Is working remotely on the rise or falling to the wayside?
Though there are different opinions, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Working remotely is not for everyone, but some people can do it successfully. It takes a different mindset, personality and adequate space to pull it off.
But that’s just the individual who is working remotely.
The company culture may also need to change. It needs to adapt and foster remote work or telecommute options for the remote individual or team to be successful. This isn’t an easy shift.
“Out of sight, out of mind” can be a simple trap for any manager to fall into. Instead, companies have to be more considerate and streamline their methods of communication to make sure each task is taken care of.
So…how do you do it?
The Best Tips for Working Remotely
We posed that question to several business leaders, entrepreneurs and creatives from a variety of industries to see how they work remotely–and what companies need to do to ensure success from their remote workers.
Wherever you situate your office, make sure it has a door — standard, pocket, sliding, bifold, French or barn style — for times when you need to talk privately on the phone or work without interruption. If you can splurge on only one thing in your office, make it your workstation.
Having an ergonomic — meaning efficient and safe — arrangement of your chair, desk, computer, keyboard, mouse and telephone can keep you working more productively and prevent repetitive injuries. Digital devices and other technology should be a primary consideration in your office design. Consider hiring an electronics pro to help you arrange and install everything properly.
Encrypt Internet browsing by using a VPN. Whether your office is at home or a coffee shop, it’s always best to secure your connection.
Actively manage remote employees. Remote offices and employees need to be actively managed from a different office. Small remote office do not work well in a silo. They need to be connected to the “mothership” and entire organization with structured expectations, meetings and check-ins, and every employee needs to produce accordingly.
Have regular face-to-face meetings. Technology like Skype allows people separated by distance and time zones to have face-to-face discussions. Email is not a comprehensive enough substitute for regular meetings with real face-time.
One thing I started promoting more is video calls. They prevent multi-tasking (at a minimum), increase engagement and give you facial cues from the other person. Slack has introduced calls, video calls and screenshare, so we use that in addition to Skype at our company.
Get more done by maintaining a distraction-free environment and embracing deep work. Whenever possible, schedule all of your meetings for Mondays and Fridays (when you’re ramping up for or down from the week), and reserve Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays to bang out the projects is in your queue.
1. Dress up for the job- your pajamas can’t become a lifestyle. 2. Keep an open line of communication and stress on weekly video meetings. 3. Do not ignore yourself. Accommodate work but not at the cost of skipping things that matter to you. This includes family time, a visit to the gym or your daily run. 4. Build a schedule and follow it to the T. I often end up working 13 hours a day and that’s something that I’m working on changing too. 5. Take out time to interact with team members with whom you don’t interact on a day to day basis. For me, it means saying a casual ‘hi’ to my developers. 6. Don’t let out of sight become out of mind. Believe me, it’s is very easy to happen and when it does it isn’t a great space to be in. 7. Lastly, respect timelines and the schedule of everyone around you.
Almost one in four American workers are realizing the benefits of working from home, whether they’re remote employees or running their own small business. But working from home isn’t without its own unique challenges. When your office is in your house, the difference between work and home can quickly become blurred if you don’t establish some clear boundaries.
First, keep the area where you work physically separate from where you relax if you have the luxury of the space to do so.
Also, clearly define your working and non-working hours whenever possible and enforce them with your co-workers, family, and friends. Life and work will get in the way of each other sometimes, and that’s okay, as long as it’s the exception and not the rule.
Communication is everything. Use good tools. Don’t fall into the email/messaging trap – be sure to actually talk to each other every day.
Respect other people’s timezones / environment. Take weather, location, culture, time into consideration. These things affect mindset. 3. On an individual level, be healthy. Get out of the house. Mix it up. Go to the gym. Go to a cafe. Otherwise cabin fever sets in.
You have to take breaks between work – you can’t be chained to your desk. That requires scheduling them. Work 45 minutes, take a 15-20 minute break, and so on.
