 of The Remote Worker series. Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and do so now. I promise, Part 2 will make a lot more sense with a little context.
When I began working remotely for Will Reed two years ago, I quickly learned that working from home is far from wearing pajamas and sneaking to the gym mid-afternoon (as many would expect). In the words of Spiderman, “With great power freedom comes great responsibility,” and I have learned 4 key lessons--many the hard way!--about how to be an effective remote employee. I hope you benefit from them as much as I have.
- Create extra structure for yourself.
The importance of a structured day became evident soon after I began working from home. As I’ve become more comfortable with a remote style, I’ve defined the 3 different facets important to my daily structure--general routine, work environment, and work milestones.
Develop a daily routine that mimics what you would do if you were going into an office. For me, that means waking up early enough to go to the gym, eat breakfast, and apply a little makeup before the work day begins. Whether or not anyone is going to see me, feeling put-together always makes me more productive. I also realized the importance of routine during my workday as well--since I am not surrounded by coworkers I don’t have built-in reminders to take lunch, have team huddles, etc., so I have to schedule these for myself.
Set up a environment conducive to your working style. At home, I have a clean desk by a window--it gives me a quiet place to work without feeling too isolated. I used to work in a busy office, so there are still times I feel lonely; on these days, I take my work to a coffee shop. As I mentioned in Part 1, nearly all people function better with some sort of human interaction during the day, so be sure to build that into your routine.
Set strict deadlines and checklists for yourself. Even if you are very self-driven, you will find a lot of distractions at home, and most likely your boss will check in less frequently than if you sat in the office. I create a thorough, prioritized to-do list every morning, and at the end of the day I send my boss a brief overview of my accomplishments. Even though my boss does not require these updates, I’ve found they hold me accountable to working efficiently.
- Don’t forget to take mental breaks.
While sticking to a structure is critical to being an effective remote worker, don’t forget to give yourself mental breaks as well. In an office environment these breaks happen naturally--you grab a snack from the break room, chat with a coworker, or go to lunch with your team. If you are ultra-focused on eliminating distractions at home, it is easy to blow through a 9+ hour work day without so much as looking up from your computer.
While you never want to abuse the freedom of working from home, I recommend scheduling a few short breaks into your work day. For me, this often becomes taking my dog on a short walk, meeting my husband for lunch, or washing a load of laundry. Taking mental breaks helps you maintain focus and productivity during the rest of your word day--don’t take my word for it, it’s science!
- Engage culturally with your company.
Just because you don’t sit in the office does not mean you can’t contribute to your company’s culture--you just have to get a little more creative to do so.
I’ve found that sending an encouraging email to a teammate, ordering a cookie delivery for my team, or checking in with a teammate to hear about her weekend can go a long way. I have to make a little extra effort to know what’s going on in my teammate’s lives since I miss out on “watercooler talk,” but when I do it means a lot to them.
I also recommend trying to use a video platform for as many meetings as possible. Seeing everyone “face-to-face” can make a positive impact.
- Know how to respond to people who don’t understand your job.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, one of the biggest disadvantages I’ve seen to being on the cusp of the remote worker trend is that others don’t take your work seriously. Remember those pajama stereotypes I mentioned at the beginning? To be honest with you, most people will think your work day looks like that. It isn’t rudeness on their part--it is just ignorance of the new nature of remote work.
Even though I have been working remotely for two years now, friends and family still often assume that my schedule is more flexible than their in-office friends. They call me to catch up, ask me to run an errand, or invite me to join them at the pool in the middle of the work day. The rule I set for myself is that if I couldn’t say yes to them in an office environment, then I shouldn’t say yes just because I work from home with less supervision.
Don’t get frustrated when others disregard your work; kindly remind them that you work from 8:30am-6:00pm (or whatever your work hours are), and you’d be happy to call them/run the errand/socialize outside of those hours. Over time they will begin to perceive your work more realistically.
In conclusion, once you’ve accepted a remote position, you need to establish extra rules for yourself to maintain your efficiency. Hopefully, the 4 Keys I’ve learned during my two remote years create a framework to do so. Be sure to never abuse your employer’s trust, but enjoy your new flexibility of working from home!