Working remotely has grown from a mere novelty to a standard-issue practice across industries. According to a 2017 New York Times piece, 43% of workers reported doing at least some of their work from home the previous year—and the trend is growing. Remote work is a win-win situation for many businesses.
Companies can reduce office costs and on-site expenses, while workers benefit from more autonomy and freedom from tedious commutes.
Switching to a remote work environment is a welcome change for many people, though once the novelty of logging on while in your pyjamas wears off, there’s work to be done.
Working remotely comes with its own set of challenges beyond managing the flexibility and accountability that come with the territory. For those thinking of making the switch here are ten tips to help you make the transition while maintaining accountability and professionalism.
1. Sort out Your Tech Setup Right Away
No matter what your business, a secure, high-speed internet connection is vital to any remote office. Some companies offer to help pay some of the cost of internet service, but regardless, having the bandwidth to run the programs relevant to your job is your responsibility.
In some cases, a residential internet connection might not cut it, meaning you’ll have to look for a business internet plan instead. And either way, make sure to pair your high-speed internet with an equally robust (and secure) wireless router to take full advantage of the connection.
It’s also worth mentioning that speed is worthless if you’re using an outdated clunker of a computer. Many companies provide workers with equipment like laptops, monitors, and headsets—but not always.
Even if it’s coming out of your pocket, pay for a computer that is fast enough to run all your programs as well as get the most out of your internet service. Depending on how often you’ll call into meetings, you should also look at good microphones (or high-quality headsets), webcams, and the latest operating systems.
2. Extroverts, You Don’t Have to Stay Confined to Home
It’s not unusual to hear that people transitioning to a remote environment have a difficult time adjusting to the lack of personal interaction a traditional office setting offers. There’s something about those conversations at the water cooler and organic communication that is absent in a remote environment.
For some, it’s enough to drive them back into the friendly confines of their cubicle or splitting time between home and work offices.
Luckily, many cities now offer co-working spaces to mimic the flow of a workday while sharing costs for printers, internet service, and other office essentials. And there are always coffee shops, libraries, and bookstores that welcome remote workers who will benefit from a good jolt of caffeine and people nearby.
Just be sure that any offsite workspace doesn’t compromise the security needs of your job.
3. Introverts, You Must Be Proactive in Communication
In contrast to the extroverts in tip #2, introverts often consider working from home a dream. No idle small talk, no awkward company meeting rooms, and no more feigning interest in the big game! Streamlining work to its essential functions in a private environment does not, however, give you a license to tune out the rest of the world.
Most jobs still require communication daily, from company-wide chat programs like Slack to online meeting spaces like UberConference.
The trade-off for more freedom is an added responsibility to be available during work hours. This may include adding programs to your smartphone and your personal computer.
Be sure to communicate with your team regularly, even if it’s just to let them know your work is done or you’re enjoying the project you’re working on together. Resist the temptation to bury yourself in your work, and make sure you’re available to your team when needed.
4. Master the Tools of Your Trade—No Excuses!
Whatever your area of expertise, remote work introduces a new set of tools and programs. It’s often easy to dismiss the quirks of ubiquitous cloud-based software like Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive.
But all of these apps have features that require a more profound degree of mastery. This is especially true for apps that need you to lead a conference call or present a slideshow online.
Many people are content to stumble through their presentations with lots of “Hold on a minute” and “Let me figure this out” interruptions amid a live meeting. That’s less easy to do when you’re not in the same room as the other meeting attendees.
Master using screen share, muting video feeds, running slideshows, and moderating calls before presenting. Set up mock meetings with co-workers to test your skills. They may seem like minor skills to master, but they go a long way in establishing your professionalism as well as the fluidity of your meetings.
5. Establish Clarity Around Expectations and Flexibility
Remote work leaves a lot of wiggle room for both management and workers. Obvious criteria, like work hours and established break times, are easy to figure out. More complicated are the expectations around availability, deadlines, and time away from the computer.