Achieving alignment. It’s the lynchpin to effective remote worker productivity. If stakeholders are aligned, timelines and deliverables are met friction-free. But if teams are lacking alignment, everything falls apart; deadlines are missed, outputs are low quality and time is wasted fixing things.
Video is fast becoming a valuable tool for remote workers, helping them get all stakeholders on the same page. Instead of just sending over a Gantt chart or project plan, a remote worker can walk through updates and highlight dependencies. Video leaves less open to interpretation. Plus, it doesn’t require everyone to get on a conference call — instead, they can review the update on their own time, and can go back and watch it again if it’s not clear.
Make your calendar open to all colleagues. Scheduling can be one of the biggest challenges for remote workers and their colleagues. Being transparent about your whereabouts and availability will make life easier for everyone.
Be militant about work updates. When you aren’t right next to your teammates or manager, people can lose track of what you are working on. Send regular updates on your work in progress, so that having a remote worker never seems like a hassle.
Set up digital processes. From Slack to communicate with colleagues to Google docs for sharing and collaboration, as a remote worker your digital workspace needs to be seamless. When starting, find out what systems your colleagues use and adapt to them rather than forcing them to adapt to what you’re comfortable with.
Get involved from afar. Working remotely, it can be hard to feel part of a team, and similarly for colleagues the central hub to think of you as part of the team (when they remember to think of you at all). Insert yourself in the office camaraderie as much as possible; send birthday wishes, share ideas that help foster culture, make an effort to attend office socials if possible.
Get in a daily routine with a schedule. Also, always get dressed, even if it’s just jeans and a tshirt :)
JoAnn Yánez, ND, MPH, CAE
Executive DirectorAssociation of Accredited Naturopathic Medical CollegesLinkedIn
Treat the job like a job. Working remotely isn’t license to take time off or away from your responsibilities without notifying your team.
Schedule work hours and downtime. It is easy to be ‘on’ 24/7 in a remote environment. Work out a schedule with your team so you know when to expect them to respond as well.
Take screen breaks. Be conscious of your time in front of a screen and take breathers. I often use phone calls as a chance to walk around a bit and get up from the computer.
Develop relationships with your team. Remote work can be lonely if you let it. If you were in an office, not every conversation would be work related. Ask folks about their day – try to connect with your coworkers.
Create a routine. Similarly to creating a schedule, having a routine is important for remote workers, as it can trigger the brain and put it into “work mode” on a regular basis. For example, if you’ve decided that you want to work mornings, choose a time at which you want to begin and decide what you will do both before you begin working and after you begin working.
Keep a detailed calendar. In order to be productive, you have to know what’s going on. That makes keeping an up to date and detailed calendar pivotal in the life of a productive remote worker. Along with keeping a calendar with all of your important deadlines, meetings, vacation days, and whatever else you have going on, you also want to be sure that you’re reading that calendar on a daily basis so that you are aware of upcoming happenings.
One smart way to go about this is by beginning every work day by taking a thorough look at your calendar and revisiting it every time you need to add a new event to it.
Regular meetings. To have weekly meetings and a great communications channel (like Slack) where you can throw ideas, projects and general chats into the ring and to know when you’re “in office” so to speak. The key is not to feel isolated from your team.
Also keeping dedicated work hours. This may not be 9-5 but having hours that you put aside JUST for work can make a big difference in how you perceive remote working.
Have the right equipment. Because you are working at home, you need to make sure you are looking after yourself – correct ergonomic set up is totally worth it.
Keep it interesting. Working from home doesn’t have to mean you stay in one place at all times. Highly productive remote workers switch up their surroundings.
Overtly communicate. It’s easy for things to get lost in translation especially when you start and you don’t know each other very well. Communication is essential for team morale/making sure you are all on the same page. Read everything like it’s written with a kind tone and the knowledge you’re all working towards the same goal.
