There isn’t much mystery when it comes to working in an office. Every day, you: Get dressed in company-appropriate attire. Commute to work. Join a few meetings. Take coffee breaks. Indulge in hallway conversations and lunches with coworkers. Go see a client. Commute home. Remote work is completely different. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. Everyone has different work styles. Different times at which they work. Different work locations. Different time zones.
Even though the rise of remote work isn’t a new trend, many people are still figuring out how to work remotely through trial and error, doing their best to stay happy and productive. The challenges exist both for those who are remote work veterans and people who are just getting started.
Table of contents:
- Practice good meeting etiquette
- Experiment with what makes you most productive
- Prioritize documentation and clear communication
- Create boundaries between work and life
- Define your and the team’s responsibilities
- Focus on your health
1) Practice good meeting etiquette
In person, it’s easy to see if someone is checked out during a meeting. They fiddle with their pen, start reading emails, maybe even begin to doze off. But when calls happen remotely, it’s much more difficult to see the telltale signs of disinterest.
Without video, people could be doing anything on the other end of a call – from making lunch to petting their dog to working on something else. That’s one reason why having cameras on for all remote calls will help keep you and everyone else on the call alert and engaged.
2) Experiment with what makes you most productive
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you should be able to sit down at your home office desk in the morning and seamlessly crank out work until nightfall. But without the built-in discipline and natural breaks of an office, things can easily fall apart.
It’s up to you to build the best way for yourself to work remotely.
When we work in an office, we take walks to get snacks, chat with coworkers, take coffee and tea breaks, and make time to have lunch away from our desks. But at home, somehow these natural things start to feel as if we’re cheating or slacking off.
Suddenly, people are working more hours with fewer breaks, all from the same exact place every day. This is almost certainly a recipe for disaster and burnout. The best way to escape this trap is to experiment to find the best way that you work. Give yourself permission to try different start times, work from different places, and wear different types of clothing.
Things like the temperature of your work space, your audio setup (headphones, earbuds, microphone), the comfort level of your chair, and the desk you use can all mean the difference between productivity and distraction.
You should also consider the times when you are most productive and want to do independent work, and when you should do less intellectually stimulating work.
3) Prioritize documentation and clear communication
Communication dynamics for remote workers are totally different than those for people who are together in an office.
The days of walking over to someone’s desk anytime you want to clarify something are over. Suddenly you’re dealing with multiple time zones, and communication over Slack and video. Not to mention poor video and audio connections, which is the #1 challenge people have with remote meetings.
It’s also important to communicate how you’re feeling. It’s easy for people to see you in an office and notice that something is going really well, or really poorly. But working remotely makes it difficult to spot when something is off. That’s why it’s essential that you speak up. And if you’re a manager, ask the team how they are doing often.
4) Create boundaries between work and life
Boundaries between work and life get blurred for remote workers. Since many of us work from home, suddenly the work environment and the home/life environment merge into one never-ending entity. Wake up, check your email, sit down for breakfast while working, keep working throughout the day, suddenly it’s 10pm and we’re still working.
This can be extremely unhealthy.
Unplugging is important. To do this, as a remote worker you’ll need to create boundaries that help separate work from regular life. Or else, potentially pay the price of burn out, social isolation, even depression.
5) Define your and the team’s responsibilities
How many times have you done something, only to realize that someone else did the same thing? Or, you finished up a project and delivered it to your manager, only to hear that you didn’t do what was asked of you.
On remote teams – where communication is more challenging and things can get lost in translation – it’s important to be crystal clear about responsibilities. Otherwise communication mishaps can happen all the time.
If you find that people are confused, there are lots of unnecessary meetings happening, emails flying around, and lots of questions coming your way, it probably means responsibilities aren’t clear.
Start by defining responsibilities on a project. Then, write down who is responsible for what, and share it with the team. Getting it documented means way less confusion and wasted time.
If you’re suddenly not sure what you’re supposed to be doing, ask. Slack your manager, set up a call, make sure that you are clear about what’s expected of you. And if you’re a manager, check in with your team to find out if they understand their tasks.
6) Focus on your health
If you let it, working from home can sap your energy. I used to always go to the gym on my way home from the office. I had momentum, I had a routine, it was easy to fall into the good habit.
With remote, you’re home, so the momentum is to stay at home. It’s easiest to be in comfortable clothing, ordering take out and working around the clock. Especially when your pet is asleep on your lap.
This isn’t a trap everyone falls into. But it can happen to the best of us. And it’s easy to prevent.
A routine can help you get into the groove of healthy activities. Once you do something a few times, you gain momentum to keep doing it. For example, taking time to go to the gym, hiking with your dog, going to a yoga class, or getting time in nature.
Make time for these activities, even if you take a break from the work day and finish working later.
Stay hydrated and make sure to get up from the computer every so often. Practice healthy eating habits if you can. And don’t forget about your mental health too. Make sure you celebrate wins and achievements and don’t drive yourself to exhaustion and burnout. If you need to take time for a therapist, do that. Whatever it takes for you to be healthy and happy.