Whether spurred by the millennial mindset or just a product of the internet generation, more and more companies are offering remote work as a benefit. As it stands, 3.2 million American workers telecommute daily. This number is only expected to increase in the next few years. Experts predict that the number of workers telecommuting will reach 50 percent by 2020. This rise can be attributed to companies becoming more aware of the benefits of telecommuting — not only does it positively impact their bottom lines, it’s a fantastic way for employees to manage a healthy work-life balance.
From an employee standpoint, the greatest benefit of remote work is the ability to work in the way that best suits you. Of course, that flexibility does come with it’s own set of challenges. Finding the right balance, battling distractions, and communicating with managers and team members can be difficult. As someone who has a ridiculous amount of experience working from home, here are 10 things I’ve learned are necessary for effective and efficient remote work.
1. Invest in Good Equipment
Pay special attention to the infrastructure when setting up your home office. You’ll need good equipment, including a laptop, headset, and phone. A stable internet connection (and good backup connection, such as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot) are absolutely essential. If you’re constantly dropping calls or having connectivity issues, your employer isn’t going to view you as a reliable worker. Check with your company to see if they will cover some or all of the expenses for this equipment. If not, you may be able to deduct home office expenses from your taxes.
2. Compartmentalize Your Workspace
When your office and home are one and the same, it’s easy to feel as if you’re always attached to your work — even while you’re not working. If you don’t find a way to create distinct lines between your work and home life, you’re bound to end up burnt out.
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It’s incredibly important to create a space that is used exclusively for work. It doesn’t need to be an office — in my case it’s a recliner — but it should be somewhere that, when occupied, automatically puts you in the work mindset. Above all else, it should never be a space you use to relax. Working in your bed or on your couch is a surefire way to end up turning the most tranquil places in your home into stressful ones.
3. Get “Ready” for Work
As tempting as it may be, rolling out of bed and straight into work isn’t the best way to establish a healthy work-life balance. Your brain needs some time to get ready for the day, and to create that clear distinction between home and work. Allow yourself at least half an hour between sleep and work. You can use this time to shower, change into clothes (or fresh pajamas), have breakfast, take the dog for a walk — whatever you’d like.
4. Stick to a Schedule
While the flexibility of telecommuting is awesome, a set schedule is often more beneficial than not. My company only offers 40 hours of flex time a month — beyond that, they require remote workers to keep the same hours as the home office. This schedule allows us to easily collaborate with our coworkers and managers. Plus, it makes it easy to tell friends and family who might interrupt that, between the hours of seven and five, I’m working. More than anything, a set schedule is just another way to retain that clear delineation between work and home.
5. Take Multiple Breaks
Regardless if you’re at home or in the office, breaks are vital! When setting your schedule, ensure you make time for lunch and at least two fifteen minute breaks. These reprieves allow you to stretch your legs, get in a little movement, have a nosh, and return to your work with more energy. It’s also a great time to do some laundry or wash the dishes!
6. Take Multiple “Brain Breaks”
Brain breaks are equally as important as their physical counterparts. When you’re intently focused on a problem and seem to be getting nowhere, a brain break allows you to look away from the issue for a moment while keeping your brain busy. Five to 10 minutes later, you can return to your work with renewed focus. For me, playing a bit of Candy Crush, reading an interesting article, or catching up on the news are all great ways to give my brain a breather from work, without letting it go idle.
7. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
In his article, “The Zen of Working in Comfy Slippers”, Nathan Gervais put it plainly when he says, “There is no more important skill for a remote worker then being an effective communicator.” When we’re physically cut off from our managers and coworkers, keeping an open line of communication is pretty much a requirement.
Don’t wait for your manager or co-worker to initiate a conversation. If you need something, reach out. Use whatever tools are necessary to connect to your colleagues — email, chat, phone, video conferencing, etc. Just be sure to pick the tool that best conveys the message you need heard. When in doubt, double up (i.e. send a chat and an email.)
In order to avoid confusion in written communication, take time to reread what you've typed before you send it. Make sure you've clearly and succinctly communicated what you need to get across. If you receive a baffling email or chat from a coworker, ask clarifying questions before responding to or acting on their words. This will prevent costly mistakes!
8. Stay in Touch With Your Coworkers
The average employee spends 40 waking hours a week with their coworkers — often more than they spend with their family. Simply put, their social lives are built around the relationships they cultivate at work. However, when you work remotely, you can’t count on chatting with a deskmate throughout the day, or passing a colleague in the breakroom and catching up on life.
The relationships we have with our coworkers are not only important on a social level, they’re essential for effective collaboration. As a remote worker, you have to be deliberate about reaching out and connecting with your co-workers. Start the day on your company chat by greeting your coworkers and conversing about non-work related topics. Not only does this strengthen your relationships, it lets colleagues (and managers) know that you’re currently working — and it keeps you from becoming invisible.
9. Be Firm With Loved Ones
For some reason, friends and family tend to view working from home as meaning you’re free to do whatever, whenever. While you definitely have more flexibility that the typical office worker, you still have a job to do. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that your family and friends know that during your scheduled hours of work, you are unavailable — no phone calls just to chat, no errands, no long lunches. As a rule of thumb, tell them that if they wouldn’t contact you if you were in a traditional office, then they shouldn’t contact you at home.
10. Master Self Control
Working at home requires an insane amount of self-control. An environment free of coworkers and managers means you only have personal responsibility to regulate your actions — and it’s much easier to give in to tempting distractions. However, whatever your company’s standards, it’s your own that should keep your productivity from deteriorating.
Familiarize yourself with your strengths and weaknesses, and adjust your routine to suit. If you’re prone to binge-watching Netflix, disable it on your browser and ensure there’s no television in your workspace. Tempted to play with the kids? Alter your schedule so you’re finished with work by the time they get home from school. Keep your work area as distraction-free as possible, and your productivity is bound to soar.
In the end, there is no right or wrong way to work from home. It all comes down to what works best for you and your company. Nevertheless, you’re certain to meet at least a few of the aforementioned challenges along the way, and it never hurts to have a little knowledge on your side.