You’ll feel some pressure to be “always available” on email / chat (like Slack) to demonstrate that you’re “on the clock”, and combined with the flexibility of remote work that means you’re likely going to overwork. However, you need to know your limits and stop when you’re no longer being productive, otherwise it’s bad for yourself, your loved ones, as well as your employer since you’ll burn out.If you’re a procrastinator, set up a routine that gets you started on your workday and remove as many distractions as possible. Download something like SelfControl or ColdTurkey to prevent excessive browsing of Facebook / Reddit / Netflix, and stick with set hours that are “work” times.
Be aware that your attempts to communicate over email or a messenger don’t include non-verbal cues. This means you have to go beyond to express kindness and respect in your written words, because they can’t see by your face that you mean well. Alternatively, you need to give your co-workers the benefit of the doubt that they are not actively trying to be curt in their responses.
If you have children that will be home while you’re working, consider getting some noise reduction drywall or other noise reduction applications to help you concentrate and focus on your work.
I have two sons – 5 & 2 years old – and they seem to always start yelling, crying, or fighting whenever I have a scheduled phone call. Never fails. Haha. Yes, the specialty drywall was an expensive upgrade, but it has been well worth it for us. I get so much more done on a daily basis and it has helped me to keep a regular schedule as I’m much more productive during normal biz hours.
Have a dedicated office. Much like your in-office workplace, you need a separate space for your working environment. Having a room with a door you can close is extremely beneficial, especially if you need to have phone or video calls.
Allow yourself to take breaks. There’s a big misconception with working remotely that you will be unproductive and will not get a lot done. That is not true! Taking small breaks throughout your day is a healthy practice, and actually allows you to better focus on your work.
Stay connected with your team. I personally will be only one of two remote workers at my company, so surely we are missing out on in-office interactions and it’s harder to feel included. Be proactive and make extra effort to talk to people, be included on conversations and meetings, and engage with your coworkers as you normally would (except via chat or phone instead of in-person).
Work out in the morning. When you work remotely, you will often work longer hours than you ever would in an office. For fitness and sanity sake, get your workouts in in the morning before the phone starts ringing. Client calls, meetings, just trying to get one more thing done consistently sabotage those promises to yourself to go to that 5pm class at the gym.
Leave the house. In these days when everything can be delivered to you, when working remotely it’s important to get out of your house at least once a day. Whether it’s a grocery store run, dinner with friends or just a quick walk around the block. Getting out of your home office at least once a day is critical.. (When I first started working from home I went a whole week without leaving the house – basically, until my husband asked me when the last time I left the house was and I couldn’t remember).
Set a routine. Wake up at the same time every morning, shower and get dressed just like you would if you were going into the office. It will make you more productive and help define the boundaries between personal and work time.
Find your focus zone: After running my startup for nearly five years, I’ve tried working from just about everywhere in NYC… a handful of co-working spaces, a members-only club, coffee shops and even sometimes at a bar! The place I’ve found I have the most focus is at home at my kitchen table. I find a great Spotify channel, put on imaginary blinders and buckle down for hours on end. I save so much time in the day because I never have to a). get ready b). commute and c). leave for coffee or lunch because they’re always at arm’s reach. There’s always reliable wi-fi and no one is around to distract me.
The No. 1 tip for remote workers, whether you’re working from home or from a faraway city, is to over-communicate. Although professionals have been empowered with digital communications tools for more than a decade, it’s can be easy to forget how challenging it can be to operate in the absence of face time. Remote workers should overcompensate by being extra buttoned up when it comes to the overall clarity of written communications, as well as their use of video chat during key meetings and moments.
One tip when hiring remote workers is to have a clear set of expectations and an open line of communication with them. This ensures that you get exactly what you are looking for and there are no miscommunications. It is also important that you understand your candidates working behavior. This will ensure that working is being done and productivity remains high.
Our team is based in 3 locations and our clients are nationwide. Working remotely can take getting used to if you’ve never done it before. Having the right processes and tools in place for effective daily communication is essential. Using a messaging tool like Slack is crucial. Document sharing tools like Google Docs are important for group collaboration. And a [project management system] will keep teams unified.
