So, You’re Working Remotely, Eh?
After more than six years at my organization, I moved out of state but kept the same job. And, for all intents and purposes, it’s been fantastic — with, of course, a few hiccups and freak outs here and there. (Yes, I am my own help desk and that can suck.)
Here, though, are some tidbits of wisdom from my nearly four years of remote work. These tips and tricks have helped me be uber productive and even more effective at my job. Perhaps they’ll help you, too.
1 — Keep a usual morning routine and get ready for work.
I wake at the same time, shower, walk the dogs, get my coffee, do my hair, put on casual business attire, etc., everyday before signing on for work. By getting ready for work — actually dressing the part, I get in the mindset to do my job (I do wear jeans, b/c, seriously, I’m working from home).
Plus — remember The Jetsons and how ‘Jane’ had that cool mask she put on when she answered the video phone so she didn’t look like she just rolled out of bed when she really did just roll out of bed? I don’t have one of those. So, until one of those exists for me, since telecommuting is also a visual thing (thank you, Facetime), dressing the part makes those video chats way less awkward (hey, where’d you get those plaid jammies?).
It also, I’ve found, helps me feel a sense of camaraderie with my colleagues who are in the office. I know they have a dress code to honor, so by following the same type of habit, I’m emotionally tying myself to them.
Burnout causes work to suffer. Burnout causes life to suffer.
2 — Dedicate office space (or work space) and do your damndest to keep it dedicated.
The idea of using my couch never crossed my mind when I first started working remotely, mainly because I didn’t like our couch.
At the time, my partner and I lived in a one bedroom apartment so I made a corner office in the bedroom — I wanted to save the living area to be a space away from office work. Since I wouldn’t be looking at the office corner when I slept, I was able to mentally separate the corner of the bedroom.
When we bought a home, we got super lucky to find a place we could afford and that had the perfect space for me to work. The space I use now is only used as an office — it is not a bedroom, it is away from the main living areas, and it is totally work-focused. I can shut the door and leave work behind.
You don’t have to have this type of space, though. Your office space is about how you mentally define the space. The key is creating a work-focused atmosphere that supports YOUR working style.
3 — Got to stick to a schedule — but you’re human.
I work the hours my team works.
I sign on a little early, in case my remote desktop isn’t working or I’m having other computer issues, but I’m there — virtually — when they are.
When I’m running late in the morning — maybe my one ridiculous dog decided to show off how fast he can run without a leash down the street and I had to enlist my neighbors to help me catch him or I just didn’t wake up on time — I text my team “traffic sucks, running late!” (After decades of horrid commutes, I adore that I don’t commute anymore but still love to blame the commute. You have to find dumb joy in something.)
“I had no idea you’re not in the building — now you’re telling me you’re not even in the same state?”
4 — Be a communication whore.
When I first started working from home, I would tell my teammates when I was going to the bathroom or taking a break to eat lunch and wouldn’t be able to answer my phone.
It was a little extra.
So I stopped that.
But my team and I talk A LOT. And sometimes we just talk to bitch about things — which is just as important, I think, as talking about the actual project at hand.
I have several layers of communication with my colleagues:
- I respond to emails as I normally would — which is pretty quickly. Since most people are busy with projects, if I can’t respond fully right away, I at least acknowledge the email and let them know I’m working on another project, but will get back soon.
- I’m available by text and IM.
- I’m ready for any surprise Facetimes.
- And my phone is always on — I do turn the ringer off at 6PM.
I’m the only person at my organization who works remotely; that, in and of itself, can be weird. Sometimes telling co-workers, with whom you’ve only worked virtually, that you are literally NOT in the building and literally CANNOT meet quickly in their office can be a bit startling for them and I’ve heard A LOT: “I had no idea you’re not in the building — now you’re telling me you’re not even in the same state?”
5 — Turn your computer off/put away your tools.
Like most teams, my team’s to-do list will only be finished if the organization, god forbid, should ever close. There’s no end to the work we have to do and we could work all hours to get things done (which we’ve done a fair bit).
But we can’t. There’s really no point.
Work/life balance is essential to being productive. Burnout causes work to suffer. Burnout causes life to suffer.
So, in a moment of intervention, one day my partner scheduled my computer: power up at 8AM, shut down at 6:30PM.
I work less hours by working from home, but have produced more, and at a better quality, since working from home.
And having my computer remind me that I’m working later than most of my colleagues is a great way to ensure I don’t use working from home as an excuse to work endlessly — because I could do that and have done that in the past.
Make your work worthy of your time.
6 — Check in to keep improving.
Best way to know if working remotely is working for you is to ask your colleagues. I don’t do it too much, maybe every few months, but being upfront with my colleagues and asking if they are getting what they need from me and that things are still working, from their perspective, is important.
This really gives me the insight I need to make changes and keeps that whole “communication whore” thing going — I want to keep the walls down so the creative part of our work can be its best.
Just as important, though, is accepting that things are working. When you need to make a change make it. When you don’t, your cool.
Don’t obsess about it — check in once in a while and accept the answers at face value. Don’t keep asking. Don’t be that insecure lover who always wants to know what their partner is thinking. Just do your best work and go from there.
7 — Lastly, but not least-ly: do the work you believe in or find motivation to make your work worthy of your time.
It’s easy to want to do a remote job because it’s not in an office. If it’s a job you wouldn’t like doing if you were in the office, though, working from home will blow. You’ll actually be living at the job you don’t want to do.
Passion for what you do (or why you do what you do) helps keep motivation alive. I know meaningful jobs can be hard to find. A decade ago, I would have said I’d never find one (but I did). So, if you haven’t found it yet: look for it. Keep working, pay your bills, etc., but find something you love doing or find a meaningful reason to do what you’re doing (i.e. you’re able to care for your family, you have work-life balance, you have more time to dedicate to volunteering, etc.).
Life is long and hard enough — enjoy it all you can.