How to Work Remotely, and Successfully
Working from home may sound like a dream-come-true for some, but it’s not all about relaxation. Are you up for the challenge of staying on-task while away from office?
Before hitting that “apply” button, it’s always best to compare a company’s offered benefits against your own set of job-happiness requirements.
For example, if having the ability to work from home has moved up from a “wouldn’t-that-be nice” perk to a total necessity, then congratulations — you’re joining many like-minded professionals.
As VP of People at Trello, I’ve seen this growing trend firsthand. Trello is currently 44 employees, with 22 in our New York City headquarters and 22 working remotely around the world. On average, we’re hiring two to three new employees per month at an equal HQ-to-remote ratio.
But we’re not the only company who’s become plugged into this new remote-friendly culture. And it’s not just in tech; across all industries, talent decision-makers are realizing that in order to attract and acquire top prospective employees, you need to cast a wider net.
From the recent college graduate to the candidate with 20+ years’ experience, employees (and companies) are seeing the benefits of being able to work from home. Home, by the way, can even mean renting a house in Key West for a month to escape a soul-crushing winter. Why not? If work is getting done, let’s allow our employees to be as happy as possible.
Working from home, however, requires a different skillset and work ethic than working in-house. A productive in-office employee might not be as productive at home, or vice versa. A magical employee who is productive regardless of location does exist, but not everyone may be as adaptable.
How can you utilize this perk? What does it take to be a successful remote employee? I asked some of the best ones I know, my remote coworkers. They quickly and energetically provided me with some invaluable tips useful for anyone debating whether or not remote employment is right for them.
Establish a routine
Sticking to a schedule is key. If you normally arrive at the office by 8 a.m., then start your remote day by 8 a.m. Be sure to take a proper lunch break. Go for a ten-minute afternoon walk. End your work day when you would normally leave the office.
Doing this gives your work days the structure necessary to perform effectively. Nighttime plans or a post-workday reward routine will also help keep you focused during the day and on-schedule.
Keep consistent hours if possible, and have some kind of presence indicator (in your company’s chat, for example) so that people can see you’re available. People can’t physically see you, so they need another way to know that you’re ready for work. If your schedule varies, make your schedule, presence, and interruptibility as visible, accessible and known as possible to your colleagues. (They need to be aware of when they can bug you about random things!)
Be conscious of when you’re most productive, and divide tasks appropriately. If your work requires you to be “heads down,” perhaps shoot for afternoon meetings and do heavy lifting in the mornings.
Your routine sets the tone for the day. If chat or emails lead you down a rabbit hole of “wasting time,” try avoiding checking emails too much, at least until the afternoon. Set up a routine that works best for you.
A dedicated work area really helps to separate work and home life, and lessens the inevitable distractions that working remotely can cause.Having a private space with a door that closes is a must.
Make your surroundings inspiring for you! You spend more time in your home office than anywhere else, so create a positive environment.You can occasionally take a laptop into other areas outside of your dedicated work space, but have that be the exception, not the norm.
Boundaries need to be established if others will also be home while you work. Figure out the most respectful way to interrupt each other. For some text message works best, for others it’s G-chat.
Over-communicate & keep connected
Schedule frequent one-on-ones or check-ins with people who are supposed to know what you’re working on. Use video calls for this.
Also,chat with your co-workers! It can sometimes feel lonely working remotely, especially if you’ve never done it before. Whether it’s discussing your latest project or just talking about last night’s “Game of Thrones,” chatting with your coworkers will make you feel like you’re connected.
Be an effective, thorough and reliable communicator. Don’t send vague emails or chat messages about your project. Don’t disappear for 15 minutes from a chat conversation that you’re having. You no longer have the ease of walking over to talk to your coworker, so be clear in what you’re saying and asking.
It’s helpful to replicate some office chat that doesn’t happen otherwise. Follow coworkers on social media to remind yourself that you work with real humans and not just chat avatars.
Over-communicate! You may have to work a touch harder to keep an emotional pulse on what’s going on with each member of the team, but it’s crucial to have regular virtual meetings with everyone to ensure you’re all headed in the same direction. Also, don’t assume you know the intended tone of someone’s email or chat post. If it SEEMS hostile or weird, get on a video call with them as soon as possible.
Have an easy-to-use video chat with screen share that you can get to quickly (e.g. appear.in ). Own a chatroom that you can easily link to the chat. Invest in a good, dependable platform. You use it every day; it’s worth it.
Stay alert & active
Get dressed like you would if you were going out for the day. A common pitfall of remote employees is the whole, “Hey, I can work in my pajamas from under my covers!” After the novelty wears off, however, you can fall into a rut. Dressing as though you’re going into the office can really give you a boost.
Exercise before, during or after work is also beneficial for mental and physical health, as well as keeping focused at work. You may want to consider a treadmill desk to make up for the fact that you’re not walking to work or lunch anymore.
And don’t be intimidated – it’s perfectly fine to goof off with coworkers for a few minutes on video chat. Trust me, you’re doing this less than on-site employees, and time spent goofing off with other employees is not really time wasted.
You’re going to be smiling and laughing less at work as a result of being alone, and spending less time around your coworkers. Do something to make yourself laugh. Listen to comedy albums, or take short comedy clip breaks.
Deliver consistent results
When you work remotely, your focus has to be on getting things done that are visible to others in the company. This should be the case for on-site employees as well.
But keep in mind, when you work in an office, sometimes you can get away with just being visible, and not necessarily making your work visible or conveying daily progress. With remote work, the need to consistently deliver results is even higher, because nobody sees you every day – and they can’t see you actually working.
So next time you read that “remote-friendly” job description, do an honest assessment of yourself and the skills needed to get the job done. If the above makes you think, “Yeah, I can do that,” then go for it! Book that house in Key West and live the remote dream!