I’ve been working remotely for more than 6 years. I’ve found that it’s really tempting to be lazy and “show up” to work in your pajamas. Don’t do it. Get dressed for work each day like you were going to leave the house, and you’ll feel more focused.
Second, minimize distractions in your workspace. Just because you can get away with something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Working remotely is a rabbit hole of distractions that’s very easy to fall into.
Professionals new to working remotely should prioritize opening and maintaining clear lines of communication. Whether staying in touch via email, video chat, phone, instant message, a remote communication and file storage platform like Slack, or all of the above, new telecommuters should never leave their team members and supervisors wondering about the status of projects.
Being successful as a remote worker also means opening and maintaining clear lines of communication in your personal life as well, especially if you will be working remotely from a shared space also utilized by family members or roommates. Establish boundaries for interaction during work hours and express your need for a quiet, distraction-free environment. For work-at-home parents and care givers, this could mean considering out-of-home child care options or starting a child care co-op with friends and neighbors. If your home is too cramped for a designated work space or is impossible to make distraction-free, explore co-working centers in your area.
We’ve been running distributed for a while with the team all over the place. A couple of things I’ve found important is to make sure the social elements of working aren’t eliminated entirely. Since we opened a Slack channel it’s been hugely beneficial for us. Workers on different teams get to know each other on Random, friendships for on private chat between team mates and it all feels more like a ‘collective’ if conversations are ongoing.
Naturally you need to have sensible staff, or sensible policies in place at least so each channel is used correctly and time-wasting about beer doesn’t happen on the creative channel etc. But for the most part it’s been huge for motivation and effective teamwork compared to how we used to work (conference calls and team mates primarily just having calls on Skype etc. to direct work connections and not getting to know the whole team very often).
One all important tip to increase productivity when working remote, is to learn how to remove distractions. That may mean telling your family to leave you alone if you’re in the office. Or maybe it means you need to buy some noise-cancelling headphones. Either way, putting in the effort to remove distractions will pay dividends down the road.
Another key to being productive out of the office, is to pick a dedicated work environment. If you normally watch TV and unwind with your spouse on the couch, that’s not going to be a healthy place to try and get work done. Pick an area of your home where you will only work. That way, when you settle in at your work desk, you’ll be in the right mindset to get down to business.
My number one tip for remote workers is just like an office job. Get dressed in office-appropriate clothing. Take a proper lunch break and step away from the computer. Create a dedicated workspace, don’t just work at the kitchen table or on the couch. These little steps will help you stay focused and productive, and give you that necessary separation between work hours and personal hours.
Increments. On a weekday I’ll do three increments of 2 – 4 hours. In between, I’ll do something active or social so that when I start a new increment of work, I am refreshed and ready to go.
Personalized schedule. I don’t work when people think I should work. I work when I am most alert and I produce my best work (late night).
The number one tip for people who want to work from home and maintain balance is LOVE WHAT YOU DO…if your job is just a job then you won’t be able to find a strong balance. It will always be a chore. If you can take a risk and slowly develop your career in the direction of things you’re naturally passionate about….for me it was early stage startups, then you won’t have trouble putting the hours in and working consistently. Also, when you’re working, work hard…and smart. If you’re team sees you putting in the hours and deliverables getting knocked out then no one will ever question you when you are offline or balancing your life. A famous CEO once told me, “Focus on doing one big thing per day…”…and build from there.
Working remotely within a team has its freedoms and its challenges. For many, it’s a great way to minimize your carbon footprint, ease the commute, and sometimes jump right to work without a shower. However, a remote team is at a disadvantage compared to a collective team all located in one place. Mainly, it’s because you can’t grab everyone for a quick chat in the conference room when something needs to be addressed.
