Tips for Working Remotely
The latest figures indicate that:
around 4.7 million people work remotely in the US.
That’s 3.4% of the entire population, up from 2.9% just five years ago.
This data was collated before the outbreak of coronavirus and the shift in working culture that this has prompted, so it’s likely that these numbers will rise sharply over the coming years.
There are several benefits of working remotely (or telecommuting as it is also known) such as increased flexibility and a better work-life balance.
However, for those new to the setup, or indeed those forced into it by circumstances out of their control, it can present several challenges difficult to overcome, including:
- How to draw the line between professional and private lives
- How to remain part of a team when that team is spread out across various locations
Fortunately, we have some solutions...
This article offers 10 tips for working remotely to help you find the right balance.
The first of our tips for working remotely is to ensure from the outset that both you and your employer understand your responsibilities with a written agreement.
It may be that certain aspects of your role need to be reassessed, or you may need to be physically present in the office on certain days of the month.
These issues should be discussed and agreed upon from the outset to avoid confusion down the line.
Your written agreement should also address things like your working hours, the level of flexibility you’re allowed and what you’re permitted to claim for by way of expenses, such as additional equipment or mileage on a company vehicle.
Your original contract of employment should still hold true, and if any significant changes are made to account for you working remotely, this should be updated accordingly.
For many people, working remotely means working from home.
Where this is the case, it’s important to keep a degree of separation between professional and personal activities.
In an ideal world, this means having a dedicated office in which you spend your working hours.
This will help you move in and out of work-mode as you move in and out of the physical space, as well as keeping equipment, paperwork and any other work-related materials safely secured when not in use.
Create a space that is well organized and that you feel comfortable in. After all, this is where you’ll spend the bulk of your day. One of the perks of working from home is that you can create an office suited to your taste. This can have a positive impact on your mindset and increase productivity.
If you’re not able to designate an entire room as an office, assign a specific area for working that is separate from where you unwind.
This could be a desk in the corner of a bedroom or even the kitchen table, provided you maintain it as your office space during working hours and spend your downtime elsewhere.
It can be a struggle to get into the working mindset without the structure of arriving at a certain time and place every day.
The solution is simple...
Set a morning routine that gets you up and ready to go.
This could be an early run that gets you energized and focused for the day ahead or gathering your thoughts over a cup of coffee. It could even be something as simple as making sure you’re up and dressed by a certain time.
It might be tempting to work in your slacks all day, but however comfortable, this doesn’t help with your state of mind.
You might consider implementing your own business casual dress code to make you feel more professional, whilst maintaining the level of comfort working remotely allows.
If you really find it a struggle to get going, you could even schedule short virtual meetings first thing with co-workers.
It’s a small touchpoint, but it goes some way to replicate the kind of atmosphere you’d have in an office environment.
Of course, not everyone’s working day starts first thing in the morning, so it’s all about what works for you, but finding the switch that turns your work mode on is key.
If you’re working remotely because you’re self-employed or run your own business, you’ve likely got this covered, but if you work for an employer and are moving to a remote arrangement, make sure you’ve got everything you need as soon as possible.
Ideally, you’ll have the same set up as you would in the office.
If you traditionally work with a dual monitor, separate keyboard and mouse, switching to a laptop only is a big compromise and one that might impact on your productivity.
Standard equipment should be provided by your employer, so make sure this is detailed in your remote working agreement.
You may also need to invest in additional tech, like a decent webcam for video conference calls and possibly a printer.
Again, these may be provided by your employer or you may have a set allowance for equipment purchases.
In addition to equipment, you should also ensure you have access to all software necessary and have a good understanding of how to use it.
If your company uses a VPN that gives you access to internal information, make sure your connection is fully functioning.
There’s a lot to be said for a good office chair, but it’s something many people overlook, particularly when working remotely.
Depending on your working hours, you may spend anywhere up to eight hours a day (or possibly longer in some circumstances) sat at your desk, and if your chair is no good, it can cause major issues.
Back and neck pain are commonly associated with poor quality office chairs, as is bad posture.
It may be that your seat is too high and you're hunching over your desk, or that there’s little to no lumbar support, causing you to slouch.
It might not be plausible for you to splash out on a top-of-the-range office chair, but there are plenty of options available that offer ergonomic design at a reasonable cost.
Look for something with an adjustable height and backrest, good cushioning and anything else you might feel beneficial, like castors and armrests.
Sticking to regular hours is one of the key tips for working remotely, as without structure it’s all too easy to find yourself overworked, or at the opposite end of the scale, drastically behind.
The hours you choose are entirely up to you, provided your employer agrees, but once they’re set they must become your routine.
It’s not just yourself that needs to be aware of when these working hours are. Your boss should be in the know, but so too should your co-workers.
This means they’ll know when you’re contactable and when you’re technically out of office.
