Remote working has become an increasingly popular option around the world. Companies can benefit from reduced overhead costs, the ability to hire workers in different countries, and easily operate around the clock. Meanwhile, employees reap the benefits of flexible work schedules and the ability to work from anywhere including their homes or on the road. And thanks to technological advancements and a digitized workplace, more professions can participate.
If you’re new to remote working, there are both benefits and challenges to not commuting to an office. Here are some tips for newbies so they can get the most out of their new working environment.
What Is Remote Working Like?
Many people romanticize remote work. Far too many blogs, online job boards, and other resources promote a nomadic work-from-the-beach side of flexible work and don’t touch on some of the aspects of it that are challenging to the most enthusiastic online worker.
Coming up to my two-year anniversary as a remote worker, I’m going to tell you two things from the get-go:
- Remote working takes some getting used to.
- Be prepared to create a whole new social structure for yourself.
Naturally, working in isolation brings some extra challenges. Off the bat, we’re talking about the need for self-motivation, long-distance communication, and dealing with the anti-social aspects of working in this manner.
If you’re just starting out as a remote worker, chances are you’ve found some aspects of your new-found freedom tricky to manage. Given my time as a ‘nomadic worker’, I’ve learned this the hard way.
Trust me, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just follow my tips to make your transition from a fixed office job to the freedom of remote and flexible work as smooth as possible.
Why Remote Working Works
Remote jobs are appearing more frequently on job sites. It’s safe to say that remote work has gone mainstream. Job boards are filled with big-name employers like Amazon, Namecheap, Automattic, and many more searching for fully virtual team members.
To support the independent working agenda, products like Slack, Dropbox, and GoToMeeting pop up year after year, supplying the goods to keep remote workers running like a well-oiled machine – without the need for a physical office.
Regardless of the total number of remote jobs and distributed companies, remote workers report countless benefits over the traditional workplace environment. Studies generally agree on improvements such as:
- Productivity – 65% of full-time employees think a flexible and remote work schedule would increase their productivity, according to SurePayroll.
- Efficiency – 30% of remote workers surveyed by Connect Solutions said that telecommuting allowed them to accomplish more in less time.
- Motivation – More than half of workers said working away from their office
- Happiness – Removing the commute factor means employees find it easier to have a work-life balance, and are generally happier as a result, as noted in Go Gulf’s “State of Remote Working Report.”
Challenges of Remote Working
Now that we’ve explored the benefits of working remotely for both employee and employer, let’s talk about the dark side of the moon.
I’m not the first to say that working remotely comes with some challenges, most of which depend on how you operate. Fortunately, most of these are also are easy to overcome. Addressing these issues head-on is the way to be sure distance doesn’t turn into problems between remote working teams. Now let’s get started molding you into the best remote worker you can be.
1. Practice Self-discipline
The first thing to remember about remote working, even if you have a boss is that your number one accountability partner is you.
Just stepping into an office can be motivating in itself. Think about the time you’ve sat at your desk making a conscious effort to work because
- You see other people working, and that drives you to get busy.
- Other people are around to see if you are slacking off.
Working remotely removes any social pressures you’re used to: the beady eye of your boss down the hall, or the fact that your direct competition sat across the office, incentivizing you to get down to work.
When you work by yourself, there’s no one to nudge you into getting your tasks done in a timely fashion, and if you aren’t working in cafes or coworking, there are no people around to act as a motivating factor.
From here on, you have to be motivated and be accountable to yourself.
From the onset, you have to stay focused and steer clear of any distractions, which you’ll find come thick and fast. I’m also talking about not working from bed—no matter how tempting it sounds. (We’ll get on to setting up a space that serves as a home office later in this article.)
2. Know when to log off
This was one of my biggest challenges going into remote work. Where previously I was lucky enough not to take work home, I now found myself receiving internal chat notifications and emails at all hours (this will be especially true if you work in a different time zone to your coworkers).
A common challenge is how to not work too much when you’re working remotely. Remote workers often report that they feel that they’re on-call all of the time, with the result that many work beyond their stated hours. Your laptop is in view, and you have a nagging urge to finish a task you started earlier in the day or to check your email throughout the evening just in case that feedback came through.
Most remote workers will tell you the best part is having the flexibility to work when you are most productive, or when you can. Working remotely gives you the freedom to design your day, or indeed your life both inside and outside of work. So don’t fall into the trap of setting a standard that you are available 24/7. That’s not expected of anyone.
Maintaining work-life balance when you work from home—as opposed to being in an office—is challenging. Remote work blurs the lines you had between your work and personal life. Suddenly your home is no longer the environment you associate with doing your own day-to-day stuff, spending time with family, and relaxing.
Deciding in advance when your workday will end is the right way to go about it. This should be part of your daily plan. Then, once time’s up, simply wrap everything up, log off, and close your laptop. Heck, place it under your bed or shut your office door, so your desktop computer is out of sight.