There is the need to avoid going stir crazy. Working remotely doesn’t mean living a sheltered life, in one room, and slowly collecting cats. Take a day to go work at a co-working spot or coffee shop. You don’t have to go there all day but getting out for a few minutes will do a body good.
Know when to walk away. It’s so easy to forget about work/life balance. “Just one more email” turns into 10:30 PM like *that*.
Don’t plan on slacking. Before you go to bed, think about the next day as a work day. Leave all personal to-dos for the weekend. Dress as if you were going to work. I’m always way more productive if I dress appropriately. Don’t work sitting on your bed. While if could feel convenient, find a place in your home that actually looks like a workplace. Do everything you’d do at the office.
Take short breaks, make coffee and allocate time for lunch. Last but not least – communicate! You are remote and the people you work with don’t see you. Make sure that you are “plugged-in”. If the company uses chat software, listen and have active discussions. If not, send updates and questions via email. Even if you are not physically present, your teammates and superiors must “feel” your presence and involvement.
Although you can always track your time the old fashion way, tools like Timely (timelyapp.com) and project management software have made time and task tracking seamless. With a planner like layout and customizable alerts, these two tools make it easier for you to stay focused and on track regardless of where you are working from.
With these types of tools, your managers are also able to stay updated on what task have been completed and what is being currently being worked, without having to contact you. Making the remote workflow more transparent for both you and the people you work with.
One of the most common pitfalls of remote work is managing your time effectively. It’s very easy to get distracted when working outside of structured office space. Especially, when the people around are not working themselves. That’s why it’s very important to manage your time and productivity. You have to become your own boss in a way. Install a time clock app to make sure you’re using your time effectively, and, if not, see where it’s going to waste. Then, start using a productivity tool to keep yourself on track with your goals.
Make sure you have an easy, hassle-free way to share your screen with your remote colleagues so that you can work with them just like you would if they were sitting beside you, looking at your screen. Useful for reviewing designs, documents or code together, or just to make sure you’re on the same page.
Spend a significant amount of time with your team on Hangouts, Slack video chat, or Skype. While text-based messenger services are helpful for copy-pasting links and text, the next best thing to in-person is a video chat. For our team, especially in cases where you may not have met the individual in person, it’s important to have back-and-forth voice conversations to learn more about how he or she communicates. This personal connection helps reduce the likelihood of misinterpretations when communicating otherwise via text chat.
Get in the habit of sending regular updates to your manager. This could be in the form of a weekly email or daily updates in team meetings. Ensure your manager has transparency into your progress. Depending on your role, you may need more or less frequent updates, but having a face, a personality, and known responsibilities will help a manager see and feel your value to the team.
Have a set time to have meetings with everyone. It doesn’t have to be all 1 big meeting. For instance, our projects usually only feature 1 design & 1 developer, but we’ve found it’s incredibly helpful to do a quick 15-minute check in meeting. We start it personal and then move into the status of the project, any updates, milestones or bugs or issues to address, basically any setbacks. It helps us to keep track of each other personally but also to keep the projects moving forward. I follow it up with an end of week, weekly project email summarizing the meeting.
Prepare lunch ahead of time. Unless you plan to eat out for lunch every day, do yourself a favor and plan and/or prepare lunch either in the morning or the night before.
Get dressed. It’s tempting to think you are just as effective in a bathrobe and slippers but there needs to be a definitive break between “home” time and home “work” time. I am literally webcam ready from the time I am work-ready until I am off the clock. Comfortable, but work-ready!
- Get lunch with friends a few times a week if your schedule allows.
- Work with other people who are also working remotely. This could be at someone’s house, a coffee shop or a co-working space.
- Hide the cookies.
Takeaways for Working Remotely
What were some of the common themes from all those great opinions?
- Get a dedicated space that’s just for working during the day.
- Dress like you’re going to work.
- Take breaks.
- Have set work hours.
- Stay in touch and communicate well with your team. It’s a combination of video conferencing, messaging and emails.
What other ideas or tips would you add for working remotely?