Telecommuting, remote work and working from home – some have been doing it for years, others are fairly new to its advantages and challenges. Whether you’ve always dreamed about working location independently or the Covid-19 pandemic has forced you into a make-shift home office, we’ll tell you how to make the most of remote work.
Working from home is easy – or is it?
There’s this image associated with remote work of a digital nomad working from the beach, laptop on their knees, and then there’s the home office worker in their PJs on the sofa, stress-eating and being distracted by a million things. Sound familiar?
2020 introduced working from home as a social experiment on an unprecedented scale. Finally, workers could do away with long commutes, didn’t face distractions in the open office, choose their location and design their own workspace, collaborate with team members from around the world, set their own schedule and work more flexibly, thus achieving work-life-balance. Easy!
One the downside, workers faced technical issues with hardware, software and internet connections, had trouble collaborating virtually and across time zones, were cut off from company or office culture and coworkers, felt a rise in loneliness due to isolation, had difficulty unplugging, disconnecting or drawing boundaries and faced constant interruptions at home.
Working remotely has its definitie downsides, too. Before we talk about mitigating, let’s define remote work.
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What is remote work?
Remote work is not one thing only. It’s more about how you’re working, not where you’re working and working smoothly doesn’t mean work-life-balance only, but meeting the needs of the individual worker and profession.
The following are examples of various types of remote workers:
- Freelancer: You work on your own account for clients on a project or contract basis and choose your own hours and workspace.
- Home office: You’re employed and work from home, partially or full-time, typically over the internet and with certain tools. Work is still associated with the company and a physical place. There might be a degree of flexibility as to schedule and hours.
- Remote team members: You virtually join a team working together in a physical location.
- Co-location: You work in a team of remote workers, but you’re close in location or at least in the same time zone so everyone can keep the same hours and is online at the same time for collaboration.
- Distributed teams and virtual companies: Virtual companies have no physical headquarters and therefore no employees working on-site. A fully distributed team is working from anywhere across time zones. This setup can be deliberate to maximise production so someone is always working on a project.
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Top tips to master remote work
Here are our top tips so you can make the most of working remotely:
Establish your work routine
A disciplined and routine schedule is key for staying productive when working remotely. When you know what you’re doing at what time over the course of the day and the week, you free up mental capacity for other things.
Even when you’re not using a time tracker, it will help you allocate your work hours better and allow you to integrate your remote work with your team and friends and family: if they know your routine, they also know what they can and can’t expect from you at certain hours.
Without an established routine, you’ll quickly fall into a pattern of working effectively, but now efficiently: you’re constantly busy micro-managing yourself, which feels like work but accomplishes very little in terms of completing tasks on time and with less effort and stress.
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Schedule things ahead of time
This builds onto the foundation of a regular routine: make sure you schedule all events which disrupt your routine ahead of time so you can plan for them and account for the time not spent on other things. From virtual meetings and calls to on-site meetings and status reports, put these events early into your calendar.
The same goes for your private life, especially where there is overlap or when events happen during the workday. Exercise, picking up your kids, lunch with friends and family and getting groceries deserve some planning time as well.
Review and learn
Take a couple of minutes at the end of the workday and a few moments at the end of the week to review what worked for you, and what didn’t. When we don’t meet our work goals, the instinctive reaction is to double our efforts. Often enough, that just means throwing more time at it.
Instead, identify your core productive hours, then slot the most intensive tasks during those. If too many misunderstandings happen through one way of communication, switch to another. When you’re constantly looking for things you need, maybe it’s time to reorganise.
Also identify what works well for you and try to optimise for that, whether that’s 20-minute intervals of intense work, a standing desk, dictating notes or checking in regularly with team members.
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Have the right tools for the job
A tool is anything that you either require to do your work or which helps you in completing tasks efficiently. Think broadly here: the set of your tools include hardware such as a computer or laptop and your desk, office supplies as well as software, online tools, cloud computing and a time-tracker or tools to help you stay focused.
Go through your set of tools and consider if each one is the best one for your job. During your evaluation, keep in mind how well one tool ties in with others to create a smooth workflow. In a corporate environment, many of those might be decided for you, such as hardware and software.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement: ask you coworkers how they are using the tools, watch a tutorial and consider reporting “pain points” to a manager or client.
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Check in regularly with your team
Work on-site means a lot of interaction with other people, both socially as well as over work. Believe it or not, the chit-chat at your desk or during a coffee break fuels your productivity and motivation. Especially when you’re used to an office environment, home office and remote work can leave you feeling isolated and lost.
Don’t forget that your team members have the same experience, so reconnect with them at least virtually and consider having short online meetings with no agenda for exchanges with no pressure.
Concerning work matters, not everyone can communicate well through digital means. Find out if you occasionally need to reach out with a phone call to anyone or make yourself available for calls at certain times.
Compensate the lack of social interaction with coworkers in other ways, through time spent with family and friends and (safely!) meeting people outside of work.
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Get recognition and give appreciation
The isolation of remote work might lead to feelings of not being appreciated or that your work doesn’t matter. Frustration, disappointment and loss of motivation can then set in. Actively seek feedback and recognition of your work from your team, manager or client to learn about the impact of your work and why it matters.
In turn, give praise and appreciation to others where they support you, contribute to your work or lead by good example. One-on-one feedback is always good, but a job well done can also deserve more public praise, for example in a group chat or internal message.
When you work with concentration on a task over a period of time, your mind will become highly focussed; things seem to fall into place and your work might feel effortless. These moments are called “flow states” or “deep work” – not only are they rewarding on their own, they also enable you to do your most proficient, profound and creative work.
Distractions and interruptions are the enemies of flow, so limit them as much as you can. This includes both work-related as well as private interruptions! Tell your team members that at times, your communication will be asynchronous, meaning you don’t respond immediately to email or chat because you’ve turned off notifications. Put your private phone away during work hours. Instruct members of your household not to disturb you and give visual clues when you’re “in the zone” such as headphones or a closed door.
There are tools such as music, brainwave or noise apps which can help you achieve focus. Also identify when you procrastinate and find the cause: are you bored? Overworked? Can’t get started? When you’re working away and feel the urge to follow an impulse, don’t give in but write down what you wanted to do in that instant, then do it during a downtime.
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Set boundaries and disconnect
To get ever closer to that elusive work-life-balance, do what you have to so work doesn’t spill over into your private hours. Make yourself unavailable through phone, email and chat when you’re off work. Resist the urge to check in nonetheless and don’t cannibalise your time reserved for other activities. Especially freelancers will know the urge to squeeze an extra buck out of the day by working an hour more, but visualise everything else you could be doing!
Practise a log-off ritual to fully disconnect from work. Say goodbye to your coworkers and team members, give a sign of appreciation and pat yourself on the shoulder for a good workday and make a note of what you’ll get started on the next day. Then turn off your equipment and mentally let go of everything work-related.
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