“So you work at home? That's fun!” A 4-step guide for new remote workers who want to remain sane.
Why don’t more companies onboard remote workers?
Not only is this a major transition from a “normal” office environment — but sometimes it feels like we just drop folks in and expect them to figure it out.
I work 100% remotely, and have been for the past year. My instagram feed does not have any beachside laptop photos, and I don’t have any fabulous athleisure work wear for my home office. I also do not have a dedicated home office — but rather a smattering of work surfaces.
More and more professional are working remotely in some capacity but still struggling with the not so glamorous reality of figuring out how to be motivated, productive and maintain a work/life balance.
When I say more — I mean a lot more. A study by Zug showed that 70% of workers globally work remotely at least one day a week. Even crazier — 53% work remotely at least half the week.
I’ve been working remotely for almost a year now, and before that I spent years on the 3 days onsite, 2 days work from home schedule. Switching to a fully remote role was something I thought would be no big deal but turns out I was wrong.
Over the past year, I have consistently struggled with focus, separation of work/home and creating consistency in my work week. I definitely took for granted the built-in consistency and external motivators of office life, as well as the social interactions. Talking with other remote workers, I found that feeling was fairly consistent among a lot of us.
So with that fresh #newyearnewme energy of 2019, these are some of the strategies I use and am adopting this year to tackle each work week. If you’re new to remote work, or just need to find something that works better — I hope you find these helpful.
Step one: Create an inventory of your work habits — the good, the bad, the ugly and create routines that work with them.
You’re going be spending a lot of time with yourself, so it’s best to be honest about your strengths, weaknesses and habits. Gone are the office barriers that are there to help you be a more productive human being — it’s all on your now and that’s both empowering and kind of scary.
You ready? I know you are.
But seriously, have a deep look at yourself and who you are as a professional. Are you motivated by deadlines? Achievements? Are you a procrastinator or do you like doing things right as they get assigned? How many meetings a day can you have until you lose your mind?
Working remotely will not only test your ability to motivate yourself, but also your ability to create habits for your workday that make you better. That begins with an honest look at who you are when the boss isn’t watching.
For me — I am best when I am in my flow state uninterrupted by constant notification dings. This is usually in the morning. I am at my worst after a day of back to back virtual meetings.
For some fun facts — when you are productive in the day is your chronotype which has been widely discussed in relation to work schedules and school.
It boils down to this:
Morning Larks: These are the morning folks, the early birds and the people that go to bed early and wake up early. New Scientist reports that roughly 10–15% of us are here. (I am! I think.)
Night Owls: These folks like to stay up late and sleep in — as in, most teenagers. New Scientist estimates around 20% of people are night owls.
In-the-Middle: The majority of people fall in the middle as you may have guessed.
Toptal did a short article on this, and basically showed a graph of what my typical productive day looks like — how did they know!?
Know what your best and most productive times are, and work with them rather than against them. The nice thing about working remotely can be that you have the flexibility to make those shifts to find that flow state more often.
With that info —let’s move on to how to use this knowledge to your benefit.
Step Two: Embrace time blocking
Time blocking sounds like a buzz word, but is simply a strategy that works to help you make the most of your time using what you know about yourself from Step One. If you do your best work in the morning, at noon, or in the afternoon — block off that time for those projects that need uninterrupted attention.
The emails, the Slack messages, the constant notifications — they can wait. Multi-tasking is no longer the darling of productivity, so carving out time to focus and get things done is ok.
This is increasingly important for remote workers because we often feel disconnected to our teams, and attempt to overcorrect by always being available.
The downside is that we become completely enslaved to our various communication tools, feeling like we can never be offline in case something thinks we are not working.
For me, this is what works best:
Email Time Blocks: I block off time for e-mail and e-mail only, barring any emergencies. This is communicated to my team as standard protocol so no one is surprised and they know how to get ahold of me if they need to. It is simply a sanity measure, where I can go through everything without getting interrupted and know I don’t spend hours down a black hole all day answering emails.
My email time is morning and afternoon for about an hour each — usually right when I log on in the morning and around 2/3pm in the afternoon. I might take another peek for 15 minutes before the workday is over.
