While the idea of remote work is not new, starting a remote career is now more accessible than ever. Technological adoption, scientifically-backed benefits and growing interest in work flexibility are convincing more professionals to give remote work a go. But not every story ends in success; and the road to a rewarding, sustainable remote lifestyle is far from straightforward.
This guide – informed by Timely remote workers’ 17 cumulative years of experience – explores what remote workers and managers can practically do to make “remote” work for everyone.
Even though remote workers spend the majority of their working life on their own, remote success is a team effort rather than an individual one. The role played by managers and office colleagues is just as important in establishing and maintaining quality remote work set-ups.
And that starts with recognizing that remote workers as equal core members of the team. While it’s easy to build relationships with people you see every day, building meaningful relationships with people you almost never meet in-person is extremely difficult. But you need to ensure you can build a culture that includes and values all its employees equally.
Teamwork is also just as important as it is to traditional office-based teams. Building remote working into your company does not mean you can outsource a ton of work. You need to investigate the right tools, communications and processes to enable a smooth team workflow that can overcome time zones and physical absence.
So, what can managers and in-house employees do to help “remote” work? Aside from putting the right tech and processes in place, they need to provide ongoing support to enable remote workers.
Office socializing is essential for strengthening relationships and providing valuable breaks, but working remotely completely cuts you out of that circle. So get creative with the ways you have conversations. Create dedicated Slack channels for socializing and Basecamp “campfire chats” to share stories and blow off steam, hold regular “virtual coffee breaks” and get a film and book thread going. At Timely, we have a rotating colleague-led social events calendar which protects space for quality remote/ in-house downtime each quarter. Bonding is part of the job.
This one seems pretty obvious, but make an effort to get in touch with your remote workers regularly – either by instant messenger, video chat or a simple call. It doesn’t have to be the same level of contact you have with in-house colleagues, but checking in at least once or twice a week can mean a lot for your remote worker. Whether there’s a work agenda or not, just make sure that contact is meaningful. Encourage the rest of your team to do the same; effective company communication is a collective responsibility.
Your remote workers should feel just as informed about company news, updates and announcements as in-house employees. Nothing sucks harder than second-hand information casually delivered by a random colleague weeks after an event actually took place. If remote workers are a full part of your company, treat them as such. Set up universal communications channels so there is no disconnect between what the office knows and what remote workers know. Hold regular company-wide gatherings, record meetings so people can catch-up at their convenience, and circulate updates to everyone as soon as decisions are made.
If everyone in the office is planning something fun during work hours, make sure you have a remote alternative. Long lunches, activity afternoons, trips out – keeping these kind of perks for office members alone is terribly exclusive and divides your workforce. It feels massively unfair for remote workers to continue plugging away while all their colleagues are offline and enjoying a break from work. Even if you can’t work remote participation into your office fun, offer a fun alternative they can enjoy so they don’t feel left out.
We can’t stress this one enough – meeting in-person really matters. We always try and get new members of the team to work their first weeks from our Oslo HQ. We’re also big fans of annual company meetups; they provide an essential space for meaningful in-house/remote bonding that strengthens collaboration for the long-term. Try to create opportunities for face-to-face contact wherever possible.
Some team building activities can overcome physical distance. To build a feeling of inclusivity and connection with your remote workers, set a fun company-wide target that everyone can contribute towards. Wellness goals and office fitness challenges are simple and highly effective for this – especially when actual prizes are involved.
This is just basic manager skills intelligently applied to a remote context. Use a combination of regular checks and direct feedback to make sure your remote workers feel supported and happy. Check whether they are taking their holiday entitlement, whether their attendance is healthy (alarmingly inconsistent or unnaturally perfect), and encourage them to talk about their wellbeing. This doesn’t have to be intrusive or weirdly paternal – just take an active interest and create opportunities to listen.
On the flip side, there are a few things remote workers need to manage by themselves. If you’re attracted to remote work, you’ll most likely already have the self-discipline and organizational prowess to make these a breeze.
For your own mental hygiene, separate work and personal time as much as possible. Setting a dedicated work area is key to achieving this – it creates a physical transition for ending working and starting your downtime. Once you’re finished with work, walk away from it.
Even flexible working requires some sort of structure. Create a routine and set consistent working hours for each day. This helps your own sense of stability as well as making it easier for the rest of the team to know when to contact you. If some mornings you need an extra 15 mins in bed, take it – just make sure these deviations from your norm pattern are reasonable. Some people find bracketing their day with a “mock commute”, like taking a walk or fitting in reading time, extremely helpful for switching in and out of work mode.
Research has shown that remote workers are 13% more productive than their in-office peers; with fewer distractions, you can settle into intense deep work very easily. But as a result remote workers also tend to work longer hours and take fewer breaks – an unhealthy mixture that only ends in burnout. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks; you need them to work effectively.
It’s super important to make sure you actually move about throughout the day – especially if you work from a home office for most of the week. While many people assume remote work gives you greater opportunity to maintain an active lifestyle, in reality there’s less reason to move about than in an office. Get a standing desk option and take active breaks – don’t make bathroom breaks and lunch the only reason to leave your seat.
As a remote worker, you will mourn in-person contact. You might even find yourself getting nostalgic about inane office chitchat – and for pretty good reason. Office socialization provides a healthy daily dose of interaction. You’re a social creature – wherever you fall on the contact spectrum – so work socialization into your day. Try co-working spaces, working with friends or just working in busy cafes a few times a week, and make sure you plan an active post-work social calendar to keep social isolation at bay.
When work makes its way into your own home, you need to protect space for your own personal wellbeing. Set boundaries and make commitments to yourself – some people like to schedule workouts at the beginning of their week as they would meetings to ensure they stick to them. Whether exercise, meditation or just leaving the house, set aside a space for your own self-care and fully disconnect from your work.
Tracking time as a remote worker is ridiculously useful – not just for monitoring progress, but for setting limits and ensuring your work patterns are healthy. Tracking your work hours helps you enforce a positive work-life balance by making sure work doesn’t serially bleed into your personal time. When you structure your own work schedule, keeping an eye on how much you spend on work each day is just good practice.
Seriously, food can become an easy replacement for company. Don’t just eat because you’re bored, want a distraction or need a break. You’re likely sitting down all day, so the last thing you want to do is overeat. If you are tempted, do yourself a favour and ensure those snacks are actually nutritional.
There’s a pretty tired stereotype floating around the internet about remote workers living in their pyjamas. However heavy-handed the approach, there is something to be said for the mental benefit of “getting ready” for an office-based job. Set a routine and make time to fully transition to work mode, not always opting for the same comfortable “inside clothes”.