It’s also a good idea to make friends and family aware of your work schedule.
That way, you lessen the risk of them dropping round unannounced or contacting you when you’re trying to focus.
Keeping up regular working hours takes good organizational skills to ensure you get jobs done promptly, but it also requires self-discipline.
Start work when you should and finish on time, leaving computers and work phones out of reach to help you switch off.
Of course, it’s OK to add the extra hour on here and there if a project requires it, just as you would in a non-remote working environment, but be sure to take these hours back or register them as overtime with your employer, depending on the agreement you have made.
When working remotely, it can sometimes feel like you exist in a vacuum and because they’re not present, it’s easy to forget the importance of communicating and collaborating with the rest of your team.
So what can you do?
Here are a few tips on how to improve your communication skills as a remote worker:
Use visual communication where possible – Emails are fine for quick messages and catching up, but where there’s an important or difficult subject to discuss, written communication can easily be misinterpreted. Video calls allow for body language, tone of voice and other subtle cues that make communication more effective.
Learn to use the tools at your disposal – Digital technologies and software are great for collaboration, but only if you take the time to master their functionality. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance or assign working hours to developing your skills. The better you are with collaborative tools, the better you’ll be at your job.
Ask for one-to-ones – Regular communication with your direct manager is important. It ensures you’re both on the same page and that things are moving in the right direction. If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough feedback or direction, ask to schedule a virtual meeting. If your company has one, check its open door policy about remote work for more guidance on how to communicate with senior staff.
Over-communicate – This doesn’t mean communicating unnecessarily, but it can be useful to remember to reiterate key points; for example, meeting notes or recordings sent after a video call remind everyone involved of what’s been covered and who’s responsible for what, as well as giving them something to refer back to.
As discussed, it’s important to communicate and collaborate regularly from a working perspective, but it’s equally important to focus on the social aspect of your employment.
Working in an office, you build personal relationships and friendships with co-workers that not only make your professional life more enjoyable but also help promote effective teamwork.
These relationships are harder to build and maintain when working remotely and take a little extra effort from everyone involved.
There’s no shortage of communication tools for remote workers, so use them.
Set up a WhatsApp group for your team, have catch up calls via one of the many video conferencing tools, even a good old-fashioned telephone conversation is beneficial for touching base.
There’s no harm in taking time out of your working day to focus on these connections, after all, you’d likely have catch-ups in the office, so it’s essentially the same thing.
Provided they don’t eat into your schedule too much, social interactions are highly beneficial. They promote a strong team structure and a shared work ethic and help to eliminate the sense of isolation that can come with working remotely.
One of the major benefits of working from home (or any other remote location) is that it offers flexibility, and one of the best tips for working remotely is to make the most of this to become a more well-rounded, better-performing employee.
We’ve already discussed the importance of setting regular working hours, but there’s a second point to consider here, and that’s when you’re most productive.
While most people will prefer to stick closely to the nine to five structure, if you’re a night owl, you’ll get far more done if your working hours cross over into the evening.
Of course, this is dependent on your role and personal life, and whether or not it’s feasible, but it’s well worth keeping in mind.
By working when you’re most productive, you’ll clear your to-do list quicker and free up working hours that you can dedicate to helping colleagues, picking up new knowledge valuable to your role or building on transferable skills that help further progress your career.
Remote work has many advantages, but it also has its downsides; one of which is that it’s easy to neglect your personal needs when there’s no physical separation between work and life.
With that in mind, one of the best tips for working remotely is to place extra emphasis on self-care.
Split up your working day with regular breaks and take them in full.
This gives you time to relax, refocus and can significantly improve productivity.
Even if you’ve got a hectic schedule, always avoid working through a lunch break.
It may seem counterintuitive to take time out when you’re busy, but no one performs at their best on an empty stomach and skipping meals can have health consequences.
Eat often and maintain a balanced diet.
If working from home, be sure to leave the house regularly. Being stuck inside the same four walls all day every day is detrimental to your mental wellbeing.
Take walks, go out for lunch or make outdoor exercise part of your daily routine. It can even be beneficial to take your breaks in the yard if you have one.
Finally, one of the most overlooked tips for working remotely is to make sure you take your vacation time.
Working from home often doesn’t feel like ‘work’ and many people plod along without thinking it necessary to take a long break.
Use your annual leave in full. If you don’t, you run the risk of burnout without even realizing it.
If you’re new to remote work, it can certainly be a learning curve.
There are many hurdles to overcome, and everyone’s situation is unique, but the above tips for working remotely apply to almost all circumstances and should go some way towards making the transition a little smoother.
Though it may take time to adjust, once you’re in the swing of things it can be hugely beneficial and as you settle in, you’ll learn to appreciate the advantages of the remote working lifestyle.