- Communicate your working hours. From your early days working independently, develop a habit of setting a time when you officially “log off” for the night. It’s also sensible to communicate your daylight savings and typical working hours with team members to save any misunderstandings or false expectations.
- Maximize your time. When you don’t have to work a strict 9-5, it’s helpful to know how much you achieved on any given day. Tracking time per task is one way to find out where you are spending your time. Track your time with something like Togg and check your stats after a week. You might find some areas you should be spending less or even more time on.
- Start a ritual. Stick to a similar work-day ritual like you did before when you worked in an office. If you act like you are preparing to go to work (even if you are staying at home all day), the ritual alone will put you in a working mindset. Take a shower, put some fresh clothes on and you’re prepared for action.
3. Consider your working environment
The key here is to set up a place where you can focus on your work-related tasks. Wherever you work, you should feel motivated by your working environment and primed to tackle any tasks that come your way.
While it’s tempting to work from the couch, or in bed, these chill-out areas put your brain in the same mode. Ideally, you won’t work where you sleep at all. A room where you can close the door is optimal, but realistically any space can be your home office, from the garage to a converted attic. Just make sure it’s used for work—and work only—to put you in a more productive state. You might even find it most appropriate to find a coworking space nearby.
Work time is time to concentrate, as it’s always been. No matter where you are, creating a designated workplace to fire up work-related thoughts is essential for:
- Motivation – When you enter that space, you are already in the ‘ready to work’ mindset. By putting your brain in a mindset it understands you can work anywhere effectively, regardless if you’re a nomadic traveler working on a train or the comfort of home.
- Common sense reasons – Aside from helping your motivation, you’ll want to spread out your work materials, such as reports, books, stationery, and have them out all day. That rules the kitchen table out, where you will have to clear up your stuff for lunch and get it out again to work for the rest of the day, and then tidy again in time for dinner.
4. Work out how you work best
Along with setting up an adequate workspace, you need to factor in your working style as you start your remote work endeavor.
- Working environment – What environment helps you work successfully? For example, if you work best in silence, noise-canceling headphones will fix any challenges working in public on the move. If you feel most invigorated by white noise, a busy cafe over a library may be a good option.
- Breaks – Taking breaks are a no-brainer. They’re good for health and taking some time away from work leave you with fresh eyes when you get back to it!
Consider the types of break that work best for you. Do you get the most value from one longer midday break or several small breaks throughout the day for example?
Taking a few moments to consider how you can adapt remote work to your routine is the beauty of remote work. Work your best hours, environment, whatever that may be.
5. Avoid distractions
One of the perks of working out-of-office is the peace you get from everything that was going on around you. Safely sheltered from an open-plan office, you no longer lose your train of thought thanks to ringing phones, a passing work buddy, or chatty coworkers. Best of all, it’s never your turn to do the coffee run or make the tea.
Sounds awesome! But taking an office out of the mix doesn’t mean your mind won’t be taken off task elsewhere.
As a newbie to remote work, you might be surprised to hear that the things you cherish the most from your new freedom end up being the exact things that distract you from your work. For example, new parents often look to remote work as a solution to taking care of their baby and cherishing those early moments while staying on top of their careers. While it’s great to be able to spend more time with your kids, the reality hits that you’re now tasked with working a full day as before, but now there are diapers to changes, formula to mix and even older toddlers to look out for.
For non-parents, as you’d expect, the distractions are endless and varied. From binging on the latest episodes of Star Trek, to playing with your pet Border Collie Casper, or to scrolling your Facebook feed, there are endless distractions at home. What’s more, your bed is right there. And you might have had a hard night’s sleep.
The temptation of a nap or catching up on the latest escapades of Captain Kirk is high, so what’s stopping you? According to Dr. David Meyer in an American Psychological Association article, multitasking doesn’t work. Switching between tasks can result in as much as a 40% loss of productivity.
Overcoming these tempting is just a matter of self-discipline. Learn to recognize what take you off task, and perhaps find a way you can incorporate them into your breaks. That’s what having a flexible schedule is all about—taking a break to walk Casper or catching up on an episode of your favorite show at lunchtime. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Communication is an essential asset in any professional role, and unfortunately, a classic problem for remote teams. In a typical office, your coworkers are a few desks down and getting in touch was simply a matter of tapping them on the shoulder. On a remote team, you no longer have that luxury.
When you’re on a remote team, it’s even more important to ensure everyone is one the same page, and there are no misunderstandings or dropped balls. One quick fix is using internal communication methods for specific purposes.
- Chat is dedicated to quick questions and messages. Many companies operating over distances use apps like Slack. Slack groups channels around a particular topic to check if someone else has had the same question.