Other issues—like who pays for internet, who is responsible for computer security, and even what time zone you’re working in—can be overlooked in remote office settings until they arise in real-time problems.
Having a central hub where remote work policies are outlined, and expectations are easily accessed is critical—as are reminders from management that these hubs exist.
6. Build Trust by Asking Questions
A remote work environment makes it easy to Google a lot of problems that come up in a typical workday, though the answers provided by the search giant may not be the same solutions your company uses. The very nature of remote work means there will be lots to learn, and as tip #5 mentions, misunderstandings can crop up if there aren’t clear expectations.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This includes not only understanding the suite of apps you use but also questioning processes that may not make sense from your isolated perspective.
If you’re curious why deadlines fall at an inconvenient time in your schedule, ask your manager. There’s likely a good reason behind it, and if not, there may be some room to adjust. Either way, bringing up the conversation will help find a solution or identify a need.
7. Quarantine Dogs & Kids During Meetings
Maybe the first time Fido yaps at the mailman or your kids crawl into the background of your webcam is charming, but the novelty can wear off quickly.
Just because you’re conducting an important meeting in bunny slippers doesn’t mean the rest of your workspace should be amateur hour. Account for any distractions ahead of time, and excellent communication with your team and clients with the same respect you would like in a traditional office setting.
This includes avoiding places where you can’t control background noise and turning off bandwidth-sucking programs like Netflix or Youtube when you’re running meeting apps (even with high-speed internet, your computer may lack the power to run your meetings at the best quality settings with other programs open).
8. Reach out for a Little Phone or Face-to-face Time
Working with a disembodied team of co-workers is a unique phenomenon of remote work. You may potentially work for years with individuals who you wouldn’t recognize in person if they walked by you in the supermarket.
There are real advantages to having conversations getting to know your co-workers or meeting up with them in person, if possible. Some companies offer work retreats for just this purpose.
There is, of course, a line between personal and work life—one that tends to get blurred in the online world of Facebook, Instagram, and other expressions of the self that are often public but not intended to be shared with co-workers. Chats with co-workers and managers can help establish boundaries and build trust as you navigate those waters.
9. Don’t Abuse Open Communication Channels
Another exciting aspect of remote work is how easy it is to reach co-workers directly. An E-mail was once the primary culprit here, so much so that some companies had policies where employees could only check their e-mail at specific times so they wouldn’t be distracted. Today’s instant chat programs can be even worse.
As mentioned in tip #6, relevant questions directed to the right person are the exact reason why such communication platforms exist. However, bugging your co-workers for problems you can resolve on your own will eventually cause friction.
For example, if you have a shared calendar that lists office days off, make a point to check that calendar before burdening a co-worker to check on your behalf.
Use your communication apps with respect and responsibility. It won’t take long to figure out which of your co-workers are fine with the occasional banter and which are genuinely bothered when you interrupt their workflow. When in doubt, ask your co-workers how and when they prefer to be contacted.
10. Be Careful Your Home Office Doesn’t Become Your Prison
Our final tip comes from the growing pool of data that shows that remote workers are more productive than their traditional counterparts. Initially, many companies feared remote workers would abuse their freedom and flexibility to slack off on the job. But the opposite is true—often to a fault!
Remote workers have a hard time stepping away from work, especially those with home offices. With e-mail and chat programs embedded on smartphones, work can become a 24/7 presence, and even with liberal time-off programs, many remote workers take far fewer days off than traditional office workers.
The freedom of remote work isn’t a substitute for real-time away from your job, so get clarity from your manager about how to set work-life boundaries.
Finding a balance is one of the most challenging aspects of home/remote office work. Letting your job into your home requires respect for your position at the company as well as your home as a place of rest.
Remember: the option to work remotely brings excellent benefits, but it’s not without its pitfalls. If you’re considering switching to a remote situation, make use of the tips above to ensure you’re prepared for the change.