Writing/Focus Blocks: I tend to write a lot in my job, and block off time for that in 30–60 minute increments in the morning. This can be for pure writing, or anything that requires focused concentration like design work, slides or proposals.
Meeting Blocks: Meetings can be a big source of energy drain from me — both mental and creative so I have to be pretty strategic when I can on how they are scheduled. A full day of meetings will ruin me so I stagger blocks each day.
This also helps with social isolation which we will talk about next.
Step Three: Conquer social isolation, or what I call “But why can’t I can’t wear these yoga pants 5 days in a row?”
Athleisure is coming up again in this article, this is how integral it is to the remote working experience. I kid, I kid.
Whether you define yourself as an introvert, extrovert, or both (I’m an introvert!) — social isolation when you work remotely is real. No matter how much you hated hearing about your co-workers shenanigans over the water cooler, there was something inherently human in seeing other people in your workplace every day.
Losing that is one of the toughest adjustment for new remote workers, and usually the one least talked about.
Here are some ways I am trying to stave that off in 2019:
Scheduling regular lunch meetings with friends, colleagues or other remote working professionals in my cityVideo calls instead of phone calls (this one is still something I am attempting to convince my team to do, there’s just something more human about video calls)
Spending a day working somewhere (library, Reset workspace or coffeeshop) and simply being around people even if we don’t interactNetworking events over breakfast (HERdacity, Creative Mornings Austin, or General Assembly hosts some of these in Austin)
Weekly or monthly remote work meetup in a workspace location, work remotely but together
I’m lucky in that I live in Austin, which has the largest share of remote workers according to CultureMap. So, O’m always meeting new folks to network or spend a day working beside. If you’re having trouble finding some folks — take a look at Meetups in your area, Facebook groups for freelancers and companies like InVision that are 100% remote!
Step Four: Master that separation of work and home life, even if they share the same space.
I saved this one for last because it is arguably the toughest and the most unclear. If you are working remotely you have at most three choices for workspaces — A) Coworking space or workspace that is paid B) Your home (free, yay!) C) A public space where you can work (Some $, think coffeeshop, library etc).
I will not list the pros and cons of these, but many of us end up working at home due to $, sheer convenience and because pajamas are the best. The novelty of this wears off probably in month 3, when you realize that all the days feel the same and your dog is giving you a concerned look.
As much as we talk about productivity hacks here, it’s also important to maintain those work/life boundaries. Something that is increasingly tough in a digital, 24/7 world but more so when your home is your office.
For 2019, I am attempting to disconnect more and create better boundaries between when I work in my home and when I relax in my home. Because, I don’t want to feel “always on call” when I am in my home, and frankly I don’t think that’s fair to anyone.
To be clear, I am in a role that has consistent hours with an employer that maintains a very good work/life balance. I am lucky and aware of this. Tweak your rules below to what suits you and your role!
My working at home rules (a work in progress):
Create a physical, “I am leaving the office” cue: Mine is, I close my computer at 6 and do not open it until the next day. No work computer after 6pm, unless it is an emergency or pre-planned meeting. This means, no more letting tasks slide because “I will just do them after dinner”. I found myself doing this more and more since my home was my office and vice versa, there was never a physical boundary of leaving the office and so, my mind never left. Now, when I close my computer it stays closed.
Create physical boundaries of where you work and where you don’t: I work from bed sometimes, and that is a luxurious and dangerous habit I will be quitting in 2019. Not because it impedes productivity, but because my work laptop has no space to be in my bedroom. And — carpal tunnel is real friends. Now, I set my workspaces as my dining table or kitchen island. As well as my building’s office space or workspaces at Reset.
Unplug on Sundays (or a day of your choice): Unplugging is all the rage now, and I am all for it. I am starting small, and trying to unplug from all work and online channels at least on Sundays whenever possible. This creates more space for setting intentions for the week and really reflecting on time passing.
What are your hacks for working remotely?
Frankly, I could use some more advice here since this is a constant learning experience.
Have you seen companies that onboard new remote workers effectively? How do they do it? Or, have you found some awesome hacks that work for you that you want to share? Feel free to share in the comments!