- Email is best for non-urgent communication since people just don’t check their email as much as their messaging apps. When sending an email, err on the side of brevity. In my experience as a remote worker, many people check on their phone, so they prefer a quick message to respond on the move.
- Phone calls are your best bet for clarification when a chat message won’t do, or might even take longer to take than explain in a few words on a VoIP phone or Skype, or any other Internet chat tool. A group call is also your best bet for brainstorming.
Given that you’ll work best with large chunks of interrupted time, make sure you set aside dedicated time for communication and correspondence. This is essential to working remotely. This way you won’t miss messages from colleagues and influence a culture of regular communication.
One of the main pitfalls of working remotely is the social element—or lack thereof.
In the early months of my remote career, everything felt a bit quiet.
Working in this way can feel isolating, and remote workers report feelings of loneliness. You’ve gone from endless water cooler chat, banter at lunchtime, and after-work drinks. This can really become an issue if you don’t make an effort toward leaving the house and socializing.
As Ali Greene of DuckDuckGo noted,
“biggest challenge is making sure I seek out human connections throughout the day and avoid the “work from home” stereotype of being in pajamas in front of my laptop.”
Fortunately, feeling left out of the hubbub of office life is one of the most straightforward work-from-home issues to fix. There’s absolutely no need to miss out on socializing if you:
- Get out –It’s easy to stay cooped up in the house all day. Just getting out of the house and being among people for a brief spell will lift your spirits, leaving you feeling less isolated.
The key to solving this is thinking about how to balance work and your life on a day to day basis. Make a point of getting out of the house at least once a day. You’ll find countless ways to do it. How about running an errand or taking a stroll and get some fresh air, you could even take your furry companion with you.
Taking up classes is also an excellent way to counter the effects of isolation. Anything else that you make a point to do to leave the house can help—things like fitness classes trip to the cinema, book clubs, and anything else that takes your fancy.
- Travel – Working remotely isn’t only for home-office workers. Once you feel confident enough, you can even take your work on the road. I’ve been fortunate enough to balance traveling through Europe while holding down a full-time job at Namecheap.
If you want to stay local, there are still many opportunities all around you to work outside the home. Take your laptop to a restaurant, camp out at your local coffee shop, or take advantage of the free Internet at the library.
- Join a coworking space – Using a coworking office worked wonders for my psyche and productivity. I got a daily dose of social interaction and met some like-minded professionally along the way. To check out the coworking options in your area, or other cities around the globe, check out LiquidSpace or TechRanch.
- Redefine existing relationships – Researching this post, I read something interesting from Karen E. Dill-Shackleford Ph.D. in Psychology Today. Her article discusses the benefits of remote work leaving space to be “more deliberate and planned about being social.” By taking out office chatter and multiple relationships to balance, you have the opportunity to have relationships with fewer people, and the best bit is that those relationships have space to be deeper and more meaningful.
8. Invest in reliable technology
As a remote worker, it’s likely that part of your job depends on technology. Tech is the cornerstone of effective communication across countries and continents, allowing a remote team to get their stuff done.
While any remote worker worth their salt will clarify that access to a reliable WiFi connection is integral to their success, there’s more to working remotely than an internet connection. Which other tools do you need to do your job well?
- Tools for the job
From the get-go, think about whether the nomad style is something you are interested in. If you’re nodding at your screen right now, then invest in some appropriate remote worker tech. If you’re gadget-mad like me, this will be one of the high points of your remote working transition.
Off the bat, some decent noise-canceling headphones to make that ‘work anywhere’ lifestyle happen—regardless of how loud the surrounding noise levels might be. If you need a second screen, a decent microphone, wireless keyboard, mice, or editing suite, invest in these too. It will be integral to your efficiency.
- Tech hacks
Besides physical tools, Forbes notes that there are some pretty neat apps to “supercharge your success as a remote or flexible worker”. Smart tech helps overcome some of the challenges that come with an increasingly unleashed workforce. It’s likely that your company has decided on a comms tool.
The apps linked above include everything from countering eyed strain, creativity tools for note-making, to-do lists, and productivity helpers to offer the fastest and cleanest email experience to date.
Embrace the Perks of Working Remotely
Once you’ve taken the leaf to work remotely, life and work will look a bit different.
I’ve been in the lucky position to work remotely for years, and can’t imagine looking back.
It’s how I’ve come to understand the modern working environment that fits me. That being said, I do acknowledge that it took some time for me to calibrate to my current state. A state that’s more productive than last year, more fulfilled and I hypothesize to be much less productive than next year.
While I still think “remote work”, “working from home” or “digital nomadism”—whatever you call it—is a better way of working, you need to invest in this path with intention.
This guide offers a realistic picture of the challenges of location independence and provides pointers to the skills you need to maximize your success. Remote work is what you make of it. It allowed me to design a better life for myself with the right adjacent goals in mind.