To many, working remotely is living the dream. Being able to roll out of bed, make a cup of coffee, and sit down at the computer to start work without sitting in traffic, waiting for trains, or cramming onto buses sounds like heaven for those with taxing commutes – but the reality can be a little different.
Working remotely can be a challenge unto itself, requiring an extra level of attention and focus that isn’t always necessary in a traditional office environment. From the draw to take care of that load of laundry to the temptation of turning on the TV for a few minutes, it’s easy to let work fall by the wayside in a residential environment. It’s also easier to feel disconnected from team members. Without a smile and a wave every morning or the ability to swing by and ask a simple question, working remotely can be a little isolating and frustrating.
However, working remotely can be a big perk for many people, and it can be a very effective way to accomplish goals and get ahead in the workplace. These tips can help you master working remotely, increasing focus and productivity along the way.
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Create a Dedicated Workspace
Distractions are common in a workspace of any kind, but working from home adds an extra burden. Housekeeping tasks, like making meals and doing laundry, can creep into your mind, while the temptation of the television is always lurking. While this isn’t always a big deal – some days, there will be plenty of time to cook a nice lunch in between conference calls – in many cases, the distractions of home can be a serious detriment. Research indicates that in 82% of cases, tasks that are interrupted by distractions are continued the same day, but on average, it takes over 23 minutes to get back to business. That’s a problem when deadlines are looming.
To avoid the allure of lounging on the couch, create a dedicated workspace, preferably in a quiet, clean room with a door that closes and a computer setup. If there are potential complications in the house, like children home with a nanny or a spouse who also works from home, invest in noise-canceling headphones or soundproofing to keep your workspace just that: a space for work.
As Chloe Brittain, the owner of Opal Transcription Services suggests, “Be upfront with your family and friends about your working hours and that you’re unavailable to take messages during that time. And if your friends don’t respect that and continue to bombard you with texts, there’s only one solution left: ignore them!”
Set Working Hours
In an office, you’re generally on the clock for a set amount of time, often from 9 AM to 5 PM. At home, however, nothing is tethering you to your desk, save perhaps scheduled meetings. When hours are up to your discretion, it’s far easier to allow distractions to creep in. Starting late to get a workout in, stopping early to make dinner, or leaving mid-day to run errands may be okay every now and then, but it’s best to set hours for your work day so you can prevent these kinds of activities from distracting you.
Further, when you have set work hours, your bosses can confirm you’re doing what you need to be doing. Failing to answer emails in a timely manner or pushing back on early meetings, for example, implies that you’re not working as effectively as you should be. States the co-owner and COO of Slumber Yard, Matthew Ross, “If you’re going to work remotely, I expect you to respond to questions and emails immediately. When I don’t hear back from a remote worker within 20 minutes, I start to think they aren’t actually working.” As such, it’s important to come up with set working hours based on your preferences, work requirements, and best practices to make sure you’re getting done what you need to get done.
For those in an industry not predicated by maintaining hours, setting goals is a good alternative. Adam Hempenstall, the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals, offers this advice: “The way we increased productivity as remote workers was simple. We focused on goals. Each week, everyone would get a set of goals that they needed to achieve. They could work whenever they want and for as long as they want, as long as the goals were met. That way, we got rid of the pressure and we made sure that everyone did their part. So far, it’s working out fairly well.”
Setting a designated work schedule also helps you to manage your time in a good way: when you have a set end time, you can ensure work doesn’t spill into your personal life and disrupt your work life balance.. “Give yourself a stop time, too. When you tell yourself you can work all night, you’ll be less motivated to work efficiently than if you know you have to stop at 6:00,” says Jennifer Johnson, a communications and public relations consultant.
Utilize the Right Tools
Technology is a wonderful thing, making remote work possible. The internet keeps everyone connected, allowing communication and productivity from anywhere, any time. However, sitting at your desk and relying solely on emails means leaving a lot of valuable tools on the table. From video chatting capabilities to project management software that caters to joint workflow, companies now employ significant infrastructure designed to support remote staff.
Many successful remote workers employ significant amounts of technology to stay face to face, even when oceans away. As Haley Anhut, a marketing manager at Clean Origin, suggests, “Get face time in with your team. It’s almost 2020! We have the technology to be present with a remote team. Call someone instead of emailing or video call instead of messaging. It can help to make you feel present.”
Not sure what you need? Try a few out and see what works for you. “Experiment with some digital tools and learn how to make them work for you. I use Asana to plan out my daily, weekly, and long term goals, as well as collaborate with my remote team. Some remote workers might also find value from a time tracking tool, additional collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom, and a system for sharing important documents such as Dropbox, Google Suite, or Box.” And, if you find something that works for you, don’t be afraid to speak up. Getting a whole team on the same system can increase efficiency, so your suggestions can benefit your entire department.
Keep in Touch
When you work remotely, it’s easy to feel a little alienated from the other people you work with. In many cases, remote workers hone in on themselves and their objectives, working on the things they need to accomplish to meet expectations without speaking with other team members.
In an office, information flows freely: it’s not uncommon for team members to share gossip, stop by one another’s desks to share tidbits, or pick up an idle conversation before and after meetings. As such, working away from the office means it’s harder to stay up to date on details that are important to the course of business. Rather than sitting around waiting for information to come your way, reach out to your peers and managers to make sure you’re always in the loop. Ask for developments on projects, request feedback on projects, and message your coworkers just to chat from time to time. This kind of conversation and info swapping is a big part of normal employment, so the absence of this element when working from home can be a big disadvantage.
Many companies that offer flexible work conditions invite remote employees to pop into the office from time to time if they’re in the same area, or even fly remote workers into head office for regular catch ups. If your company offers this, be sure to take advantage.
Slumber Yard‘s Matthew Ross believes that it’s the onus of the remote worker to make sure information isn’t missing. “As a remote worker, you have to take it upon yourself to talk with co-workers and managers to stay up to date on the latest company initiatives and strategies. Another pet peeve of mine is when remote workers say “well, I didn’t know” or “no one told me”. If you work remotely, part of your responsibility is to stay up to date with what’s being discussed in the office.”
Step Into Your (Home) Office
Working remotely certainly has its advantages, but being productive at home isn’t as easy as it sounds. With these tips for working remotely, it’s possible to create a workspace, productivity plan, and virtual team connections that work for you.